Mercedes ‘trying to move the spotlight away from themselves’ by calling Red Bull favourites, says Horner
“The W12 wasn't as stable, predictable or planted as some of our rivals. Red Bull looked strong on both the long and the short runs.” That’s what Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff was saying ahead of the 2021 Bahrain Grand Prix season opener. But his opposite number at Red Bull Christian Horner suspects there might be some gamesmanship behind his rival’s words as they prepare to face off this year.
It’s undoubtedly true that Red Bull enjoyed the better pre-season test of the two teams, running 369 laps to Mercedes’ 304 – the Silver Arrows incidentally recording the lowest count of any team – while Max Verstappen’s test-topping lap of 1m 28.960s was over a second quicker than Lewis Hamilton’s best, completed on a set of the softest C5 tyres to Verstappen’s C4s.
But despite the strong showing, and resultant flattery from Mercedes, Horner said that he and Red Bull would be keeping their wits about them going into the season.
“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,” said Horner in an article on Red Bull’s own website. “But we had a debrief within the team after the test and it’s 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.
“Of course, Mercedes are trying to move the spotlight away from themselves, which is all part of the game,” added Horner. “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.”
Horner went on to reference the start of the 2019 season, which saw Mercedes appearing to struggle in testing relative to Ferrari – Hamilton telling reporters at the time that Ferrari had a half-second advantage over Mercedes, similar to the gap Red Bull appeared to have over Mercedes on short run pace this year – before Mercedes bounced back to win the first eight races of the season.
“We know that Mercedes have not won by mistake for the past seven years,” Horner said. “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.
“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,” Horner added. “You cannot take anything for granted. 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.”