Christian Horner: “There’s a big gap to close with Mercedes and Ferrari.”

Christian Horner: "There's a big gap to close with Mercedes and Ferrari."

Red Bull boss Christian Horner added cold water to the prospect that the team will be able to challenge Mercedes and Ferrari at the start of the Formula One season, despite a “positive” start with its new Honda engine.

With a Renault engine last year, Red Bull finished a distant third behind the champion Mercedes and Ferrari in the constructors’ championship.

But with the RB15 Honda-engine vehicle and good pre-season practice results, the Red Bulls are well on their way to improving their performance in 2018.

However, four days before the Australian Grand Prix, which kicks off the season, Horner said his team still has a long way to go.

“We have an exciting new partnership with Honda from this weekend… we have had a positive start, but we have to keep expectations realistic,” Horner said Wednesday at the launch of the F1 season in Melbourne’s Federation Square.

“There’s a big gap to close with Mercedes and Ferrari. But we are confident that we can do it during the course of the year,” he added.

After Daniel Ricciardo’s departure for Renault, 21-year-old Max Verstappen will be Red Bull’s leader on the track and a candidate for the title in his fifth season in F1.

“It was very nice to test the car with the new partnership with Honda,” said the Dutchman Verstappen about the pre-season tests. “These are very exciting times for us.

Frenchman Pierre Gasly, who comes from Toro Rosso, replaced the Australian Ricciardo.

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