Niki Lauda has backed Jenson Button's hunch that Mercedes GP might be feigning pessimism on the eve of the 2010 world championship.
After Michael Schumacher said recently that he does not expect his W01 car to be ready to win in Bahrain, McLaren's Button admitted that "I do not completely believe him".
Team boss Ross Brawn told F1's official website on Tuesday that "we are not quite as well prepared as I would like to be", and Norbert Haug played down suggestions the top four teams are all equal favourites for the title.
"I don't think it's a tie," the German told the Austrian broadcaster Servus TV. "Red Bull are in front of us."
Red Bull team boss Christian Horner agrees: "We are in the best shape we've ever been in."
Mercedes' caution could be the result of pressure from the parent company, with Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche repeating at the Geneva Motor Show this week that the Brackley based team should deliver "all or nothing" in 2010.
Triple world champion Lauda told ORF: "The claim that Mercedes is struggling and will not be able to drive for victory is an understatement in my opinion."
But the German squad is not the only 2010 favourite calling for calm.
Ferrari's is regarded as arguably the car to beat this season, but the Italian marque's president Luca di Montezemolo on Tuesday said there is "too much enthusiasm" about the F10.
"We are not the best, we are among the best," he told Sky Sport 24 at the Geneva Motor Show.
"Last year we finished well behind the others and we are still recovering," insisted Montezemolo.
McLaren's Lewis Hamilton said in an interview with the Italian newspaper La Stampa that the art of caution is widespread in F1 at present.
"I could complain as well and say little lies as they do," said the Briton. "The truth is that there are five or six competitive teams with similar performance, which is a situation that I have never before seen in F1."
Ferrari's Fernando Alonso is quoted by the Spanish agency EFE as saying he is targeting victory in Bahrain.
"I'm sure all the teams have saved a little bit in reserve. Everyone's trying to play it down, but within a few days we will find out. It's going to be very close," said the 28-year-old.