Red Bull bounce back from winter woes

It was not all smooth sailing, but team chief Christian Horner hails strong practice sessions for season-opening Australian Grand Prix

PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 March, 2014, 10:42pm
UPDATED : Friday, 14 March, 2014, 11:51pm

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner hailed an "extremely encouraging" day for the Formula One champions after they banished some winter testing demons with a strong showing in practice on Friday for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.

Red Bull's preseason was abysmal, with neither quadruple champion Sebastian Vettel nor teammate Daniel Ricciardo able to complete a race simulation due to reliability problems, but the pair clocked up ample mileage on a sunny day at Albert Park.

Vettel completed 51 laps and finished fourth on the time sheets in the second session, only 0.756 seconds adrift of Mercedes' pace-setting Lewis Hamilton.

There's quite a gap to certainly Mercedes and Ferrari, but we're starting to realise what that gap is
Christian Horner 

His new Australian teammate Ricciardo lapped the Albert Park circuit 64 times for the day and finished sixth fastest in the second session.

"I think Sebastian today has covered a third of the mileage of his total winter," Horner said.

"Obviously, Daniel has done pretty much a race distance today, so that's extremely encouraging for our guys and the guys back in Paris at Renault.

"Hopefully it bodes well on the weekend. The most important thing is to see the chequered flag on Sunday, and that, in itself, is an enormous challenge."

All of the teams have struggled to come to terms with the new turbocharged hybrid engines, but Red Bull's preparations were particularly blighted by their troubled Renault power unit.

Friday was not all smooth sailing, with Vettel forced to return to the pits with a heat problem during the first practice.

The 26-year-old German, bidding for a 10th straight race win on Sunday, also took a skid onto the grass in the second session, one of a number of drivers that struggled with the new V6 engines increased torque and reduced downforce.

Horner was under no illusions that the team still faced a battle to catch up. "We still have an awful lot of work to do," he said.

"We can still see that there's quite a gap to certainly Mercedes and Ferrari, but we're starting to realise what that gap is. By the end of this weekend, we should hope to have a bit more clarity.

"But the way the team has responded to the challenge has been fantastic. There's a real desire and inner strength within the team."

Ferrari's two-time world champion Fernando Alonso handled conditions better than most, posting the quickest lap of one minute 31.840 seconds in the first session and finishing third fastest in the second.

His new teammate Kimi Raikkonen, returning to Ferrari after four seasons away, had a low-key start, posting the seventh fastest time in the second session after being rolled back to the garage due to an aborted start at the exit of the pit lane.

Meanwhile, Hamilton's quickest lap edged out teammate Nico Rosberg by 0.157 seconds as the pace of the two Mercedes' drivers carried on from their strong showing in the winter testing.

"I was trying to feel the car. I missed obviously P1 [first practice], which I felt like was a big back step," Hamilton said.

"I'm satisfied with P2 … not the most perfect day, but I'm really glad I got some run in P2 and just grateful I got some time to feel the car.