Mercedes still ahead of the rest, insists Red Bull

Despite setting a new unofficial track record in pre-season testing at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on Wednesday, Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo still believes that Mercedes remains on top heading into 2018.

“I’m sure Mercedes are still the top dogs at the moment,” Ricciardo told Sky Sports News. “But I don’t feel we are far off.

“While I think Mercedes still have a bit on us I don’t think it’s too much,” he continued. “We seem to be close. Ferrari, l would guess, are close too. I think we are similar to them.

“If we can keep finding a few more things, we can be very good,” he pledged. “We will find out in Melbourne.”

Red Bull’s motorsport advisor Dr Helmut Marko was also feeling confident about the team’s progress heading into the new season. In particular, he felt that the RB14 chassis was a match for the Mercedes W09 this year.

“From the chassis side, yes,” he said. “If you compare our car to last year’s car it is so much more sophisticated.

“So far everything is working as we expected. Hopefully we can match them,” he said. “But Mercedes in qualifying, there always comes from the engine an extra two to three tenths.”

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“We still have something to come, so we are positive,” added Marko.

The fact that Ricciardo’s short-lived track record had already been demolished by Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel on Thursday morning was of little concern.

“It is cooler today,” shrugged Marko. “We don’t know the sort of load of fuel they have.

“But from the overall package, and let’s say on this circuit, it looks like we are a little bit ahead.”

The team certainly isn’t expecting a challenge from any further back down the grid at the start of the season. Max Verstappen ruled out worrying about a charge from Renault or McLaren this year.

“You pay attention to everybody, but I don’t think they will be our main rivals,” Verstappen told Motorsport.com.

“We don’t want that to be the case,” he admitted. “That would mean we are not doing such a good job. We need to be looking ahead.”

Verstappen said he was keen for the start of the new season in a little over two weeks time. He said it was too early to tell whether a title challenge would be possible.

“I think we just need to wait for the beginning of the season and see how things are going in the first few races.

“I just do my thing and wait for Australia to come. I’m really looking forward to that now!”

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