Formula One: Red Bull have Mercedes in their sights

Red Bull Formula One driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany drives during the qualifying session of the Abu Dhabi  grand prix on Nov 22, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Red Bull Formula One driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany drives during the qualifying session of the Abu Dhabi  grand prix on Nov 22, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (AFP) - Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said Tuesday his outfit would give Mercedes a closer-run contest than they did last year come the new Formula One season.

Mercedes won the Constructors Championship last season and although Red Bull were runners-up they were still nearly 300 points behind the title-winners.

That followed a poor pre-season testing session in Jerez, Spain, with the UK-based Red Bull managing a mere 21 laps in four days.

However, Red Bull improved as the campaign wore on, with Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo winning three races.

But although new regulations prevent development of the engine, teams can fine tune their systems via the use of "tokens" and Horner expects Red Bull to push Mercedes from the off this season.

"Mercedes are the benchmark, as the reigning champions, as favourites for this year after having a significant advantage at the end of last year," said Horner, ahead of this season's first test in Jerez from Sunday.

"Hopefully, we will have made significant inroads into that advantage, but the question is 'What have they done over the winter? What have the other teams done?'.

"But we have an opportunity this year. You can strategically upgrade over the year on your different power units," added Horner, with French manufacturer Renault supplying Red Bull's engines.

"Renault are taking an aggressive development approach to this year, and strategically we just need to decide when we use the tokens in the four engines we have available to us," said Horner, whose team are based in Milton Keynes, north of London.

"After the first test last year, hopefully this one cannot be any worse than that.

"We managed very few laps over the four days, with the car either stopping on track or setting on fire, so hopefully we've made progress from that point.

"It's at least been the most impressive winter we've had as a team in terms of everything coming together, with the car being produced in the shortest time ever, the design staff hitting all their headlines and targets."

With four-time world champion Sebastien Vettel having joined Ferrari, Ricciardo now finds himself the senior of Red Bull's two drivers alongside new boy Daniil Kvyat.

"The target this year is to win more races and have better results for the title fight, a proper one because last year I was hanging on by a thread," said Ricciardo.

"The engine development changes are going to definitely help us.

"Everyone is going to improve, that's a fact, but you'd like to think Mercedes' room for improvement is small because they made so much of it last year.

"I hope I'm right and they don't have a 50 per cent step on top of what they already have, but there is certainly more room for us and Ferrari to make that gap."