Red Bull sets Mercedes gap target for Australia
Red Bull believes a 0.5-second deficit to Formula 1 favourite Mercedes at the Australian Grand Prix will be enough for it to get itself in the hunt for race wins this year.
While the team has optimism about its driver line-up and the progress it has made with its chassis, it remains uncertain about how engine supplier Renault stacks up against Mercedes.
But on the eve of the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz is clear about how he will gauge whether or not his team has hit its winter targets.
"We do not know exactly what Mercedes did so far and how big their advantage will be, but if we are 0.5 seconds behind, we can match them with our chassis and drivers," he told Motorsport.com.
"If we are one second behind, the gap will be too big to fight for wins. Overall I guess Ferrari and Red Bull got closer to Mercedes."
Max Verstappen has backed Mateschitz's view that the half-second target will be an important marker for the team.
"Towards the end of the season, we were more competitive so hopefully through winter testing and the start here we are again a little bit closer," he said in Melbourne. "I do think that Mercedes is still the team to beat. I think they are still very quick.
"But let's have a better start to the year than last year. And I think then for sure if we are within let's say half a second we can definitely fight on a few tracks."
Teammate Daniel Ricciardo believes that a strong start in Melbourne is essential for the team to lay out its ambitions for the year ahead.
"As a team I think it would be huge," said the Australian. "And I think it would, if they are not already awake the other teams, then it would really get them going.
"For us to have a strong one would set I think a statement for the long term this year and show that we'll be fighting for the championship. So yeah, it would be awesome to get off on the right foot."
Although not certain about Red Bull's exact form, Mateschitz does have faith that the Milton Keynes-based outfit and sister team Toro Rosso are in a totally different shape to 12 months ago.
"I have to admit that we had at the beginning of last year not only an engine problem, but also a chassis-related one," he said.
"We had to re-develop during the first half and were competitive only from mid-season. This season is different.
"At Toro Rosso, Honda's engine runs like a clockwork, is reliable and in power output is equal with Renault.
"Red Bull Racing brought an excellent car again to the track. The Renault engine seems to be more driveable and reliable. However, we do not know yet how accurate dyno data is. Overall I assume we are closer to the top engine and chassis wise than last year."
Additional reporting by Gerhard Kuntschik, Erwin Jaeggi and Andrew van Leuween.
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