Max Verstappen says Lewis Hamilton's absence from this weekend's Sakhir GP won't increase Red Bull's chances of success, with the Dutchman predicting a "tough" race on Sunday.
Hamilton will sit out the second round of racing in Bahrain having tested positive for COVId-19.
The recently crowned F1 world champion will be replaced by Mercedes protégé George Russell who is being loaned to the team by Williams.
Verstappen reckons that Valtteri Bottas and Russell, armed with the fastest car on the grid, will represent a formidable opposition.
"There is no Lewis but there is still Valtteri and George driving the fastest car in the field," said the Dutchman.
"So it will still be very tough and not easy, especially with the layout we have.
"Lap times will be very close with the guys behind us from last week. I don’t expect it to be easy out there."
This weekend's race will take place on Sakhir's outer but shorter layout, with lap times predicted to be lower than 54 seconds around the fast 11-corner track.
"I think it’s definitely a bit of a stand-alone layout," Verstappen added. "It’s quite sandy and it’s not used a lot, that area. But it’s a new challenge, it’s different, so let’s see what it gives us."
The track will require teams to run low-downforce set-ups. However, it's a configuration in which Red Bull's RB16 has struggled this season.
"I really hope it’s not going to be like Monza, but we have to wait and see.
"The track is a bit different compared to Monza,” he explained. “There are still a few kind of corners where you can make a bit more of a difference.
"At Monza you run really low downforce, everyone runs very low downforce, so you just really lack on the straights.
"Here, there will be a bit of difference in terms of downforce levels. But let’s hope and pray it’s going to be better."