Red Bull boss Christian Horner has warned his side cannot underestimate the scale of the task it faces if it is to end Mercedes’ seven-year run of dominance in Formula 1.

There is great intrigue surrounding which team heads into this weekend’s season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix as the favourite after F1's top two teams experienced contrasting fortunes in winter testing.

While Red Bull enjoyed a trouble-free three days of running and ended pre-season fastest with Max Verstappen topping the timesheets, reigning world champions Mercedes’ winter programme was set back by reliability issues and rear-end stability problems with its updated W12 car.

Verstappen said Red Bull would be “stupid” to think it is ahead of Mercedes based purely on pre-season testing, and team principal Christian Horner stressed the Milton Keynes squad “cannot take anything for granted” in its bid to clinch a first world championship since 2013.

“There is no denying that after the smooth running of the three-day test in Bahrain, there seems to be an excitement out there that we can end Mercedes' seven-year dominance of F1,” Horner said in his Red Bull column.

“But we had a debrief within the team after the test and it is fair to say we are a little more cautious on the subject and we cannot underestimate the size of the challenge ahead of us on many fronts.

“We know that Mercedes have not won by mistake for the past seven years; they are a quality, class team that will be motivated to come back strong.

“We saw it a couple of years ago where there was a similar story during pre-season testing and then they smashed it out of the park at the first race in Melbourne. So, you cannot take anything for granted.”

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While Horner was keen to echo Verstappen in downplaying Red Bull’s chances, he did acknowledge that the team is encouraged by the “solid base” it has managed to achieve with the RB16B.

Red Bull’s 2021 F1 car looked both stable and fast on track in Bahrain and the team appears to have successfully addressed the skittish tendencies of its predecessor which plagued its 2020 campaign.

“We are only focussing on ourselves and at this stage, it is good that we have a solid basis from which to develop the car, rather than fixing an inherent problem,” Horner added.

“Of course, Mercedes are trying to move the spotlight away from themselves, which is all part of the game, but the reality is they are the reigning seven-time world champions and it is down to us to close that gap and put up a fight.

“They had one of their strongest seasons last year and this year's car is an evolution of that, so let’s see what we all have in Bahrain and the rest will follow.”

Red Bull and engine partner Honda are going all out in their quest to win a first world championship title together, with the Japanese manufacturer bringing forward an all-new power unit ahead of its exit from the sport at the end of the year. A newly developed fuel from supplier ExxonMobil is also set to enhance both performance and reliability.

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Despite the significant carry-over of parts between 2020 and 2021, teams also have one eye on sweeping regulation changes on the horizon for 2022.

Horner said the challenge of maintaining competitiveness throughout the upcoming campaign whilst also ensuring strong development of the all-new 2022 car - which will be called the RB18 - has provided the teams with a delicate and unique balancing act.

“ExxonMobil has a great relationship with Honda and hopefully we will see the benefits of that collaboration this season, and future seasons, as we adapt to use an increased percentage of biofuel in our cars.

“As for the chassis, there are some changes for 2021 so Adrian Newey and the team are splitting their time across both cars, the RB16B and the RB18, which is new for 2022.

“So it is very much a juggling act and, because the 2022 rules are effectively a blank sheet of paper – there is no carry-over and we have limited resources that we can apply to it due to the new cost cap, so it is a bit of a balancing game.”

Red Bull's bid to dethrone Mercedes has also been strengthened by the signing of F1's newest race-winner Sergio Perez. The Mexican has replaced Alex Albon after the Anglo-Thai failed to live up to expectations last year and Red Bull is confident its revised pairing will ensure it has two cars consistently in the fight against Mercedes. 

"Of course, the big news over the winter was the arrival of Sergio to the team," Horner said. "He has settled in quickly and while he is experienced, he is also a laid-back character. He knows what he wants and has 10 seasons of F1 under his belt.

"As for Max, he is in good shape and looking really sharp. He hit all his fitness targets at the pre-season training camp in Red Bull's facility in Austria and is readier than ever for the start of the season."

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