Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner admits he has concerns about how Mercedes might respond to its troublesome pre-season at this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix.
Mercedes struggled during the three-day test in Bahrain, suffering a gearbox issue that cost it half a day of running, losing track time at the start of every afternoon session and fighting an unstable car in the windy conditions. While Red Bull’s test was a lot more encouraging from a performance and car handling point of view, Horner says the way Mercedes bounced back from a tough winter in 2019 is preventing him from getting overly optimistic.
“There is no denying that after the smooth running of the three-day test in Bahrain, there seems to be an excitement out there that we can end Mercedes’ seven-year dominance of F1,” Horner said. “But we had a debrief within the team after the test and it is fair to say we are a little more cautious on the subject and we cannot underestimate the size of the challenge ahead of us on many fronts.
“We know that Mercedes have not won by mistake for the past seven years; they are a quality, class team that will be motivated to come back strong. We saw it a couple of years ago where there was a similar story during pre-season testing and then they smashed it out of the park at the first race in Melbourne.
“So, you cannot take anything for granted. And at this stage it is good that we have a solid basis from which to develop the car, rather than fixing an inherent problem.
“Of course, Mercedes are trying to move the spotlight away from themselves, which is all part of the game, but the reality is they are the reigning seven-time world champions and it is down to us to close that gap and put up a fight.
“They had one of their strongest seasons last year and this year’s car is an evolution of that, so let’s see what we all have in Bahrain and the rest will follow.”
Two years ago, Mercedes had a very different car between the first and second pre-season tests, and only unlocked its potential right at the end of the final day before nailing the setup at the first race. This year’s schedule means Mercedes has not had any further proper running to work on its issues, but team principal Toto Wolff is still expecting some progress over the opening race weekend.
“Overall, it was a tricky three days of testing for us,” Wolff said. “The W12 wasn’t as stable, predictable or planted as some of our rivals. Red Bull looked strong on both the long and the short runs, but as always with testing, it’s difficult to be certain of true performance.
“The only thing we know for sure is that we must prove our ability to react. From the moment the third day of testing finished, we got our heads down and started to figure out how we can return to Bahrain in stronger form in just a few days’ time.
“While these cars share some parts from their predecessors, there have also been significant rule changes to interpret and overcome. We have also had to change the way we work in response to the cost cap. But as we have found before, it’s from the difficult moments that we learn the most.
“This team’s biggest strengths are our people and our values, and after a tough test, I know that we can fight back stronger. I’m looking forward to getting this new and exciting season underway, seeing the progress we can make and how we fare in Bahrain.”