‘7 tenths’. That term must have been music to the ears inside the Red Bull garage late on Friday, after a disastrous winter for the reigning world champions.
As the scale of the crisis became clear, Red Bull threw its vast resources behind struggling engine supplier Renault in the two weeks between the Bahrain test and now.
Friday in Melbourne showed that the RB10 has made a giant step from the back of the grid towards the front, as both Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo were just 7 tenths off the leading pace in the two 90 minute sessions, and also surprisingly reliable.
“That’s extremely encouraging for our team,” said team boss Christian Horner.
“In many respects this is where we would have ideally liked to have been at our first test. Now we have some ground to make up.”
World champion Vettel, having reportedly thrown a ‘hissy fit’ at one point during the winter, was wiping the figurative sweat from his brow in Australia.
“In a way it’s a relief,” agreed the German in a masterstroke of understatement.
“It was a huge step forward compared to two weeks ago in Bahrain.
“I have no doubts we will eventually be at the top — the only question is how long it takes,” Vettel added.
Red Bull’s Dr Helmut Marko raised hopes even higher when he said the RB10 is not even being run at its full potential in Melbourne.
“We are not yet at the point where we can use the full performance of the power unit,” he said.
Renault chief Rob White told Germany’s Auto Motor und Sport: “We are not yet where we want to be, but we’ve made a good step.”
Marko said Red Bull has been helping Renault to improve the troublesome engine software. “We have been working in shifts and are now reaping the first fruits,” he revealed.
Horner said: “I think we are faster than Mercedes in the corners.”
Vettel explained: “I can now use full power when accelerating. There is still a power dip, but not nearly as bad as at the tests.”
Daniel Ricciardo agreed that the team can be “very, very happy with what we did” on the opening day at Albert Park.
“We were probably expecting to be a bit further off the pace — there’s not too many guys in front of us for now,” he grinned.
Ricciardo’s predecessor Mark Webber is trackside this weekend, but he has been warning consistently throughout the winter that his highly successful former team will ultimately get back on track.
AAP news agency quoted him saying on Friday: “It would be a very brave man to underestimate Red Bull.” (GMM)