On the basis of Barcelona testing, Ferrari and Mercedes are neck and neck at the top of the order and closely trailed by Red Bull.
But there are big question marks about Red Bull’s true pace.
“Have they just put the 2016 car on wide tyres?”? teased Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, according to Auto Motor und Sport.
He is referring to the fact that it is believed Red Bull will not release most of the visual upgrades for the 2017 car until Melbourne.
“We will see the real Red Bull in Melbourne,” agreed Mercedes’ Toto Wolff.
Indeed, when Red Bull boss Christian Horner was asked if the team will “surprise” with its Melbourne car, he answered cryptically: “You can count on it, although it might be a different surprise to what you imagine.”
Another theory is that Red Bull’s development programme has actually been held up by handling issues and reliability problems with the new Renault engine.
Lewis Hamilton, who branded Ferrari the “favourites” for Melbourne, thinks Red Bull “will be there” come Melbourne.
“They usually only bring their big upgrade package to the first race,” said the Mercedes driver.
Marko, meanwhile, agreed with Hamilton that Ferrari is looking particularly strong early in 2017.
“Ferrari will be a very serious contender for the lead,” said the Red Bull official. “Mercedes seems to have some difficulty with the floor of the car, so I think their advantage will not be what it was before.”
And Marko confirmed that one of Red Bull’s biggest problems is Renault reliability.
“We’ve had several problems with the MGU-K,” he told Speed Week. “We were told that it would be fixed for the second test but it was not.”
But he also admitted that the car is not perfect.
“Sometimes we don’t get the tyres in the correct temperature window,” said Marko, “and we don’t fully understand why.”
And Red Bull team owner Dietrich Mateschitz said as he observed the final day of Barcelona testing: “Mercedes leads, but Ferrari and us are catching up.
“We expect to be level by the summer.”