If Formula 1 awarded points based on how strenuously a team denies it has a fast car, Mercedes would already be well on the way to the 2022 championship.

It’s Mercedes’s great unheralded strength. More than building championship-winning machines, the team from Brackley is expert at insisting that it’s not the favourite ahead of the first race.

Let’s revisit some of Hamilton’s preseason appraisals of years past.

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We debate the meaning of ton(ne), centilitre and other measurements. Rob assembles his Formula McGinley F1 Fantasy competition live on air but is banned for a profane team name. Michael takes the name Mike Krack in vain.

The 2021 season must feel like a distant memory for reigning champion Fabio Quartararo.

It’s been less than five months since the 22-year-old made himself France’s first motorcycle world champion — less than five months since El Diablo flossed with a giant CGI devil after clinching the title in Misano.

But those heady times must’ve felt like a lifetime away as he crossed the line ninth and more than 10 seconds behind Qatar Grand Prix winner Enea Bastianini.

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The Formula 1 pre-season closed in Bahrain on Saturday night, and through the haze of testing uncertainty came one seemingly irrefutable fact: Red Bull Racing is the team to beat.

It’s notoriously difficult to deduce an accurate competitive order from pre-season testing times. It’s impossible to know for certain fuel levels and engine modes, and with lap times being set at different times of day, when the track is in different conditions, no two laps can be directly comparable.

But after six days of testing at two different tracks we can begin to sketch the basic outline of the field ahead of next weekend’s season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix, and some undoubted winners and losers are starting to take shape.

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The first of the final three days of F1 testing is in the books, but all anyone wants to talk about is Mercedes.

The Silver Arrows unveiled a dramatically updated package in the Bahrain pit lane, impressing and stoking controversy in equal measure in what could be the sport’s first flashpoint of the year.

Further down the pitlane, Italy’s two teams performed strongly, with Pierre Gasly setting the day’s fastest time, while Valtteri Bottas’s new team, Alfa Romeo, finally got a clean day of running in the books after a difficult first test in Spain.

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