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Mercedes "clear favourite" for F1 2017 despite rule changes - Red Bull

Red Bull Racing boss Christian Horner believes Mercedes remains heavily favoured to head the Formula 1 pecking order in 2017 despite the introduction of new regulations.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1 W07 Hybrid, Nico Rosberg, Mercedes AMG F1 W07 Hybrid
(L to R): Christian Horner, Red Bull Racing Team Principal and Toto Wolff, Mercedes AMG F1 Shareholder and Executive Director in the FIA Press Conference
Nico Rosberg, Mercedes AMG F1 W07 Hybrid
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1 W07 Hybrid and Nico Rosberg, Mercedes AMG F1 W07 Hybrid
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1 W07 Hybrid and team mate Nico Rosberg, Mercedes AMG F1 W07 Hybrid at the start of the race
Nico Rosberg, Mercedes AMG F1 W07 Hybrid
Toto Wolff, Mercedes AMG F1 Shareholder and Executive Director
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1 W07 Hybrid, Nico Rosberg, Mercedes AMG F1 W07 Hybrid
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1 Team W07 leads team mate Nico Rosberg, Mercedes AMG F1 Team W07
Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull Racing RB9 leads team mate Mark Webber, Red Bull Racing RB9
Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull Racing and Fernando Alonso, Scuderia Ferrari
Jenson Button, Brawn GP and Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull Racing
Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull Racing testing the new 2017 Pirelli tyres
Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull Racing testing the new 2017 Pirelli tyres

Mercedes has swept the drivers' and teams' championships in F1 between 2014 and 2016, winning 51 of the 59 races in those three seasons.

Major technical rule changes arriving in 2017 are expected to shake up the order, however, with Red Bull - the team currently stood as Mercedes' closest rival - tipped to excel under the new aero regulations.

But Horner insists Mercedes remains in the driver's seat, given also that its power unit will likely retain an advantage over the Renault one that Red Bull uses.

"I think it is going to be tough to overcome Mercedes," Horner said. "They will go into next year as the clear favourites. They have won three consecutive world championships, and, whatever it is, 50-odd grands prix in the last three years.

"But we are hopeful that with, the new regulations, it should balance out the emphasis between chassis and engine. We are confident we should make a bit of progress over the winter with the engine.

"And I think the regulations are a clean sheet of paper for everybody. You don’t know where you sit at the moment compared to your opposition. It is an opportunity and challenge that we are looking forward to, and it is only really when we get to Melbourne [that] we will get a glimpse of where the competitive ranking it.

"But for sure Mercedes will be going into the year as the firm favourites. We are just hopeful that we can close that gap so you haven’t got predictable results every grand prix weekend."

Mercedes could face unfamiliar situation

While he reckons Mercedes will be difficult to overhaul, Horner suggests that rival teams getting close enough could have a significant impact on the German team's operations.

"Mercedes have been in a fortunate position in that they haven’t really been challenged since 2014," he explained.

"They have been qualifying on the front row and, with a very fast car, you can pick your strategy and any variable will work for you. Whereas once the grid does concertina, it does put on more pressure."

Horner hinted that Red Bull has an edge in that aspect, as the Austrian team had been involved in several close title contests in the years that preceded the hybrid era.

"We have been through tight championship battles in 2010, 2012, that did go to the last round. And that does give you a strong experience to deal with those situations.

"It will be a new experience for Mercedes when they do come under pressure, which inevitably will happen at some stage.

"I just hope it is Red Bull that is able to put them under pressure."

Development race

Horner said: "I think it will be a development race next year, for sure – because there are easy gains at the beginning of any development cycle.

"That relentless pursuit of chasing upgrades will be a key part of, certainly, the first half of next year."

Asked whether he was wary of his team missing a major development possibility with the new regulations - as had happened with the double diffuser back in 2009 - Horner said: "You hope that you haven’t missed something like the double diffuser issue – it was an interpretation of the regulations that somebody spotted that generated an advantage.

"The [changes in] regulations aren’t quite as dramatic as they were from 2008 to 2009, but are still representing a great opportunity to make the cars certainly significantly quicker.

"And with the tyre profile and size they are moving to, it is a different challenge. "

Additional reporting by Jonathan Noble

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