The Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes drivers believe Aston Martin "definitely will be fighting at the front" as Formula 1's 2023 season gets underway in Bahrain.

There has been much speculation about Aston Martin's potential for the upcoming campaign after Fernando Alonso put the AMR23 in the top three spots on both the opening two days of pre-season testing in Bahrain last week and then produced an eye-catching race simulation run on that event's final evening.

That meant Aston did not get involved with the performance runs produced by most other teams at testing's end, but it nevertheless did not stop interest building in what it might be able to achieve in 2023.

Speaking on the pre-event media day for this weekend's Bahrain Grand Prix, Red Bull's Sergio Perez and Mercedes Lewis Hamilton were both adamant Aston would be in the mix with the three 'Class A' squads that have dominated F1 for the last decade based on what they witnessed last week.

Perez said his former team, from the days when it was known as Force India and then Racing Point, "looked very strong in testing", which leaves him to believe it will "be very strong throughout the year".

He added: "Definitely they have a strong car. They definitely will be fighting at the front."

Hamilton said he and Mercedes currently think Aston is "fully in the fight".

"I'm really happy to see that Aston have taken such a step forward," he added.

"It's difficult [to see the true pecking order]. Through all the data we have, you don't know what fuel loads people were on and all these different things. So, it's a bit all over the place.

"But it looks like they're very strong. And they could be fighting right at the front.

"We'll find out within the next day or so. I can't say whether they're ahead of us, or we behind them. We'll find out.

"But I've always hoped that there's going to be more than just two teams or more than three teams in the mix. So, I think you're seeing that finally, which is a positive."

Aston Martin AMR23 with engineers at Bahrain GP 2023

Newly minted double world champion Max Verstappen said he thought Aston had had a "very positive start" to the new season, but it was the Red Bull racer's comments on Alonso's demeanour that drew attention in Bahrain on Thursday, given the Spaniard has so far been very coy on his new team's 2023 potential.

"I think Aston Martin did build a really good car over the past winter," said Verstappen.

"And what is important as well, with these new cars qualifying speed doesn't matter that much anymore. If you have a good car for the race, you can still overtake.

"I'm very curious to see what Aston Martin can do this year. I find it very difficult to estimate exactly where they will be, but when I talk to Fernando and look at Fernando's face it, he seems pretty optimistic.

"That is of course nice to see. In the end of the day, we want to have more teams close together."

Ferrari's Charles Leclerc reckons Aston "will be in the mix", while George Russell said the green team could help provide "a nice fight for second place" with Ferrari and his Mercedes squad given the Briton thinks Red Bull is likely "in a bit of a league of their own this weekend" based on the grid's testing form.

Carlos Sainz said Ferrari viewed Aston as a threat because "it's already been since December that everyone hears the rumours that Aston Martin is going to be quick this year".

"We all know they were their numbers were very good in the wind tunnel, in the simulator," Alonso's compatriot continued.

"They were, I think, even struggling to hide the excitement of what they were seeing. So, we arrived in Bahrain and they kind of confirmed that they are in the mix again with us.

"And I think it's great news for F1, good news for Fernando. Excited to have one more team in the battle this year."

Alonso, who will be joined in the Aston garage by Lance Stroll when the Bahrain track action gets back underway on Friday following the Canadian sustaining a pre-season wrist injury, continued to deflect questions on what he and his new team might achieve.

"We will give our best on the race, but [the podium is] not the target for us to be honest," he said.

"I think we need to keep learning about the car, only one day and a half – or two days – of testing on a completely new car, new package.

"And I think the top three teams they were in another league last year – they were lapping sometimes even the fourth [fastest] team and basically only seven cars finished on the same lap.

"So, we cannot make that kind of step only in one winter.

"We are very happy with the car, but I think we have to have the feet on the ground and keep working on this good base package."

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