Christian Horner, the boss of Red Bull Racing, has played down hopes that his team will challenge Ferrari and Mercedes at the front of the pack in the 2019 Formula 1 season opener in Melbourne this coming weekend.
The Austrian team were a distant third behind the leading duo in the 2018 season. They have since switched engine suppliers from Renault to Honda and are tipped to make a major stride forward this campaign.
However, Horner insists that a big gap still remains between his team and the ‘Scuderia’ and ‘Silver Arrows’ just days before the Australian Grand Prix.
“We’ve got an exciting new partnership with Honda starting this weekend so it’s off to a positive start but we have to keep expectations realistic,” he said at the F1 season launch at Melbourne’s Federation Square on Wednesday.
“There’s a big gap to close from Mercedes and Ferrari. But we’re confident that we can do that during the course of the year.”
Dutchman Max Verstappen, 21, is now Red Bull’s leading driver following the departure of Daniel Ricciardo to the Renault works team, while Frenchman Pierre Gasly has graduated from the Toro Rosso team to fill the Australian’s seat.
“It was very nice to experience the car, with the new partnership with Honda,” Verstappen said of pre-season testing. “It’s very exciting times for us.”
Gasly, who had two crashes during testing as he got up to speed with the RB15, said he still had plenty to learn as he embarks on his second season in Formula 1.
“It’s an amazing opportunity,” he said at the launch. “It’s probably the best place to be in Red Bull, with (these) guys next to me.”