Horner sees a development battle stretching out from the start of the season. Picture: Red Bull Racing

London - Red Bull is hoping Renault's revamped engine will give them the power to take on champions Mercedes in a new-look Formula One in 2017.

"It’s a brand new engine this year, a change of philosophy," team principal Christian Horner said in a pre-season interview. "Renault has had a big winter.

"We’re hoping for a step up in performance and if that’s delivered then we hope we can really be a challenger team this year and give the Mercedes and Ferraris a hard time."

Red Bull's Renault engines, branded as Tag-Heuer, powered the team to two wins in 2016 with Dutch teenager Max Verstappen and Australian Daniel Ricciardo.

They were the only drivers apart from Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton and now-retired world champion Nico Rosberg to win races in 2016.

The rules have been rewritten for 2017, with cars expected to lap significantly faster on wider tyres.

As with any change to the status quo, Horner saw a development battle stretching out from the start of the season in Australia on 26 March all the way to Abu Dhabi on 26 November.

"What excites us most about 2017 is the opportunities that arise from these new regulations. It's going to be fascinating to see who's got it right and who's got it wrong," said the Briton, whose team was runner-up in 2016.

"You'll see big increments early on because the regulations are pretty immature. I think there is going to be low-hanging fruit early on to make sizeable steps.

"That's going to push every department in the whole team to try and outwit, out-smart, out-develop and out-produce our rivals. That's going to be a stellar challenge in F1 this year."

Red Bull will show off its new car on Sunday with testing starting in Barcelona on Monday.

Horner said former champion Red Bull was on schedule, proceeding like a swan while paddling frantically beneath the surface.

"It's an exciting moment, to see the car break cover," he said. "People get sucked into who's doing what times, which fuel loads, who's doing race runs etcetera...It's all irrelevant in reality.

"You have to focus on your own programme, put the blinkers on, get through your programme of work and the developments you want to look at - because it's all going to change by the time you get to Melbourne anyway."

Sauber kicked off a busy week in the Formula 1 paddock by unveiling its new C36-Ferrari challenger for the 2017 season, though the presence of the team’s 25-year anniversary largely hides the fact that the car is lacking in sponsorship that could see the cash-strapped team face a daunting year ahead.

The team released images of the 2017 car on its official website, with the blue and white livery of the most aesthetically pleasing Sauber’s in recent memory.

However, while the gold trim and large “25 Years” message is rather striking, the absence of a main sponsor will be a concern for the 2017 year’s driver line-up of Marcus Ericsson and Pascal Wehrlein, the latter joining from Manor before it went into administration earlier in 2017.

Wehrlein's move has been far from smooth though, with the German set to miss the first pre-season test in Barcelona after hurting his back in the Race of Champions exhibition after rolling a three-wheel Polaris Slingshot.

Monday’s unveiling saw Sauber become the second team to release images of its car for the season ahead – which will start on 26 March in Australia – after Williams released a video of its FW40 last Friday.

But the releases will now come thick and fast, with Renault due to unveil its new car in London on Tuesday, while both Force India and reigning Constructors' champions Mercedes will hold unveilings at Silverstone on Wednesday and Thursday respectively.

Ferrari will unveil its latest challenger in Fiorano on Friday with McLaren also choosing to release its car at the end of the week in Woking, while Red Bull and Toro Rosso will both hold on until Sunday 26 February, with Haas completing the week’s events by holding an online release of its F17.

Remaining unveilings:

February 21: Renault RS17, London

February 22: Force India VJM10, Silverstone

February 23: Mercedes W08, Silverstone

February 24: Ferrari, Fiorano

February 24: McLaren MCL32, Woking

February 26: Red Bull RB13, Online

February 26: Toro Rosso STR12, Barcelona

February 26: Haas VF17, Online

Reuters, The Independent

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