MELBOURNE • Christian Horner has brushed off his Red Bull team's underwhelming performance in pre-season testing and insisted that the car will improve throughout the campaign and be 1.5 seconds per lap faster by the final race in Abu Dhabi.
Despite expectations that the new technical regulations would allow Red Bull to close the gap on Mercedes this season, the Austrian constructor struggled with power unit problems during testing in Barcelona and lagged behind both Ferrari and the world champions.
Ferrari were first and second on the overall timesheet, with Kimi Raikkonen's fastest lap of 1min 18.634sec some 0.804sec faster than Red Bull's quickest time clocked by Max Verstappen. Mercedes completed 1,096 laps in Barcelona and Ferrari 956, while Red Bull managed 684, placing them seventh of the ten teams for total laps.
"We are not at their level yet," Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo admitted.
But Horner, the team principal, was bullish about their prospects.
"We have never won a testing world championship in the last 12 years as there doesn't tend to be a lot of points for that," he said. "The cars as they'll finish in Abu Dhabi (the season finale) will be 1.5 seconds quicker than today."
Number of races, out of 21, that Mercedes won last year. Christian Horner's Red Bull, who won the other two, are looking to challenge that dominance this season.
Horner, however, did concede that the pre-eminence of Mercedes, who have won the past three constructors' titles, shows no signs of waning.
"Mercedes is the clear, clear favourite. They have won 50 races in the last three years, we've won five and Ferrari three. Do I have to say more?" he said.
He confirmed Mercedes had inquired about hiring either Ricciardo or Verstappen as a replacement for Nico Rosberg after the German's retirement in December, but said that he had turned them down in a "fairly short" conversation.
Mercedes subsequently signed Valtteri Bottas to be Lewis Hamilton's team-mate.
Horner also praised the "very fresh outlook" of Chase Carey, the new chief executive of the Formula One Group, but warned against the plan to expand the calendar from 20 races to 25, a scenario which he described as "saturation".
THE TIMES, LONDON, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE