Adrian Newey says Red Bull Racing could find itself under threat from sister team Toro Rosso and McLaren in 2016 as it primes itself for a potentially difficult season.
The four-time title winning team endured its first F1 season without a win since 2008 last year in a campaign overshadowed by a public fall-out with engine suppliers Renault, which Red Bull blamed for the disappointing results.
Though it actively sought a new engine partner, Red Bull eventually agreed to honour its contract with the French firm for 2016, though it will do so under the TAG Heuer brand nameplate. In the meantime, Renault completed its purchase of the Lotus F1 team and will return to F1 as a constructor in 2016, raising concerns within the Red Bull fold that it won't get the attention necessary to return to winning ways.
Indeed, Newey suggests Red Bull will be defending from behind rather than striving forward in 2016, tipping Toro Rosso – even with a year-old Ferrari engine – and McLaren-Honda to challenge.
"I wouldn't like to make predictions," Newey told Sky Sports F1
. “Honda I'm sure will be making a good step forwards for McLaren. Even Toro Rosso having a one-year out-of-date Ferrari engine will have a good step on their performance. So it's very difficult for us to forecast exactly where we're going to be."
A staunch critic of the current engine regulations, chief designer Newey says Red Bull has been working hard to compensate with the RB12's chassis, but says there is only so much the team can do in an era where he feels performance is overwhelmingly dictated by the power unit.
“It's very clear at the moment that whilst both chassis and power unit are important, there is a greater potential for differentiation in the power unit than a fairly restrictive set of chassis regulations.
"It's going to be difficult but there are still opportunities to make a difference with the chassis and we'll be working hard."