Christian Horner has warned that Mercedes are “not standing still” in the battle with Red Bull for the Formula 1 drivers’ and constructors’ championship.
The teams currently look very evenly matched, with Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen taking one win apiece from the opening two races.
The two contenders are separated by a single point in the drivers’ championship, while Mercedes hold a seven-point advantage in the constructors’ standings, and looking ahead to the Portuguese Grand Prix at Portimao next weekend, it is difficult to determine which team will have the upper hand.
While Mercedes looked to be struggling in pre-season testing, they had taken clear strides by the time they arrived at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix and Horner said that the battle rests on numerous factors going forward.
“It’s all going to be about marginal gains,” he said. “It’s about who can develop the car effectively within the budget cap obviously, about reliability, operational incremental gains, about human performance, and about the drivers.
“That’s what it should be about fundamentally, the two best drivers in the sport going head to head. I certainly hope we can sustain this level of performance.
“Mercedes, you can see the progress they’ve made since the difficult start in the Bahrain test. They’re in good shape and they’re not standing still so we need to keep pushing, trying to find performance and make sure that we have perfect weekends.”
Assessing the difference between the two cars at Imola, Horner highlighted the strength of the Mercedes at the end of the first stint where Hamilton began to cut into Verstappen’s lead.
“The pace is obviously very close to Mercedes, and there are strengths and weaknesses of the cars in different areas,” he added.
“If you look at the performance on the inter tyre at Imola, we were quicker at the beginning of the stint, they were quicker at the end.
“The wear pattern across the front looks different between the two cars, and I would say, Lewis’s pace, he rode his luck, but once they were on the same spec of tyre, in clean air, they looked very, very competitive.
“Indeed, he got the fastest lap. I think he had the benefit of a DRS at the beginning of that lap, which is three or four-tenths.
“But it’s very, very tight. It’s about getting the most out of the car on a case-by-case basis.”