Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner warns that Ferrari has not revealed its true colours yet during the Malaysian Grand Prix weekend at Sepang – as he predicted that as many as four teams could be in the mix for glory in Kuala Lumpur.
In the three practice sessions, it has been Red Bull and McLaren-Mercedes all the way, with Mark Webber holding a staggering 1.6-second advantage in FP1 on Friday, but Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton trimming that down to next-to-nothing in FP2, and the latter turning the tables on the energy drinks-backed outfit by soaring to the top of the order in FP3 this morning.
Mercedes Grand Prix, too, appear to be considerably more competitive in Malaysia than they were Down Under in the Melbourne curtain-raiser a fortnight ago – but thus far, there have been few signs of any real raw pace from Ferrari, who are bidding to fight back this weekend following a far less successful Australian Grand Prix than the Scuderia
had been hoping for. Don't write them off too soon, cautions Horner.
“You cannot read too much into that,” the Englishman stressed of Webber's commanding margin at the end of FP1. “Different people were running to different programmes – there was even a margin between our two cars. As we saw in the afternoon, certainly the McLarens look competitive and Mercedes [are] not too far away. I don't think Ferrari have shown their full hand yet, so [it's] very difficult to draw too many conclusions, but in terms of our own performance it was a productive and good Friday.
“We worked through a programme with both of the drivers looking at the soft and the hard tyre and some other bits-and-pieces. We covered plenty of laps trying to understand the characteristics of the tyres, [which] add an extra dimension this year with the strategy. It is going to be fascinating to see how it pans out, but on top of that we have also got the weather to keep an eye on as well, so it is going to be an interesting weekend.”
Horner went on to explain that having elected against using KERS in the race in Australia due to reliability concerns and questionable benefits around the streets of Albert Park, in Malaysia, so far, 'the system has run well and obviously reliably' – and as he anticipates another title-challenging campaign in prospect, he paused briefly to reflect back on Red Bull's crowning achievement in F1 2010 and the difficulties in dovetailing that successful bid for the championship with focussing upon the raft of regulation changes for 2011.
“It was excellent,” the 37-year-old acknowledged. “The winter was very, very busy, because the challenge of winning the championship last year, with it going all the way down to the wire, obviously consumed a huge amount of energy and focus and attention – and then not to be totally distracted by that in the meantime, in the background, to be designing a car to different regulations, different challenges with KERS re-introduced, with the rear wing and a different tyre manufacturer, obviously posed its own challenges.
“I think the team just worked phenomenally hard, collectively, as a group, to produce the car in time for the first test – effectively in a shorter period than they've had to design and build the car previously. Then we enjoyed a good pre-season, probably one of our best-ever pre-seasons, where we were disappointed that the first race in Bahrain was cancelled, for understandable reasons. We felt that we were ready, at that point in time.”