“We’re going into the year hopeful that we can make progress from where we were in Abu Dhabi,” Horner said during Red Bull’s livery launch event in London on Wednesday. “I think it’ll be a year of two halves – and the second half will be more competitive for us than the first half.
“Teams like Toro Rosso are going to make a big performance jump just by the change of power unit that they have for this year. But we’re expecting steps to be made throughout the year.”
Asked to clarify whether he expects Toro Rosso's 2015 Ferrari unit will be more powerful than the Tag Heuer-badged 2016 Renault engines that Red Bull will use, Horner said: “To start the year, yes, but hopefully that will change through the course of the year.”
Red Bull finished 2015 solidly, having got on top of the chassis problems that added to their power unit woes in the first half of the campaign. With the regulations remaining stable for 2016, Horner believes that Red Bull will once again have “a very strong chassis”, putting the onus on Renault to make gains – something he believes is more realistic now that the French manufacturer has returned to F1 as a fully-fledged constructor.
“I think the positive thing is that by Renault committing to Formula One is that they’re committing, hopefully, the necessary wherewithal and the budgets to enable themselves to be competitive,” Horner explained.
“I get the feeling that they have a much better idea of where their performance deficiency has been and what they need to do to address that. There seems to be a lot more confidence and focus and I think with the restructuring they’ve done they’ve got some quality consultants in there with plenty of experience. And they’ve got Bob Bell back involved who brings a lot of experience from Mercedes-Benz and from a previously successful stint at Renault. So I think they’re addressing the right areas now.
“I have no doubt we’ll get the same support and equipment as the full works team. The bigger question is how does that stack up against their competitors?”
Driver Daniel Ricciardo, who scored three wins for Red Bull in 2014 but ended last season with just two podium finishes to his name, said the team could take hope from the big step Ferrari made with their power unit last winter.
“There’s a lot of room for improvement with the power unit – more I think than Mercedes and Ferrari have,” he said. “If we can get the right kind of ingredients behind it we should see a bigger step. The question is when.
“I’d like to think by the time we get to Europe we should be pretty competitive – getting a lot closer to Ferrari and ahead of Williams. It’s one of those things, last year we were supposed to have [power unit] updates pretty regularly and they didn’t really come on time and [Renault] didn’t really give us what we wanted.”
Having hoped to challenge for the world title ahead of last year’s campaign, Ricciardo has scaled back his ambitions for this season, but remains hopeful of returning to the top step of the rostrum.
“A win is what I hope for,” the Australian confessed. “I say that thinking the season is long - if it comes I don’t think it will come straight away. I’d love to say more but realistically one would be a good start. Last year we just got two podiums, so one victory should mean a few podiums along the way. Victory in Monaco would be alright!”
Ricciardo and team mate Daniil Kvyat will have their first chance to sample Red Bull’s new RB12 at next week’s opening pre-season test in Barcelona, beginning February 22.