Christian Horner has admitted he anticipates a difficult start to the 2016 Formula 1 season for Red Bull Racing as it prepares for an 'evolutionary' season of 'two halves', but warns it has taken 'risks' in an attempt to get back to form.
Red Bull Racing endured a tumultuous 2015 campaign marred by a series of off-track spats, most notably with engine supplier Renault, while Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz made repeated threats to quit as the Austrian firm struggled for competitiveness.
Nonetheless, after committing to another season, Red Bull heads into 2016 with a relatively unchanged package, its rejected requests for Ferrari and Mercedes power units leading it to continue honouring its agreement with Renault in a deal that will see the engines rebranded as TAG Heuer.
Indeed, with both Red Bull and Renault offering modest assessments of the gains made over the winter, Horner accepts it may take until the second half of the year for it to come on strong.
“It is going to be a season of evolution for us,” he said, speaking at the launch of the team's revised livery for 2016. “I think it is probably going to be a season of two halves; the first half is going to be less competitive than the second but we are expecting to make significant progress during the year.
“The problem is everybody makes progress so we know what progress we've made and we know what progress Renault has made. What we don't know is what everybody else has done and we'll get an indication over the next couple of weeks but it won't be until you get through the first three races that you get a clear indication of what the pecking order is.”
Indeed, Horner is full of praise for the team for getting the RB12 – which will be revealed on the morning of the first test in Barcelona – ready in time, revealing it only passed its final crash test today [17th February], adding that it has taken 'risks' in an effort to find its form eventually.
“The team morale is really strong despite the lateness of engine decisions and everyone got their heads down to make a competitive car for this year. They pushed to the wire. We hadn't done any crash tests until Monday this week and completed them all in three days. The last one about an hour ago. We take risks which other teams would never dream of. That is our DNA and the competitive drive.”
Pressed on where he expects the team to be placed come the Australian Grand Prix opener, Horner says the team is still aiming for Q3, but expects steps from rivals too, not least Toro Rosso.
“In Australia hopefully we'll be in Q3. That would be a starting point to build on,” he continued. “We know that Mercedes and Ferrari are going to be strong. Even if they did nothing they are still going to be in good shape and it's difficult to know how much Williams have found, what Force India have done, it's so difficult to make predictions.
“We know Toro Rosso, for example, will make a big step, so we have to focus on ourselves and do the best job that we can.”