Christian Horner says it's crucial Red Bull don't let Mercedes get too far ahead
"When we get into Europe we need to make inroads," chief admits
By James Galloway. Last Updated: 07/04/14 12:57pm
Christian Horner insists Red Bull and Renault aren't yet resigned to a season of Mercedes domination but concedes the World Champions must "start making inroads" into their rivals' advantage when F1 returns to Europe.
Having predicted that the early-season pacesetters would streak further clear in Bahrain owing to the power-dominated nature of the circuit, Horner duly saw Mercedes secure their third successive victory, and second straight one-two, while his two cars came home fourth and sixth.
Pending the outcome of their appeal next week against Ricciardo's exclusion from the Australian GP, the Bahrain results mean Red Bull head to the next race in China trailing Mercedes by 76 in the Constructors' Championship with Sebastian Vettel 38 points adrift of Rosberg in the Drivers'.
And with Horner expecting the straights and traction zones of Shanghai to again suit the W05, he says it's vital Red Bull peg the points gap as best they can to keep themselves in the hunt when they hope to be more competitive later in the year.
"It's no secret that we're significantly down on straight-line performance to the Mercedes," the Red Bull Team Principal told reporters on Sunday night. "The Renault guys know that, they're working on it and anything that we can do to close that gap will only get us closer to them.
"We've just got to keep working at it. We're not giving up. We know where we need to improve and we'll keep pushing. The Renault guys are working at it in Paris, the people at [Red Bull's factory in] Milton Keynes are fully fired up. If you think where we were five weeks ago at the test here we would have never made a race distance let alone a competitive race, and we were able to race competitively here and benefit from a test this week.
"China, Mercedes are again going to be very difficult to beat there with the kilometre-long straight. But then when we get into Europe we need to start making inroads into them. The important thing is to not allow too much of a distance to grow in the first third of the year."
Given Sebastian Vettel and the penalised Daniel Ricciardo started half-way down the grid on Sunday, Horner said Red Bull could "draw encouragement that we were pretty competitive at the end of the race" as the latter pressurised Sergio Perez for the final podium spot.
He argued that, with their Renault engine still significantly down on power compared to the Mercedes units, Red Bull were doing well to even run that strongly.
"Considering where we are at the disadvantage in straight-line speed to achieve what we've been achieving has been seriously impressive," Horner argued.
"To nearly get a podium again on this type of circuit, we couldn't get more than that out of the car, the strategy, the drivers, the pitstops and the team."
Ricciardo ultimately came up just three tenths of a second short of beating Perez to third place at Sakhir, Red Bull's new signing overtaking having overtaken Vettel in the closing stages to compound a difficult weekend for the World Champion.
Vettel started ahead of his team-mate, but finished up behind
"Sebastian reported that he was down on straight-line speed but take nothing away from Daniel, he's done a massively impressive job," Horner added.
"Some of his passing manoeuvres today again some tough opposition - Kimi [Raikkonen], Fernando [Alonso], Jenson [Button] - he's done a really impressive job."
The Red Bull chief also explained that Ricciardo's earlier pass on the World Champion following an instruction from the pitwall had been talked about before the race given the drivers were on different starting tyre strategies.
"That was team work as it should be. Both were on different strategies. It was something that we'd talked about prior to the race and both were totally co-operative where they worked together," Horner explained.
"Sebastian said 'I'll let him through at Turn 11', sacrificing as little speed as possible, and it freed Daniel to get on with his race. Then of course it switched through the pitstops back again and then they were free to race over the last sector of the race."