Alpine F1 executive director Marcin Budkowski says that the margins between the ten Formula 1 teams this year are so fine that there's no longer any recognisable 'midfield' to speak of anymore.
Red Bull's Max Verstappen was the fastest man on track at the end of three days of pre-season testing at Bahrain International Circuit last week.
But the top half of the timesheets also saw impressive efforts from AlphaTauri rookie Yuki Tsunoda, new Ferrari recruit Carlos Sainz, Alfa Romeo veteran Kimi Raikkonen and Williams rising star George Russell.
Alpine's Fernando Alonso was tenth fastest in the combined results, with the team successfully completing 396 laps (2143km) over the course of the test compared to just 304 for Mercedes.
Budkowski took that as proof of how the entire grid had tightened up over the winter in advance of the first race of the year in Bahrain next weekend.
“Honestly I don’t know. It’s tricky, a tough one to call really,” he replied when asked where he thought Alpine stood in the pecking order heading into the new season. "I think it’s not a midfield anymore, it’s a field.
"We still expect Mercedes at the front [but] clearly they’ve had a few issues. And they were probably sandbagging a little bit at the beginning of the test.
"We still expect Red Bull to be strong," he added. “But behind that, it’s a field, really, and where we are in this field is difficult to say.
"I expect to be competitive. But McLaren seem good, seem quick; Aston Martin when they actually run seem pretty quick. And the rest, I don’t know really.”
Alonso is still recovering from injuries sustained in a training accident over the winter break, but Budkowski was confident that the two-time world champion would be fit and ready for the start of the season.
"He’s on top form," Budkowski insisted. “He was on it ... He was in the car, straight away quick, reliable, giving amazing feedback to the engineers. That’s what you expect from Fernando.
"He was integrated in the team already," he pointed out. “Luckily we had him coming to a few races last year, we had him testing an older spec car a few times, we had him in the car in Abu Dhabi - as a young returning driver, if you want.
“He’s been spending some time in the simulator over the winter as well with the engineers, so he was on it, and to be honest, no [lasting ill effects] from his accident either."
Alonso faces having to race with titanium plates fitted to his upper jaw after his cycling accident last month and will likely have further surgery at the end of the year.
"I had like ten days to relax at home and after the surgery I had to relax a little bit," he told the media. "After nine, ten days I went back to a very normal routine on fitness, preparation."
He agreed with Budkowski about how tight things were looking in 2021.
"How the midfield is right now is very competitive," he said. "It’s something that we are aware of, that we need to maximise and make perfection every weekend if we want to score good points."