sport

Horner: Merc one second clear

Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner has suggested that the World Champions will find it difficult to win races early this season.

Sunday's race in Melbourne lived up to the expectations of many, with Nico Rosberg taking the chequered flag for Mercedes comfortably clear of the field.

Engine problems meant that team-mate Lewis Hamilton joined World Champion Sebastian Vettel in early retirement, but any anxiety Red Bull felt after their pre-season reliability problems was eased considerably by Daniel Ricciardo's run to second place.

That result remains provisional after Ricciardo's car was subsequently disqualified for a fuel infringement but Horner expressed relief that at least one of their cars had managed to complete a full race distance.

"I think Mercedes is definitely extremely quick and I should think they were driving to a pace rather than being stretched," he said.

"They've probably got more up their sleeve, so we've got quite a lot of work to do. What's encouraging is compared to the rest of the field, we well exceeded our expectations.

"To be racing McLarens and Ferraris after the pre-season that we've had; by the 20th lap we were into new territory in terms of distance completed by the car."

With Horner reckoning that Mercedes are a good second clear of the rest, he is anticipating more of the same in Malaysia next week, with Williams also looking strong.

"I'm sure they didn't fully extend themselves and it looks like they have at least a second in the pocket," Horner said.

Valtteri Bottas' charges through the Albert Park field were also highlights and he added: "If [Williams] had a clean race today, they'd have been right there."

Horner said Red Bull's deficit is most keenly felt on the straights and he pinpointed a lack of driveability of Renault's new power unit as the cause.

"Ninety per cent of the issues are software-related - how the energy recovery system is working with the combustion engine," he added.

"We're tremendously restricted in the driveability of the car - how the torque is delivered - which obviously affects straightline speeds.

"I think there is room for an awful lot of improvement, but it's working between the engineers in Milton Keynes and Viry-Chatillon to make sure we get the most out of it."