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Will Red Bull become contenders?

Sky Sports logo Sky Sports 10-05-2017 skysports.com

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Red Bull face a "big ask" to become championship contenders in 2017 despite the raft of updates they are expected to unleash at the Spanish GP, according to the F1 Report panel. 

Before the season got underway, Red Bull were expected to be Mercedes' closest challengers following the overhaul in Formula 1's regulations which put a greater focus on aerodynamic performance.

But the Milton Keynes-based team have disappointed so far in F1 2017, being on average 1.3 seconds off the pace in qualifying during the opening four grands prix and recording just one podium finish. The Chinese GP has been the only race in which both Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen have finished.

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As a result, Red Bull already find themselves 79 points behind Mercedes and 78 adrift of Ferrari in the Constructors Championship and, while they are expected to arrive in Barcelona with effectively a new car, Sky F1's Marc Priestley believes the gap will be too big to make up.

"Whether they can turn their season around to end up being championship contenders is a big ask," Priestley told the F1 Report, which airs at 8.30pm on Wednesday.

"While they've been consistently the third best team, they've lost a lot of points to the leaders. They will have to start doing something very special to suddenly start beating Mercedes and Ferrari. But they could be up there challenging and everybody wants to see that.

"They have got an awful lot of room for improvement in that car. They had high expectations. We know they are very good at developing a car and they know that they have just got it wrong so far.

"We've had the first four races where they've all been able to look at each other's cars and pick up ideas from everybody. They've been able to learn the strengths and weaknesses of what they've got and I have no doubt Red Bull will be throwing everything at this. I hear it could be such a dramatically different car that it might even be called the RB14 instead of a RB13B."

Joining Priestley and Natalie Pinkham in the studio was Tony Purnell - Christian Horner's predecessor as Red Bull team principal.

Purnell thinks Red Bull may already have a championship-contending chassis, but feels they are being compromised by their Renault power unit.

At the Russian GP, race director Charlie Whiting announced that the Mercedes, Ferrari and Renault power units were within 0.3s of each other but a planned upgrade from the French manufacturer has been postponed until July.

"What you have to factor in is the powertrain and the Mercedes powertrain, I think, is a fair bit superior," Purnell said.

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"We used to have tools to be able to reverse out the power of the opposition. I suspect that the Red Bull car with the same power package might well be a whole lot more competitive.

"Christian [Horner] has to be very balanced, and I suspect he is, in evaluating his car with an allowance for the engine. His engineers should have some compelling evidence which gives the team an accurate idea of how good the chassis is compared to the engine.

"I remember years ago with the Honda car which was quite weak and then it got taken over by Brawn. I remember seeing some analysis that said that car was really, really good but it was let down by the powertrain. And sure enough, they stuck a Mercedes engine in and the Brawn car shot off."

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