sport

Horner: Beware of Ferrari

Christian Horner admits he does not know where Red Bull stand heading to Melbourne - and has warned against writing off Ferrari.

And the Red Bull Team Principal has also warned against writing off Ferrari in the season opener.

Testing did not go as smoothly as expected in Barcelona for the World Champions but, while he was happy overall, Horner said fuel levels made it difficult to know how competitive the other teams were two weeks ahead of the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.

"It's always difficult to say because teams always run different fuel levels in their car," he told Sky Sports News. "That obviously masks performance, but we've been relatively happy with our pre-season testing.

"We've ticked most of the boxes we wanted to and it's only when we get to Melbourne and the fuel comes out of the car what the pecking order is for the start of the season.

"We know McLaren are looking strong and Mercedes look like they've made a step forward, Ferrari - it would be foolish of us to dismiss them - so I think we're set for a really exciting season."

Horner said it would be foolish to write off Ferrari so early in the season despite their problems in testing.

"Winter testing is inconclusive in so many ways," he added. "Last year Ferrari looked like they were the dominant team going into the first race, but as it transpired they only won one race.

"It's so difficult to say. We've had our blinkers on and focused on our own programmes.

"They've got a great team, they haven't fully shown their hand yet. I think they're more competitive than people believe they are. I'm sure the car looks a handful but sometimes a difficult car can be a quick car so it would be foolish to write off Fernando (Alonso) going into Melbourne."

McLaren are once again expected to be one of Red Bull's strongest challengers and Horner says both Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton will be contenders this year.

"Both Lewis and Jenson are massively talented drivers," he said. "They've both been world champion, Jenson had a phenomenal season last year, he seemed to get the team around him and strung a set of results together that was very impressive.

"If he can carry that form forward then he can be a real contender. Lewis is a hugely talented individual, (he had) a difficult season last year but he'll be looking to bounce back."

Sebastian Vettel is looking to win the world championship for a third year in succession and Horner said the 24-year-old continues to improve.

"One of Sebastian's assets is his mind strength. Last year he made very few mistakes. His confidence has grown, his experience has grown," he said.

"Sebastian really enjoys the history of the sport and what he's achieved at a really young age...he's really focused on defending his title but he doesn't underestimate his and our competitors.

"The great thing about Formula One is we have six world champions on the grid with Kimi Raikkonen coming back and I think we're in for an exciting season."

The future of Webber comes under media scrutiny and this year looks like it will be no exception.

"With Mark, we've extended his contract on a year by year basis, I think that's something that Mark and team agreed was the right way forward," Horner said.

"His motivation is high at the moment, he's still delivering and undoubtedly will sit down later in the summer to discuss the future.

"Then we have two exciting young talents that are being groomed for the future in Jean-Eric Verne and Daniel Ricciardo, who will be pushing each other very hard in the Toro Rosso this year.

"Mark has already proved his point, he's won grands prix and is a hugely important part of our team. I think that he really wants to put a competitive campaign together, he's had a good winter. I think winning in Brazil really lifted his spirits, he's come back with a real spring in his step and a real focus on this year's championship. Everything we've seen he's looked very sharp."