Red Bull Racing boss Christian Horner admits that he expects the gap between his team and current F1 pacesetter Mercedes to extend at round three in Bahrain this weekend.
While RBR has been the team to take the fight to the Silver Arrows, with Daniel Ricciardo's disputed second place in Australia followed up by a podium appearance for Sebastian Vettel in Malaysia, Horner acknowledges that Mercedes has done a better job with its new engine technology, giving Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton a head-start in the championship race.
The Anglo-German pairing has claimed a win apiece from the first two rounds, and Horner expects them to be the ones to beat in Sakhir this weekend, even though RBR engine partner Renault continues to work on a solution for what currently ails its turbo V6.
“They've got a big gap and obviously plenty up their sleeve at the moment,” he conceded, “We've done incredibly well to get as close as we did this weekend, [but] their advantage is clearly in a straight line and we're working hard with the guys from Viry. Considering where we were with the engine, what we're doing is beyond expectation, and we know there is a lot more to come once we sort out driveability issues and so on. Hopefully our curve, when catching up on straight line speed will, whilst steep, allow us to take steps.”
Confirming that the majority of Renault's problems are 'software related', Horner is optimistic about closing the gap to the front, but admitted that doing so won't be the work of a moment.
“I wish it was that easy,” he said when asked if it was possible to change the engine software overnight, “These engines are so bloody complicated! I think it's a matter of getting all three elements - the combustion engine, the turbo and the energy recovery system - working in harmony and, at the moment, we're not there yet.
“I think [Mercedes'] advantage in Bahrain will possibly be bigger than it was here. Our middle sector [was good] and we got quite close to them in the final sector, but the first sector was where they killed us all weekend. It is, effectively, two straights and, on average, [the difference] was half a second, sometimes a little more than that just on those two straights. We're not going to have a solution overnight - and it doesn't tend to rain much in Bahrain either – but we're obviously going to try and make as much progress as we can in the week. The dynos are busy running in Paris and, hopefully, we can nudge a bit closer to them again if at all possible.
“Mercedes, hat off to them, have done a very good job over the winter with this new engine, with this new technology, and we've got to work very hard to catch them. But it's not just us - you saw, today, that [Fernando] Alonso on new tyres and with his DRS fully open still couldn't pass [Nico] Hulkenberg on a scrubbed set of tyres, so it's not just Renault.”
Whilst RBR battles with reliability, the new sound of F1 came in for early weekend criticism from four-time world champion Vettel, who used the opening FIA press conference to describe the 2014 aural sensation as 'sh*t'. The German had been sidelined by engine problems in Melbourne, but Horner did not think his star should be sanctioned for speaking his mind.
“Unfortunately, we live in quite a politically correct world, and red bull's philosophy makes it quite uncomfortable for the team in that the drives have freedom of speech and expression,” he noted, “I don't think anyone would condemn a driver for having an opinion and it's not one he's alone on. There's different opinions and everyone's entitled to one. No-one spoken to me about [Vettel's expletive] over the weekend, and rather than others in the pit-lane [condemning] him for it, he should be applauded for saying what he thinks.”