Max Verstappen may have put his Red Bull RB16B on pole position but Christian Horner is under no illusion about the “massive challenge” he faces keeping Lewis Hamilton behind him.
Verstappen has been the one to beat throughout the Bahrain Grand Prix weekend, claiming the practice hat-trick before bagging pole position with a blisteringly quick 1:28.997.
The only driver to break into the 1:28s, he was 0.388s up on reigning F1 World Champion Hamilton with Valtteri Bottas a further two-tenths behind.
It was a great start to the season for Red Bull with Verstappen’s P1 their first season-opening pole position since 2013 – potentially a good omen as that season Sebastian Vettel went on to to take the Drivers’ title for Red Bull.
But while Horner was celebrating the moment, he concedes Verstappen faces a tough challenge keeping the Mercedes drivers at bay in Sunday’s 57-lap Bahrain Grand Prix.
“It’s fantastic to start the season this way, our first pole at the opening round since 2013 and Honda’s first since Senna in 1991,” the team boss said via Sky F1.
“You never really know where you are at the first race of the year when the fuel comes out and the engine modes are turned up.
“It was nip and tuck in Q2 and it looked like Mercedes had a small advantage on the medium tyre but then Max came back on the softs.”
He added: “Sunday is going to be very tight and Mercedes have turned it up, everyone wrote them off two weeks ago and they’re right up there as we expected.
“It will be a massive challenge for us to beat them but we’re starting from the best possible place.”
As for Verstappen, the pole sitter believes the outcome of the grand prix could be determined on the opening lap.
If he can keep Hamilton and Bottas behind him at the start, he is “confident” Red Bull can bring it home.
“After testing it is always difficult to know where you are and we really didn’t know how it would be in qualifying but when you have a lap like that in Q3 and such a good feeling in the car you can be happy,” said the Dutchman.
“We have to finish it off on Sunday but if I can have a good start I’m confident we can do a good job.”