Ross Brawn has conceded that Red Bull Racing's rivals - Mercedes Grand Prix included - missed a crucial trick over the winter months, thereby allowing the energy drinks-backed outfit to again come out-of-the-blocks with a head-start in F1 2011.

In both Australia and Malaysia, Sebastian Vettel claimed pole position and victory to establish an early 24-point advantage over any of his pursuers as he seeks to successfully defend his hard-won drivers' world championship crown this season - and although the gap to the chasing pack was palpably closer at Sepang, still Adrian Newey's RB7 remains very much the benchmark for all pretenders to aim at.

With much having been made about Red Bull's flexible front wing last year - and the very extent to which it flexed - already in 2011 there are whispers, batted away by team principal Christian Horner last weekend, that the Milton Keynes-based squad is pushing the envelope rather further than perhaps it should be in regard to a spirit of fair play.

Ferrari, however, has now announced its intention to pursue the same school of innovation, and rather than pointing the finger at the FIA's failure to close the contentious loophole in the rulebook with the new bodywork flexibility rule that it has introduced for 2011, Brawn suggests that it is other teams' failure to exploit the concept over the 'off' season that has allowed RBR to steal a potentially vital early march.

"There's a regulation which says the bodywork should be rigid," the Englishman explained, "[but] we all know that's impossible because everything moves. It's a question of degrees, so the FIA has a series of tests to measure the degree to which bodywork moves - and as long as you pass those tests, then your car is to all intents and purposes legal.

"Those tests can change - in fact they changed over the winter because, as they do in a lot of areas, the FIA try and improve them. There's a new test this year. Red Bull obviously pass it, so that's all there is to say about it.

"They've got a philosophy of their car and approach, and teams have got to decide if that's the reason - or one of the reasons - for their level of performance. If it is, then you need to consider going that route yourself, or make sure it's not an excuse for the fact they're winning everything at the moment. You have to ask yourself whether it makes sense to change tack; McLaren have shown that you can be fast even with a completely different approach.

"It's fair to say that probably, over the winter, a lot of teams assumed with the new test that the situation was going to change and it hasn't, so we're faced with what we have and we have to make sure we produce as competitive a car as we can and comply with the FIA tests."

Those sentiments are echoed by former RBR ace-turned-BBC F1 commentator David Coulthard, who reflects that McLaren-Mercedes' constant snipings in particular are now simply 'boring'.

"It is just incredible that the Red Bull front wing debate has cropped up again," the Scot wrote in his regular column for The Daily Telegraph. "I am sick to the back teeth of hearing the same story regurgitated time and again.

"To be absolutely clear, a car has to pass scrutineering to be allowed to race. Once it has done so, it is the right of any team, if they feel a car is running outside of the regulations, to lodge a protest. To do that would not even amount to a team's soft drinks budget for a weekend - small beer - so anyone who complains repeatedly about something but does not lodge a protest is either scaremongering, trying to devalue someone else's achievements or has serious doubts about the solidity of their argument.

"Red Bull's front wing has repeatedly passed every test put in front of it, so their rivals either need to copy it - if they can - or challenge it if they think it is illegal. Put up, or shut up."

Mercedes, certainly, has endured a tremendously frustrating start to the new campaign with its underperforming MGP W02, a car that had a troubled birth before seeming to take a giant leap forward in the final pre-season group test in Barcelona - and then failing to replicate that in either Melbourne or Kuala Lumpur due to what Brawn describes as 'quite a flood of problems' largely 'of our own making'. As he previews this weekend's Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai, however, he is hopeful of better fortunes ahead.

"The car is not where we want it to be yet," the 56-year-old candidly acknowledged, "and we need to make some progress. I think we have got a little while to go before we can trouble RBR. We have got lots happening; there are some things we still need to understand, and obviously running the car consistently means we can get a better understanding.

"With the back-to-back races taking place in Malaysia and China on consecutive weekends, there is little time to make significant changes to the car ahead of our visit to Shanghai. However, we are using the few days available to undertake a thorough review of our first two race weekends and identify those areas where we can make improvements for the Chinese Grand Prix.

"The hard work will continue at the factory while we are in Shanghai to ensure that we are in a stronger position for the start of the European season. Looking ahead to this weekend, the Shanghai circuit is an extremely impressive facility and one of those tracks which produces exciting races year-after-year. China is a very important market for both F1 and Mercedes-Benz, and we are very much looking forward to our visit."



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