Red Bull team principal Christian Horner knows it would be “foolish” to discount Mercedes following pre-season testing.
The Mercedes team have been utterly dominant in Formula 1 since 2014, winning all seven Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships on offer since.
But while judging a team based on pre-season testing is not usually the best approach, there was no denying Mercedes looked in a spot of bother in Bahrain.
There were reliability issues, while Sir Lewis Hamilton ended up in the gravel behind the wheel of a W12 which does not look easy to drive, compared to 2020’s W11 which looked like it was on rails.
Red Bull, meanwhile, topped the testing timesheets through Max Verstappen, encountering no real issues, while the latest Honda engine looked to be a solid upgrade.
But ruling out a team who are on a run of seven title doubles would not be wise – indeed it would be “foolish”, as Horner put it.
“It’s a long season – 23 races is a massive season – but it’s really important for us to get a good start and the Mercedes test was probably a bit scrappy by their standards, but they are such a quality team,” Horner said, speaking on Sky Sports’ F1 season preview.
“It would be foolish to underestimate them and their ability to bounce back. We saw that a couple of years ago when they looked to be under-performing in Barcelona and then won very comfortably in Australia.”
2021 will be a very busy season for the teams, not only because of the record 23 races but also because they must choose wisely when to switch their resources to the new generation of Formula 1 cars arriving for 2022.
And this work will have to be done under the budget cap, set at $145m for this season, less than half of the budget Mercedes and Red Bull used to enjoy.
And of course, Red Bull are also getting set up to take over Honda’s power units once the Japanese manufacturer leave Formula 1 at the end of 2021.
“It’s always tough balancing resources and Mercedes are a big and quality team,” Horner explained.
“But we have the added challenges of the budget cap this year and the new regulations for 2022 and, of course, we are building our own power unit division here as well, so it’s pretty busy.
“But everyone is super-motivated here and looking forward to the racing season. The fact it looks like we have a decent car to start the year with, we have proved our quality in being able to develop in the past and we need to focus on doing a good job again this year.
“It’s good for us to be going to the race in Bahrain with a decent amount of mileage, a reasonable feeling from the car and now all focus is on making the car quicker rather than fixing problems.”