An aggressive strategy by the German car manufacturer, allied to some great tyre management and defensive driving from Lewis Hamilton, helped the world champion fend off Max Verstappen at Sakhir on Sunday.
But despite the joy of the win, which came off the back of a tricky pre-season test, Mercedes is in no doubt that any prior advantage it has had in F1 has been wiped away.
Mercedes trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin said: “We don’t really have any strengths relative to them.
“We’ve had a lot of years where we’ve been able to rely on straight-line speed, or high-speed cornering or interconnecting corners. But you look at it here and we weren’t taking any time out of them anywhere.
“There were a couple of corners where they really took chunks out of us in qualifying: the high-speed and also Turn 9/10, they were very strong there.
“And that’s really the main thing. In qualifying we’re just bang on their pace in our best corners and they’re quicker in the others. So we need a faster car, as simple as that.”
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12, Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB16B
Photo by: Charles Coates / Motorsport Images
While Mercedes has enjoyed the edge in most recent seasons, the step forward by Red Bull is not the first time that it has faced a close right at the front.
In 2018, Mercedes did not win a race until round four of the championship in Baku, as it faced a strong challenge from both Ferrari and Red Bull.
Shovlin felt that the balance of performance between Mercedes and Red Bull was as finely poised as it was then, which tees up an incredibly closely-fought 2021 campaign.
“We’ve had some tough years in the past few seasons, this is not alien to us and is what we’ve got to work with,” he said. “It’s two teams that look to be pretty much neck and neck at the moment. I think it’s going to be a tough year.
“There’s no doubt Red Bull operate really well. They’re a sharp, well-focused team that don’t make many mistakes. Max is clearly a very mature, very smart racer now and he’s difficult – and they develop well.
“They’ve shown over every season they’ve got the capacity to put a lot of performance on the car. So, regardless of the start point, this is not going to be an easy championship. It’s going to be tight and it’s one we’re not going to give up on. And they’re going to tell you the same.”
Additional reporting by Stephen Lickorish