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Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton during Formula 1 testing at the Bahrain International Circuit, in Sakhir, Bahrain. Image Credit: REUTERS

Sakhir: Lewis Hamilton was not feeling optimistic as the last day of Formula One preseason testing today raised questions about how Mercedes will fare when the season starts next weekend.

Hamilton missed out on a record eighth F1 title on the last lap of the last race last year and is looking to grab his crown back from Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.

But Hamilton and other drivers have been struggling during preseason testing with what F1 calls “porpoising” - an aerodynamic issue where cars hop and bounce on the track - and with other issues like tire grip.

'Not at the top'

“We’re not the quickest at the moment, I think Ferrari look to be the quickest. Perhaps Red Bull and then maybe us,” Hamilton said today in Bahrain. “But we’re certainly not at the top.”

He was only ninth best in the morning, which was topped by Verstappen’s trusty teammate Sergio Perez as Red Bull upgraded the RB18’s sidepods and floor.

Verstappen was out on track for the afternoon and evening, along with George Russell jumping into the Mercedes seat.

Even Mercedes, with its eight straight constructors’ titles, has been having trouble getting the car under control in Sakhir, which hosts the opening race next Sunday.

“Everyone’s struggling out on this bumpy track, and we come out of it knowing we still have a lot of work (to do),” Hamilton said. “Everyone’s sliding around, the tires are worse this year.”

But even though Hamilton trailed Perez’s time by 3 seconds, he did have some cause for optimism.

“The positive so far is following behind other cars feels a little bit better,” the 37-year-old British driver said.

Regulation changes

AlphaTauri driver Pierre Gasly, who was third fastest in the morning, agreed following is better than in previous years - which was one of F1’s hopes amid a series of regulation changes.

“That makes me quite optimistic in terms of racing,” the Frenchman said. “(The fans) should see some exciting races.”

It was proving a long day for McLaren’s Lando Norris driving alone on the Bahrain International Circuit, with teammate Daniel Ricciardo recovering from the coronavirus.