Red Bull boss Christian Horner has made a sheepish comment regarding just how quickly Mercedes covered its tracks after making such a poor start to the 2022 season.
Mercedes seemed to get its W13 design wrong and it led to just one podium finish in the first eight races for a team that has been accustomed to dominating the sport since the Hybrid Era began in 2014.
Regularly struggling for performance, Mercedes was so far off the pace that even a mid-season resurgence barely proved to be much of a concern for Ferrari, who ended the season behind Red Bull in the constructors’ championship.
However, Horner was still surprised with just how far Mercedes had come over the course of teh season.
He argued that Red Bull had been involved in the fewest amount of crashes or protocol breaches and yet Mercedes was able to improve its car far more.
Horner was raising a suspicion since all teams have had to work within the confines of a budget cap, a measure used to even the playing field and make F1 more exciting both for viewers as well as teams.
Red Bull knows the cost of going over the budget cap all too well, and the team even received a fine and sporting sanction after it was discovered that they had gone over the mark in 2021.
Mercedes made several strong improvements to their vehicle, allowing George Russell to pick up their only race win in Brazil. Lewis Hamilton failed to finish on top of the podium in a season for the first time in his career.
They were fined £6m and given a 10 per cent reduction in aerodynamic testing.
Horner spoke about how Mercedes ‘surprised’ him with respect to their development over 2022.
Does Horner suspect foul play from Mercedes?
“Under the budget cap, it has been surprising just the amount of development. We have had the least crashes and a moderate amount of development,” he said.
“But it has certainly been surprising the rate they have developed, particularly in the second half of the year. But that is F1. When you consider where they were in Bahrain to where they were at the end of the year, it was a big step.”
Horner said that Mercedes is a team he fully expects to be stronger in 2023 as they are unlikely to repeat the same mistakes again.
“I would expect them to be very strong. They are not going to have the experience of this year,” he said.
“Look, they are a very capable team with very capable drivers and we are set for another really competitive season of Formula One in 2023.”
With the penalty imposed on Red Bull, 2023 could perhaps be a far more competitive season for Max Verstappen.
The Dutchman literally breezed past all his challengers in 2022 and ended the year with a record number of wins in a season (15).
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff, meanwhile, spoke about how the biggest problem for Red Bull was the damage the breach had made on its reputation.
“Yes, I think it’s okay. I think the biggest penalty was not the 10 per-cent wind tunnel time or the seven million dollars,” Wolff said.
The Austrian further argued that it was obvious in such a situation that other teams would think twice before committing such an error themselves.
“I think the biggest penalty was the reputation hit that the team got and, in a way, it’s unfair for the Red Bull mother brand which is fantastic in their field.
“But the racing team has just been having such a reputation hit and also the people. So I think nobody is kind of dare bringing it close to that anymore.”