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Ferrari fear early Formula 1 2023 deficit to 'very strong' Red Bull as Max Verstappen hails 'step forward'

"Red Bull seems to be very strong in these three days," says Charles Leclerc on final day of testing; Max Verstappen says title-winning car from last year has "improved"; Formula 1 2023 season starts with Bahrain GP on March 3-5, live on Sky Sports F1

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Charles Leclerc feels Ferrari has 'some work to do' to find the 'sweet spot' with one session remaining of pre-season testing

Charles Leclerc says Ferrari have got "work to do" before next weekend's season-opening race if they are to compete with a "very strong" Red Bull, who Max Verstappen believes have made a "step forward" in 2023.

Ferrari, and Mercedes, are hoping for a more competitive championship challenge against Red Bull this season, though the world champions picked up where they left off at this week's pre-season testing.

Verstappen, off the back of consecutive drivers' titles, has appeared the fastest and most comfortable driver on track in Bahrain, while Sergio Perez then set the best time of the test in the final afternoon session. Leclerc, speaking after he topped the morning, fears Ferrari are already playing catch-up.

"I feel we've got some work to do," Leclerc said. "Red Bull seems to be very strong in these three days."

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Red Bull driver Max Verstappen secures the fastest time for his team on the same C3 tyre as the Ferrari

Ferrari have "completely redesigned" their car for this year in a bid to match Red Bull on the straights, although that may make the SF-23 slower through the corners.

"This morning was a little bit better, but still some work to do," added Leclerc, who finished a distant second behind Verstappen in the championship last season.

"It is a different car, you need to drive it a little bit differently. I've been trying a lot of different driving styles and I seemed to find my way this morning, finally."

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Ominously for Leclerc and Ferrari, Verstappen believes Red Bull have improved on the car that won 17 out of 22 races last year.

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Oscar Piastri completes a 360-degree spin in his McLaren during the final day of testing in Bahrain

"It's been very good," said Verstappen. "I think the car is working really well, going through all the things we wanted to try and it's very interesting what we have been trying.

"Very positive days for me. I'm enjoying driving the car.

"There are quite a few differences compared to last year... overall it's definitely an improvement."

He continued to Sky Sports News: "It seems to work very nicely compared to last year so the team have done a very good job

"You lose a bit of performance because of the little new rules, but overall the car took a step forward."

Christian Horner, meanwhile, said of Red Bull's rivals: "Ferrari look like they're quick.

"Mercedes' form is difficult to read at the moment - are they holding something back? We'll see this time next week, all will become clear."

Formula 1 is back! Watch the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix live on Sky Sports F1 next weekend. The track action starts on Friday while Sunday's race begins at 3pm. Get Sky Sports

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