Red Bull lead Sky Sports F1 team's pecking order going into opening race of 2022 season
Sky Sports F1's Martin Brundle and Anthony Davidson offer their early predictions on the sport's all-new pecking order following six days of pre-season testing; 2022 campaign gets underway with Bahrain GP next weekend, all live on Sky Sports F1
Last Updated: 13/03/22 6:23pm
Sky Sports F1's Martin Brundle and Anthony Davidson believe Red Bull have pulled clear of Ferrari as favourites to start the 2022 Formula 1 season.
Ferrari have impressed throughout winter testing, but it was Red Bull who shone on the final day in Bahrain as Max Verstappen set the fastest time of the week in the updated RB18.
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In contrast, Mercedes' performance was puzzling, with Lewis Hamilton suggesting that his team are genuinely trailing their rivals and that anyone who thinks they are sandbagging is in for a "surprise".
Discussing how they see the grid going into next weekend's season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix, which is live on Sky Sports F1, Brundle and Davidson largely agreed on a pecking order.
Are Red Bull, not Ferrari, the team to beat?
Ferrari had been the paddock's sweethearts for much of the Bahrain test, but Red Bull's upgraded car wasn't just innovative, the new sidepod design also translated to fast times on the track with Sergio Perez topping the morning session before Verstappen outpaced Ferrari's Charles Leclerc by 0.7s in the evening.
Red Bull are adamant that the "times are irrelevant", but Brundle and Davidson were suitably impressed.
"Red Bull for me came away as the clear favourites," said Brundle.
"I have absolutely no doubts in my mind that the aero package on the Red Bull took a significant step forward today," said Brundle.
"Red Bull have moved the game on today in terms of raw pace, long run pace.
They've been smiling all day. I think the pieces they put on the car suddenly made the whole car look better."
Davidson agreed that Red Bull were now the early-season favourites, adding: "They found something with the ride of the car and it looks very good."
That's not to say Ferrari are out of the mix, though. The Scuderia have been the most consistent team throughout testing and - while team boss Mattia Binotto is playing down their chances - most others in the paddock believe they are genuine contenders for Bahrain and beyond.
"Red Bull have got a race on their hands with Ferrari," stated Brundle. "That's a front runner, that's a contender, no doubt about it."
Mercedes behind but could still join battle
Brundle and Davidson were also in agreement that Mercedes' are, right now, F1's third-fastest team.
The sport's world champions for the last eight years closed the gap on the final day of testing but were still a second off Verstappen. Most believe they are holding performance back although Hamilton was adamant that the Silver Arrows, who brought a new-look car to Bahrain, will not be in race-winning contention at the start of the season.
It was just that the pace wasn't evident, either, as the car was also bouncing around - or 'porpoising' - more than most.
"The [Mercedes] car looks a handful but who would you put in front of them?" said Brundle. "I'd go Mercedes [in third].
"Don't write them off Mercedes. I'm sure when they turn up - even in Race One - they'll be quite a bit faster."
"I still feel like there's more in it," added Davidson. "But it just doesn't look good to drive and sparked by the bouncing issues they have."
McLaren best of the rest despite reliability concerns
McLaren appeared to be firmly in the hunt in Barcelona, but took a step back in Bahrain - mainly fueled by brake issues which hampered their track time.
But Brundle said: "I think judging by previous tests I think you'd have to put McLaren in there for fourth, but it's quite close behind them."
The Sky F1 pundits saw Aston Martin, Alpine and AlphaTauri as other closely-matched midfield teams.
Brundle: "I think Aston Martin had a reasonable test, good consistency, car looked quite driveable."
Davidson: "I'll say that if Aston Martin drop the fuel I think it would be a faster car [than the Alpine]," said Davidson.
Brundle: "I'm thinking Alpine, Aston Martin and AlphaTauri all about the same to be honest - sort of fifth equal."
Davidson: "I would put the AlphaTauri just a little bit behind perhaps."
Who's at the back?
They also believe the bottom three for last year - Williams, Alfa Romeo and Haas - are the bottom three at the start of this year, despite the headline times at the end of the test from Alfa and Haas.
"That was a good lap that Bottas did for Alfa Romeo [to go fifth], despite being on the C3 tyre," said Ant.
"The Alfa Romeo is definitely not last.
"Based on this test from what I've seen, both lap times and on track, the way the car has behaved, the Haas and the Williams, unfortunately I probably have to say are at the lower end of the field.
He continued: "The other maybe more important question is who's going to finish the race? Who's got the reliability on their side? So far you'd have to say this test hasn't looked brilliant for McLaren with the brake issue, fingers crossed they can turn that around in a week's time.
"Alfa Romeo - that's twice we've seen the car stop down at turn 8 with gearbox problems, really looks difficult for them."
The new season begins with the Bahrain GP on March 18-20, all live on Sky Sports F1