Melbourne, Australia - Christian Horner, the master of recent Formula One dominance, has predicted that Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes could win Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix by as much as two laps.
Horner made the forecast wistfully, knowing his Red Bull team, which has won the Constructors’ and Drivers’ titles for the past four years, is struggling for form as a result of ‘game-changing’ new engine regulations.
Mercedes, on the other hand, has completed more kilometres, more quickly than any team in testing.
With a number of cars unlikely to finish the race at Melbourne’s Albert Park, Horner said: “You could see a higher level of domination than we had last year.
“They have a huge advantage.”
“Looking at Mercedes’ race simulation, it wouldn’t be a surprise if they finished two laps ahead of everybody in Melbourne. What we know about Lewis is that he is extremely talented and naturally fast. And he’s in a good team, so he’s probably got to be the favourite going into the season.”
The bookmakers agree that Hamilton will recapture the title he won in 2008. But Horner does not discount Nico Rosberg, Hamilton’s more academic team mate who could be better suited to the demands of the new formula.
“Nico and Lewis - those two are favourites,” added Horner, slightly modifying his original assessment. “Last season they were an equal pairing, so one assumes early on the competition will just be between them. They will have the other Mercedes-powered teams giving them a battle so they won’t be able to let up.”
“We believe it is inherently a good car.”
Horner diplomatically declined to reveal whether he is interested in taking over from Bernie Ecclestone as F1’s putative ringmaster, despite receiving some significant support from the highest echelons of the sport. He is instead trying to help Red Bull find their form, believing that when they resolve problems with their Renault engine and how it is packaged the car will be competitive.
“I have every confidence in the team,“ he said. “There’s no panic. There are engineering solutions and there is no better set of engineers in the pit lane. By the time we get to the European races in May, we should be OK.”
Referring to the controversial decision to award double points at the final race in Abu Dhabi, Horner joked: ‘I’d like double points from Silverstone onwards.’
CHEAPENING THE SPORT
Champion Sebastian Vettel has already described the proposal as ‘absurd’ and Red Bull technical chief Adrian Newey believes it has cheapened the sport.
Those views were endorsed by Jenson Button, who said: “If there was one race that was going to have more points you’d think it would be somewhere like Monaco - the toughest race - not Abu Dhabi, so it is unfair on the other circuits as well.’
At 34, and with 247 races under his belt, Button will enter his 15th season in the sport as the most experienced driver on the grid. But it will be his first without father John, who died suddenly in January.
In the immediate aftermath of his dad’s passing, Button hinted that he had considered taking time out of the spotlight.
But ahead of the new campaign, Button reaffirmed his commitment to the sport.
“I might get to the end of this year and think, ‘You know what, I’ve had enough’, but I don’t think that will happen. It would be quite weird living without Formula One in my life.”
Button enters his fifth year with McLaren off the back of the team’s worst season since 1980. And while the British outfit has showed signs of a resurgence in testing, thanks in part to its Mercedes-packaged engine, does Button, whose four-year deal with the British constructor expires at the end of the season, envisage moving to another team?
“No,” the 2009 world champion said, before tellingly adding: “As long as we are winning.
“I feel we have a great team of people and I get on with everyone really well. It does feel like a big family so this is where I want to be in the future.”