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Red Bull hopes to join Mercedes-Ferrari battle

On the basis of testing so far, 2017 is shaping up as a close battle between Mercedes and Ferrari.

Retired reigning world champion Nico Rosberg was at the Barcelona test on Wednesday, and he said that despite his continuing links to Mercedes, he wouldn’t mind if Ferrari’s apparent form rang true in Melbourne and beyond.

“There would be worse things — fingers crossed,” said the German.

“Red Bull seem a bit further away at the moment but maybe they can join in the mix too,” he added.

Indeed, Red Bull has seemed outshone by the top two teams so far, but it is believed the bulk of the Adrian Newey-penned design’s aerodynamic appendages will only be added next week.

“Nobody should assess anything yet,” agreed Daniel Ricciardo. “The times are simply not representative.

“I expected Ferrari to be at the front, for sure Mercedes, so that’s no surprise. In the coming week we will get a clearer picture, but if Mercedes and Ferrari are ahead then we do not intend to keep it that way.”

As for whether Ferrari really is at eye-level with Mercedes, Sebastian Vettel at least broke his team-imposed media silence on Wednesday, declaring that his “gut feeling” is better than a year ago.

“Will we do better? I have balls, but they’re not crystal so they don’t tell me much,” the Italian media quotes the German as joking.

“The potential is impossible to say today, but we’re not trying to look left and right. It is a solid beginning,” Vettel added.

More generally, there are fears the 2017 cars will be harder to overtake, but Valtteri Bottas on Wednesday at least smashed the previous Barcelona lap record.

“This is the fastest I have ever driven in formula one, no doubt,” said his Mercedes teammate, Lewis Hamilton, who said the violence of the car has even left him bruised.

Indeed, Rosberg left Barcelona on Wednesday declaring that while the overtaking question is unanswered, races could be won and lost because exhausted drivers make fundamental mistakes.

“I can’t imagine that,” said Vettel. “We will quickly get used to the higher forces. But it does feel more like ten years ago with tyres that you can push harder, so that’s nice.”

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