Defending double world champions Red Bull Racing have come out of the starting blocks in F1 2011 with an even greater advantage than they had this time last year, reckons Adrian Newey – with the energy drinks-backed operation's chief technical officer assessing the new RB7's dominance to be in the region of 'three-to-five tenths' of a second over its nearest opposition.
Although winter testing is always famously hard to read, the general consensus arriving in Melbourne for this weekend's curtain-raising Australian Grand Prix in the city was that Red Bull again had the edge, with both team principal Christian Horner and Mark Webber talking up the outfit's pre-season preparations.
That was subsequently corroborated by opening practice, with home hero Webber pacing FP1 ahead of team-mate Sebastian Vettel. The first non-RBR – the Ferrari of double F1 World Champion Fernando Alonso – was a gaping six tenths in arrears further still.
Although Vettel and Webber slipped back to fourth and fifth respectively in the afternoon's FP2 session, the paddock feeling is that design guru Newey – the only man whose talent is deemed to surpass that of the record-breaking Michael Schumacher in the modern era – has again got his sums absolutely spot-on. The Englishman concurs that Red Bull's rivals are likely to be playing catch-up for the foreseeable future – but he is quick to stress that there is still no room for complacency.
“We currently have an advantage of between three-to-five tenths,” he told Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera
ahead of FP1 around the streets of Albert Park this morning, “but we are not too comfortable. If we sit back then we will be in for a nasty surprise. The competition is very hard; Ferrari are strong, and I know McLaren — I have worked there.”
Toeing RBR's pre-season company line that they are not necessarily in a position of superiority, however, both Webber and Vettel – who in-keeping with his tradition in recent years, has christened his new car 'Kinky Kylie', ostensibly after Australian pop star Kylie Minogue with the German quipping that his RB7 'has a tight butt, is supple and is good to look at' – remain rather more cautious about their chances.
“It was an exciting start to the season, as there's always a lot going on in Melbourne,” reflected the reigning world champion, modestly maintaining that 'Ferrari will be very strong, so if we are close to them it will mean we are near the top'.
“We were able to complete a lot of laps today, but the weather has been a bit difficult – it starts raining, but then goes dry again, which doesn't make it that easy to test different things. Despite that, I think we got a good idea as to where we are compared to our competitors. All-in-all, I think we can be pleased; it seems we are not too bad, but we have to wait and see.”
“We had some Melbourne showers at the end of FP2, which are always pretty tricky round here, but in general it was a pretty good day for us,” echoed Webber. “We've still got some work to do – there are some quick guys out there. It was good to finally try the tyres out on this circuit, and I had a go with everything new on the car. McLaren look quick, but with Ferrari you can never tell, as they always run a bit more fuel on a Friday.”
Meanwhile, it has been reported that Red Bull made an unsuccessful eleventh-hour bid to get the new moveable rear wing regulations altered ahead of this weekend, with Finnish newspaper Turun Sanomat
musing that the Milton Keynes-based squad is fearful that the deployment of the device by one of its adversaries will only serve to accentuate the straight-line speed deficit of the Renault engine in the back of the RB7. Webber has argued that 'letting us use it on all the straights, on all the laps, makes no sense'.
It is claimed that the team asked for the wing to be banned during practice and qualifying, but there was not unanimous agreement from all of its rivals. The FIA has reiterated that the wing will only be prohibited in wet practice and qualifying sessions on safety grounds.