Christian Horner fears it will be difficult for Red Bull to win another world championship without a “qualifying mode” on their power unit.
Red Bull, who run Tag Heuer-badged Renault engines, had been predicted to be Mercedes’ closest challengers in 2017 but are third in the Constructors’ Championship, 237 points behind the Silver Arrows.
Neither Daniel Ricciardo nor Max Verstappen has taken a pole position this season and both were over a second off Lewis Hamilton’s pole lap at the Japanese GP before Verstappen challenged the Mercedes for victory in Sunday’s race.
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“We run in the same modes in the race as we do in qualy. It’s a big difference,” Horner said at Suzuka.
“We gave away [on Saturday] the best part of a second but in the race, the chassis has been strong all weekend. We can see from the GPS overlays that the chassis is right there but obviously [Mercedes] can’t run in those high power modes for the duration of the race.
“The qualy modes are vital [to a championship challenge] because you can’t leave all the work to be done on a Sunday.”
Ted Kravitz gave his thoughts on Sunday's action packed Japanese Grand Prix, where Lewis Hamilton finished ahead of Max Verstappen & Daniel Ricciardo
Mercedes have claimed 12 of this year’s 16 pole positions, and 90 per cent of all poles since the start of 2014, with the team routinely able to unlock extra performance from their engine for the deciding laps of Q3.
Renault confirmed at Suzuka they are working on a similar so-called “magic” engine setting for next season.
But while still adrift of the best times on a Saturday, Red Bull have shown much improved race pace since the summer break to match or better Mercedes and Ferrari.
Verstappen claimed his second Grand Prix victory at the Malaysia GP after easily pulling away from Hamilton, while he nearly caught the championship leader in the final laps in Japan.
Ricciardo, meanwhile, now has four podium finishes and a fourth place in the five grands prix since the summer shutdown but Horner says they still need more from the engine to be regular challengers for victories.
“Over the winter we hope that our engine partner is going to put a lot of effort into not only reliability but performance on Saturday afternoon,” Horner said.
“I don’t think it’s just in Qualifying, it’s in the Grand Prix as well. I think if we can just find a bit of horsepower over the winter then it puts us in a much better position going into next season.
“The stopwatch doesn’t lie. Talk is cheap, at the end of the day it is what happens on track. We can see they’re working really hard and hopefully, as these rules have been pretty stable for some time now, there will start to be some convergence.”
Horner has hailed Red Bull’s improvements they brought to the Hungarian GP in the final race before the summer and says they will continue to bring developments as they look to learn things for their 2018 car.
“Even Monza and Spa are circuits that shouldn’t play to our strengths but we were pretty competitive,” he said.
“Since we put a good upgrade on the car in Hungary we have made very good progress and I suppose we have delivered more here and in Malaysia than we expected.
“There are incremental little bits that are going on all the time because whatever you are learning now is relevant to next year with the stable regulations.”
Don’t miss this week’s F1 Report as Natalie Pinkham is joined by Marc Priestley and new GP3 champion George Russell to round up and discuss all the stories from the Japanese GP. Watch on Wednesday, October 11 at 8:30pm on Sky Sports F1.
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