Motor racing-Questions hang over Red Bull ahead of F1 testing in Bahrain


FILE PHOTO: Formula One F1 - Red Bull launch - Milton Keynes, Britain - February 15, 2024 Chief engineer Paul Monaghan, Chief Technical Officer Adrian Newey, Red Bull's Max Verstappen, Team principal Christian Horner, Red Bull's Sergio Perez and Technical Director Pierre Wache REUTERS/Alan Baldwin

(Reuters) - Red Bull will have plenty of questions hanging over them when Formula One testing starts in Bahrain on Wednesday, with rivals eager to see how their cars stack up against Max Verstappen's and team boss Christian Horner fighting for his future.

The dominant 2023 champions, with 21 wins in 22 races, launched their new RB20 car last week with some design features reminiscent of those tried and discarded by rivals Mercedes last season.

Some observers sensed all might not be as it seemed but Wednesday should provide an immediate answer to those doubts, even if the lap times may not mean much as teams work through various programmes.

"Lets see the car that rocks out on day one at Bahrain because I'm not sure it's going to be that (launch) car," former McLaren performance engineer and Aston Martin strategist Bernie Collins said in a Sky Sports F1 podcast.

"This could be 'Oh, we were just having a joke'. So I'm highly suspicious.

"If they do rock up with that car it's a brave, brave move because they could have easily continued to develop the car they had and that would have been the safer bet," she said.

"If they go with it they've clearly seen something that means they think they can beat their previous developed car."

Questions about Horner, who will be in Bahrain, will remain unanswered until the energy drink company completes an investigation into allegations made against him by a female employee. Horner has denied any wrongdoing.

PECKING ORDER

Mercedes, Ferrari, McLaren and Aston Martin are all hoping to be closer to Verstappen, chasing his fourth title in a row this season, but the real pecking order may not be apparent for some time.

Seven times world champion Lewis Hamilton will meet the media for the first time since his switch to Ferrari in 2025 was announced and will also have a clearer idea of how competitive his Mercedes will be.

There will be plenty of interest in Visa Cash App RB, the renamed Red Bull-owned AlphaTauri team, who now have closer ties to the main Red Bull team and could also have a more competitive car.

Teams have only three days of testing, with one car each, with the track time reduced as the championship expands to a record 24 races.

That means drivers have only a day and a half each on track before the opener on March 2, with the first two races in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia held on Saturdays to fit in with the start of Ramadan on March 10.

Aston Martin's double world champion Fernando Alonso said at the launch of his team's car that there should be more time available for testing and more cars on track.

"I don’t know why we don’t go with two cars because we are already in Bahrain and we’re racing the following week," said the Spaniard.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Ken Ferris)

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