Ferrari will begin their challenge to a costly time penalty imposed on Carlos Sainz at the Australian Grand Prix when they take part in a hearing on Tuesday.

Motorsport's world governing body, the FIA, confirmed the Italian team would get their chance to petition for a review of the five-second penalty when they meet with stewards.

The punishment was imposed on Sainz after his collision with Fernando Alonso during the April 2 race.

Sainz was demoted from fourth to 12th place after making contact with his Spanish compatriot's Aston Martin following a chaotic penultimate-lap standing restart.

There were another two crashes prior to a red flag being waved for a third time at Albert Park.

Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon were involved in a collision, while Logan Sargeant ran into the AlphaTauri of Nyck de Vries but none of those four drivers were penalised.

Sainz was not impressed with the punishment imposed on him and Scuderia team principal Fred Vasseur confirmed Ferrari would appeal against the decision that cost the driver a points finish.

In a statement issued on Friday, the FIA said: "The stewards of the 2023 Australian Grand Prix have received a letter from Nikolas Tombazis, single-seater director of the FIA, attaching a petition by competitor Scuderia Ferrari dated 6th April 2023 under article 14 of the FIA international sporting code, seeking a review of the stewards' decision number 46 made within the framework of the 2023 Australian Grand Prix and requesting that the stewards: 'consider such request and to make a determination whether or not a significant and relevant new element exists in relation to the decision/incident'.

"The driver(s) and team representative(s) are required to report to the stewards for a virtual hearing to be held on 18th April 2023 at 0800 CET in relation to the petition."

Ferrari team principal Frederic Vasseur believes the penalty issued to Red Bull for their cost cap breach was "too light".

The championship leaders were fined $7million and lost 10 per cent of their wind tunnel time after being deemed to have breached the cost cap in 2021, Formula One's inaugural season with the new regulations.

Already having the least time in the wind tunnel due to being crowned champions in 2022, Red Bull's aerodynamic development over the course of the season could be hindered – potentially opening the door for their rivals.

However, Vasseur does not see it that way and believes Red Bull already have a significant enough advantage, rendering the punishment as "marginal" in his eyes.

"The penalty for me was very low," Vasseur said in a recent media call, per ESPN.

"If you consider that basically we will improve a bit less than a second over the season in terms of aero, you get a penalty of 10 percent of this it's one-tenth and as it's not a linear progression it's probably less.

"You are allowed to spend this money somewhere else, so it means for me the penalty is marginal.

"If you consider that you have an advantage at the beginning of the season because you spend more the year before, then the compensation...

"I don't want to say that they didn't do a good job because I think honestly that they did a very good job on the car. I'm not trying to find an excuse at all. It's not this. But if you ask me if the penalty is too light, I say yes."

Charles Leclerc has asked supporters to respect his privacy and stop turning up at his house.

The Ferrari driver, who had his watch stolen in Italy last year, is unsure how details of his home address in Monaco became public.

While more than willing to greet supporters elsewhere, Leclerc draws a line at them appearing on his property.

"For the past few months, my home address has somehow become public, leading to people gathering beneath my apartment, ringing my bell, and asking for pictures and autographs," Leclerc wrote on Instagram.

"While I'm always happy to be there for you and I truly appreciate your support, please respect my privacy and refrain from coming to my house.

"I'll make sure to stop for everyone when you see me on the streets or at the track, but I won't be coming downstairs if you visit my home.

"Your support, both in person and on social media, means the world to me, but there is a boundary that should not be crossed."

Leclerc has suffered two DNFs in the first three races of the 2023 season and has just six points to his name.

Speaking after last week's Australian Grand Prix, Leclerc said: "[It is] just extremely frustrating. I mean, it's the worst start to the season ever, really. It is really frustrating."

Charles Leclerc rued "the worst start to the season ever" as his Ferrari posted a second retirement of 2023 at the Australian Grand Prix.

The Monegasque spun off on three turns in at Albert Park after a collision with Aston Martin's Lance Stroll, ending his race inside the opening lap.

Following a 39th-lap retirement in Bahrain with engine trouble and a seventh-place finish in Saudi Arabia, it continues a rough campaign for Leclerc.

Speaking afterwards, the 25-year-old refused to place the blame at Stroll's feet, but acknowledged his first three races are a nadir in his Formula 1 career.

"[It is] just extremely frustrating," he said. "I mean, it's the worst start to the season ever, really. It is really frustrating.

"I'm not pointing the finger at Lance because I think he had no choice once Fernando [Alonso] slowed down the car the second time.

"For me, it was just impossible to see whether Lance was staying behind Fernando or if he was just in between. I obviously didn't think he was there."

It marked a pointless day for Ferrari, with Leclerc's team-mate Carlos Sainz demoted from fourth to 12th with a controversial five-second time penalty.

The Spaniard was handed the punishment for running into Alonso amid the race's restart in the wake of its second red flag, with just two laps to go.

After a rolling restart the third time around ensured he could not build an advantage to keep him in the points, Sainz was left fuming afterwards.

"I think it's the most unfair penalty I've seen in my life," he told media. "I [would] prefer to go back to the stewards, have a conversation with them.

"Maybe I can come back and talk [then]. I honestly cannot do it [now]. It's too unfair, and I don't feel well to speak."

Lewis Hamilton feels Mercedes have shown progress after the Saudi Arabia Grand Prix but Toto Wolff is still determined to see the team challenge for victory.

The Briton finished fifth in the second race of the season, improving on his seventh-place position on the starting grid as Sergio Perez led a one-two Red Bull lockout.

Team-mate George Russell meanwhile provided the Silver Arrows with their first podium of the year, after he was elevated to third following a penalty against Aston Martin's Fernando Alonso.

After a build-up dominated by the topic of the seven-time world champion's future, Hamilton acknowledged he was satisfied to make some steps in the right direction, no matter how small.

"We got some great points for the team," he told Sky Sports. "George got third and he did amazing. I went forwards. I'm really grateful to have come from seventh to fifth.

"The strategy didn't really work out for me, the set-up was a little bit off. [There is] lots to work on but there are positives to take away from it.

"I could only match [Russell's] pace rather than be quicker this weekend, but I'll work hard to make sure we're in a better position next weekend."

After taking fifth and seventh at the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix, Saudi Arabia represented an improvement for Mercedes as a whole.

But Wolff is keen to see the team back among the frontrunners on the grid, stating of their performance; "We want to race for wins soon. We are [the] first loser.

"The question is what is [our] benchmark. If you look at the Red Bulls, they are just so quick. I think we understand the car more and I am looking optimistic for the future.

"We are making big elephant steps at the moment. But it is going to be a long time till we can challenge Red Bull. It is a super fun journey to climb back."

Russell, who missed out on standing on the podium before he was retroactively awarded third, acknowledges their rivals remain far ahead of the pack, but believes Mercedes are closer than many think.

"You have to give credit to what Red Bull have done," he added. "The gap they have to the rest of the field is bigger than we have seen since perhaps Mercedes in 2014. It is a serious, serious gap.

"But we know we didn't make the right decisions over the winter and we can regain some of that performance quicker than you would do ordinarily. All is not lost. We'll focus on ourselves and get the fundamentals right."

Mercedes posted a better day than rivals Ferrari, who saw Charles Leclerc forced to take a 10-place grid penalty before the race for a power unit change.

The Monegasque driver finished seventh, one place behind team-mate Carlos Sainz Jr., leaving team principal Frederic Vasseur to mull over a below-par weekend.

"It's not a good result," he added. "We didn't have the pace, we have to be honest. We have positive points from the weekend.

"[But] we have to understand where the lack of performance is coming from. It is not coming from the management."

Red Bull still managed to get on pole for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, with Sergio Perez topping the timesheets after Max Verstappen's driveshaft issue, and Charles Leclerc conceded the defending champions are "on another planet".

Verstappen was stunningly knocked out of Q2 after the mechanical failure forced him to limp back to the pits.

That left the fight for pole in Jeddah wide open but Perez shut the door for Red Bull's rivals, claiming his second career pole at the circuit where he claimed his first last year with a lap of one minute and 28.265 seconds.

Leclerc was second for Ferrari, but his 10-place grid drop for taking on too many control electronics units will see him start 12th, with Aston Martin's Fernando Alonso taking his place on the front row after qualifying third.

While Leclerc, who challenged Verstappen last season before reliability and strategy problems dashed his hopes, was pleased with his performance, he was realistic about the Scuderia's capabilities compared to those of Red Bull.

"It has been a very difficult weekend in terms of pace for us but on my lap I think I put everything into it and it was really on the limit," said Leclerc, who was just 0.155 seconds behind Perez.

"On the other hand, Red Bull are on another planet and we are struggling a little bit, so we need to keep pushing, but that is what we are doing as a team.

"Tomorrow isn't going to be easy. I have a 10-place grid penalty, so we will be starting a little bit further back, but we will focus on the race and hopefully come back to the front as quickly as possible." 

Asked about apparent improvements in race pace in Friday's second free practice session, Leclerc replied: "The race pace looked quite good but it's very difficult to compare because in FP2 everyone is running a different programme, but it seemed a little bit better. 

"We will see but it is not going to be easy because I think everyone is going to be very close on race pace."

Alonso's mood was in stark contrast to that of Leclerc, the two-time world champion clearly revelling in being a car that can compete at the front again.

"Qualifying was our weak spot in Bahrain but we performed very well [here] so let’s see what we can do. It is amazing," Alonso said.

"We are confident, the gap on the long runs [on Friday] was affected by traffic, so we feel very strong. The strongest point of the car is the long-run pace and how we treat the tyres, so it should be better on Sunday."

George Russell will start third for Mercedes after qualifying fourth, four spots ahead of team-mate Lewis Hamilton.

Russell will have Leclerc's team-mate Carlos Sainz for company on the second row, with Lance Stroll in the other Aston Martin behind them on an intriguing grid.

Verstappen, who has won the last two world titles and tasted victory in the Bahrain season-opener, will start in 15th position.

PROVISIONAL CLASSIFICATION

1. Sergio Perez (Red Bull)
2. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) [has 10-place grid penalty]
3. Fernando Alonso (Aston Martin)
4. George Russell (Mercedes)
5. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari)
6. Lance Stroll (Aston Martin)
7. Esteban Ocon (Alpine)
8. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
9. Oscar Piastri (McLaren)
10. Pierre Gasly (Alpine)

Sergio Perez has taken new power unit components ahead of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

The Red Bull driver has taken a new energy store (ES) and control electronics (CE) for the second race of the 2023 Formula One season.

No penalty will be issued for the Mexican driver, though he finds himself in a tricky situation for the remainder of the campaign as only two ES changes are allowed over the course of the season, while three CE's are permitted.

Perez is now in a similar situation to that of Ferrari's Charles Leclerc, who was forced into an ES change ahead of the season opener in Bahrain and has taken another unit for this weekend – resulting in a 10-place grid penalty.

Leclerc, alongside team-mate Carlos Sainz and McLaren's Lando Norris, has also taken a second internal combustion engine (ICE) for Saudi Arabia, with three permitted during a season, while both Leclerc and Norris have taken an additional MGU-H.

Norris has seen further changes in the form of a new turbocharger, MGU-K and exhaust system for the weekend in Saudi Arabia.

Max Verstappen leads the championship standings ahead of team-mate Perez after a Red Bull one-two in Bahrain, with Aston Martin's Fernando Alonso third.

Charles Leclerc will receive a 10-place grid penalty at this weekend's Saudi Arabian Grand Prix after Ferrari fitted a third electronics control unit. 

At the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix, Ferrari needed to use a second ECU before Leclerc retired from the race after suffering another problem with the component.

Across a season, drivers are restricted to using just two ECUs and going over the permitted amount results in a grid penalty.

Ferrari team principal Frederic Vasseur said: "On Sunday, we had two different issues. The first one was on the Sunday morning, when we did the fire up, and the second one was in the race.

"Unfortunately, it was two times the control electronics box and it’s something that we never experienced in the past.

"I hope now it’s under control. We have a deep analysis on this.

"Unfortunately, we’ll have to take the penalty in Jeddah because we have only a pool of two control units for the season."

Leclerc was a dejected figure in Bahrain, where championship favourites Red Bull claimed a dominant one-two with winner Max Verstappen coming in a huge 39 seconds ahead of third-placed Fernando Alonso.

The Ferrari driver, who was third at time of his retirement, described Red Bull as being "on another planet" but Vasseur has no worries about Leclerc's mindset or his team's chances this season. 

"It’s obvious Charles is motivated," added Vasseur, who is in his debut year as Ferrari boss.

"We have done one race of 23. He’s full push with the team, trying to get the best for everyone.

"The penalty is not good news, but it’s not the end of the season. Let’s see what happens in Jeddah, and what could be the outcome, even with the penalty.

"But don't imagine for even half a second he could be demotivated.

"He's fully convinced, he's working with us, pushing the team, pushing everybody in a positive way and nothing else."

If Ferrari need to replace any further parts of Leclerc's car in Saudi Arabia, the grid penalty will increase further than 10 grid spots.

Charles Leclerc believes Red Bull are on "another planet" to their Formula One rivals after they dominated the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix.

Max Verstappen's title defence got off to a comfortable start with a victory on Sunday, with his team-mate Sergio Perez second and Aston Martin's Fernando Alonso in third.

Leclerc looked on course for a podium finish for Ferrari, but an engine failure led to his retirement.

The issue came despite Ferrari changing a component ahead of the race, one of only two permitted alterations allowed over the course of the season, which could lead to further pain for the Scuderia in future races.

While the cause of the problem was unknown to Leclerc, he made it clear the team must secure as many points as possible to keep Red Bull in sight.

"I have no idea what happened to the car when I lost the power, the only thing I know is that I did, I don't know for what reason," he told Sky Sports F1.

"I don't know if it is related to the change we had this morning, so I don't want to comment on that, but it is a shame.

"We expected to be on the back foot this weekend, especially in the race to Red Bull. That team is on another planet right now.

"But that's what exactly why most weekends we need to make sure we bring maximum points possible home and we didn't manage to do so."

Max Verstappen started the defence of his Formula One title with a comfortable victory at the Bahrain Grand Prix.

The two-time world champion was in front from the start and never truly came under threat, leading a Red Bull one-two ahead of Sergio Perez to secure his team's first opening-weekend victory since 2011.

With Charles Leclerc forced into a retirement due to an engine issue, Red Bull's closest challenger was Fernando Alonso, who worked his way through the field for a podium finish.

But a rejuvenated Aston Martin were no match for a dominant Verstappen and Red Bull in what proved to be a comfortable race for the defending champions.

Leclerc, who had a power unit change before the start, leapfrogged Perez to take second place at the start but could not stay ahead of the Mexican, who regained his grid position after the first round of pit stops on lap 26.

Mercedes' fight with Aston Martin was the battle to watch, Lewis Hamilton completing an undercut on Alonso before a stellar move on lap 38 saw the Spaniard move ahead again.

Engine problems for Leclerc led to his retirement three laps later, opening the door for Alonso to battle Carlos Sainz for a podium spot after the virtual safety car was deployed.

Alonso was able to catch his compatriot on lap 46 to clinch third spot in his first race for Aston Martin, though there was no challenge for Red Bull as they eased to only their second ever win in the first race of the year.

Ferrari frustration

Having had to retire from the lead twice in the 2022 season due to engine issues, Leclerc would have hoped those problems were a thing of the past heading into Ferrari's 2023 campaign.

Never appearing to have the pace to put the Red Bull duo under threat, calamity struck with another forced retirement in a nightmare start to the season.

Ocon's Alpine agony

Esteban Ocon's season did not get off to a good start, with the Frenchman given three time penalties over the course of the race.

An initial five-second penalty came for incorrect grid position, with a 10-second penalty following for failing to serve that correctly and another five-second penalty issued for speeding in the pit lane before the Alpine was eventually retired.

 

IN THE POINTS

1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull)

2. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) +11.987

3. Fernando Alonso (Aston Martin) +36.637

4. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) +48.052

5. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +50.977

6. Lance Stroll (Aston Martin) +54.502

7. George Russell (Mercedes) +55.873

8. Valtteri Bottas (Alfa Romeo) +1:12.647

9. Pierre Gasly (Alpine) +1:13.753

10. Alexander Albon (Williams) +1:20.870

CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS

Drivers

1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 25

2. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) 18

3. Fernando Alonso (Aston Martin) 15

4. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) 12

5. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 10

Constructors

1. Red Bull 43

2. Aston Martin 23

3. Mercedes 16

4. Ferrari 12

5. Alfa Romeo 4

Charles Leclerc has taken a new power unit component ahead of the Formula One season opener in Bahrain.

The Ferrari driver, who starts third on the grid behind the Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez, has a new energy store (ES) on his car.

No penalty will be issued for the Bahrain Grand Prix, though it leaves Ferrari in a challenging position for the remainder of the season as only two such changes are allowed over the course of the campaign.

The F1 season in 2023 will see a record-breaking 23 races on the calendar, Las Vegas having been added to the schedule.

Leclerc looked to be Verstappen's strongest rival last season, winning two of the opening three races, but reliability issues and strategy errors derailed his charge as he finished 146 points behind the Dutchman.

Changes were made at Ferrari ahead of the new season, Frederic Vasseur replacing Mattias Binotto as team principal.

Formula One world champion Max Verstappen surprised himself by claiming pole position in qualifying for the Bahrain Grand Prix.

Verstappen, on the hunt for a third straight world title, will start at the front of the grid in Sunday's season-opening race after recording a quickest lap of 1:29:708 on Saturday.

Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez qualified in second to complete the front row, with the Ferraris of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz behind them on the second row.

Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton had to settle for seventh behind Mercedes team-mate George Russell, with Fernando Alonso wedged in fifth.

Ferrari had topped the opening two qualifying sessions but with Verstappen coming good in Q3, they elected against heading out again, instead choosing to conserve their tyres.

"It has been a bit of a tough start to the weekend yesterday and today not really finding my rhythm, but luckily in qualifying we managed to put the best pieces together," Verstappen said.

"I am very happy to be on pole. For the whole team coming off last year and again having such a strong car with Checo up there as well. It is amazing and I am looking forward to tomorrow. 

"The changes slowed down the car a bit but we are still going faster, which is great to see. Throughout the year, you will see everyone increasing their performance again a lot and that is the beautiful thing about Formula One.

"I was actually positively surprised to be on pole after the struggles I had in practice. Normally our race car is better, so let's see."

Despite having plenty of work to do to compete for a podium finish, Hamilton was in a buoyant mood.

"We went in with a really open mind," he told Sky Sports. "I woke up thinking we were going to be a lot further behind, and so the fact we're even getting into Q3 was great.

"We made a step forward today and the car was feeling much more alive this morning, and all of a sudden we were in a different place to where we were the day before. But then we got to qualifying and for me the car just didn't feel alive, it felt kind of average.

"It's not an impossible mountain to climb, so that's a positive, and I know everyone back at the factory has been working so hard. We can definitely close the gap, we've just got really focus and push like never before."

Leclerc, meanwhile, was happy with Ferrari's strategy despite believing he had the chance to fight for pole.

"There wasn't any issue. I think we were in the fight for pole, which was a good surprise to be honest because I did not expect that after testing and after free practices that were a little bit difficult," Leclerc said.

"We managed to find that pace for the qualifying pace, which was great. However, we need to keep in our mind that on the race runs, we seemed to be a little bit on the back foot compared to Red Bull.

"I think that we're in a better place starting third with new tyres than starting first with older. I don't know if I would have been in pole or not but it would have been close."

PROVISIONAL CLASSIFICATION

1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull)
2. Sergio Perez (Red Bull)
3. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari)
4. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari)
5. Fernando Alonso (Aston Martin)
6. George Russell (Mercedes)
7. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
8. Lance Stroll (Aston Martin)
9. Esteban Ocon (Alpine)
10. Nico Hulkenberg (Haas)

A new Formula One season is upon us and the 2023 campaign will be the longest in the history of the elite motorsport class.

The number of races is rising to 23, with Las Vegas joining the show, though drama will not be limited to the track.

Two seasons ago, the controversial conclusion to the campaign in Abu Dhabi was a dominant story, while last year saw Red Bull's budget cap breach and an Oscar Piastri fight between Alpine and McLaren, as well as frustrations with governing body the FIA, notably over the drivers' freedom of expression.

Get set for sporting theatre to unfold over the course of the season ahead, though the biggest talking point centres around whether anyone can dethrone Red Bull.

Red Bull gives you wins

Max Verstappen finished at the front in 15 of 22 races last season, setting a record for the most triumphs in a single campaign, and he has won over half of the events in the past two years (25 wins from 44 races).

While pre-season testing never offers a full indication of what lies ahead, Red Bull's strength was still evident and the consensus is that the defending champions will begin the campaign with an advantage over their rivals.

 

If that gap cannot be reduced, the biggest threat to a third consecutive crown for Verstappen may come from team-mate Carlos Perez. Should that happen, tempers may flare as they did in Sao Paulo in November when Verstappen refused a team order to allow the Mexican through.

One aspect that may provide hope to Red Bull's rivals is the punishment issued for the budget cap breach, which included a 10 per cent reduction in aerodynamic testing allowance for 12 months. While it came too late to have a major implication on the overall develop of this year's car, it could restrict the team's ability to fix any issues that arise.

Ferrari's fight to the front

A season that offered so much promise for Ferrari last term ultimately fell away through mistakes in race strategy and engine failures, the latter of which resulted in the team having to run in a low-power mode to avoid further woes.

Charles Leclerc certainly has the ability to go head to head with perennial rival Verstappen, who he has raced since his junior days, while Carlos Sainz got his long-awaited maiden F1 win at Silverstone last year.

The appointment of Fred Vasseur as team principal, replacing Mattia Binotto, hands the Scuderia an experienced head on the pit wall and may result in fewer questionable calls in race strategy.

Ferrari are confident they can mount a challenge this season and, even though Leclerc has conceded Red Bull may start with an advantage, he believes the Prancing Horse can respond.

"The target is still [to win the title]. Even if we are starting a bit of the back foot compared to them in terms of performance, I'm sure we can come back," Leclerc told Sky Sports.

Mercedes on a mission

Any hopes of a Mercedes revival in 2023 appear to have stalled already, with testing performances suggesting the team may have to look over their shoulders at those chasing from behind rather than competing at the top.

Mercedes' design continues to divide opinion, with a zero-pod approach being vastly different to their rivals and leading to questions about whether they have stuck to their guns out of pride rather than sporting merit.

With Lewis Hamilton behind the wheel, there is always a chance and the Briton will be determined to come back and add to his record 103 race wins having failed to secure a victory last season – the first campaign in his career when he has not registered a win.

The seven-time world champion was outperformed by team-mate George Russell last season, however. Russell secured a maiden race win in the penultimate race and offered consistency throughout the campaign.

Best of the rest

The biggest surprise of the testing weekend in Bahrain was the pace shown by Aston Martin who, with the addition of Fernando Alonso, have a driver who could mount a serious threat to the bigger guns on the grid.

Though a third world title for the Spaniard may be a stretch, regular podiums and dethroning one of the big three in the constructors' championship is certainly an achievable goal.

At Alpine, great care will be taken to ensure French compatriots Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon do not find themselves butting heads, with a frosty relationship over the years, while McLaren have already admitted they missed their development targets and start on the back foot as a result.

Andreas Seidl, now at the helm of Alfa Romeo-Sauber, enters with high expectations ahead of the team's transition into Audi in 2026, while AlphaTauri's long-term future continues to be questioned despite assurances Red Bull will not sell their second-string team.

Expect the season to also see further rumblings regarding new additions to the grid, with Porsche and Andretti among those pushing to join.

As ever, there is plenty to watch out for in F1 and from the first corner to the last there are likely to be surprises along the way.

Charles Leclerc is confident Ferrari can compete with Red Bull for both titles in the new Formula One season.

Ferrari failed to capitalise on their strengths last year and compete with Max Verstappen, who waltzed to a second consecutive championship title.

Early signs ahead of the 2023 season suggest Red Bull remain ahead of their rivals, with Leclerc admitting that is a perception he holds.

However, he believes Ferrari can mount a threat over the course of the season due to the developments from last year.

"From what I can see, it seems Red Bull is a bit ahead. But it's a long season, our goal is still to win the championship," he told Sky Sports.

"I am confident. We have great guys in Maranello, I think we have shown it with the big step forward from 2021 to 2022.

"There were too many mistakes in 2022, we know that, but we've been very honest with ourselves in order to get better for this season.

"The target is still [to win the title]. Even if we are starting a bit of the back foot compared to them in terms of performance, I'm sure we can come back."

Leclerc's assessment that Red Bull begin the campaign ahead of their rivals is shared by Mercedes' George Russell, who expects them to dominate the opening weekend in Bahrain.

"It probably wasn't the smoothest three days we could have hoped for at testing. But the learning we found is going to put us in better stead for this weekend," he said in Thursday's press conference.

"I think it’s definitely fair to say Red Bull are in a league of their own this weekend. But it'll probably be a nice fight for second between Ferrari and Aston Martin."

Formula One returns this weekend with Red Bull clearly the team to beat after a dominant 2022 season.

Max Verstappen won his second straight drivers' championship but in far more comfortable fashion than the previous year when the most dramatic of finales saw Lewis Hamilton pipped.

And unlike in 2021, it was a double celebration for Red Bull as the team also took the constructors' title after a run of Mercedes triumphs.

But Red Bull's commanding campaign did not start as strongly as it finished, and hope of a repeat will encourage the chasing pack at this week's Bahrain Grand Prix.

Red Bull pair Verstappen and Sergio Perez were both forced to retire at this event a year ago, while Ferrari's Charles Leclerc controlled proceedings with pole position, the fastest lap and a race win.

Unfortunately for the Scuderia, it was not a sign of things to come.

Verstappen was back on the top step of the podium at the next race and soon disappeared into the distance.

That initial result was nothing out of the ordinary as Red Bull have only once won the first race in the calendar, back in 2011 when they took the first two.

Those slow starts clearly do not hamper Red Bull across the rest of the season, although they will hope to avoid a similar early setback this time and have both Verstappen and Perez off to a fast start.

Charles the chief threat

If Red Bull are to be beaten again this week, last year's victor Leclerc appears the man most likely to profit. In the past six races in Bahrain, he is the only man to secure pole twice. A third would make this his favourite event.

Meanwhile, podiums for both Leclerc and team-mate Carlos Sainz would make Ferrari the first team to tally 800 in F1.

But Leclerc has been guarded on the merits of his SF-23 car, telling F1's Beyond the Grid podcast: "Sometimes I've had a car that feels good, and until you see the lap time, you're like, 'okay, this feels pretty good'. And then you have a very bad surprise watching the lap time. Sometimes it is the other way."

All eyes on Lewis

The driver of most interest this weekend might be the man who finished the season sixth last year. Lewis Hamilton vanished from contention, and while Mercedes' issues were the key factor, he also trailed new team-mate George Russell.

At the very least, Hamilton will expect to fight back and beat Russell this year.

Only in Abu Dhabi (10 points) and Great Britain (zero points) has Russell won fewer points than his 12 in four editions of the Bahrain GP, so the opportunity is there for Hamilton to forge an early lead.

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