Red Bull Racing will be behind sister squad Toro Rosso for the first half of the season, according to the team’s motorsport consultant Helmut Marko.
The Tilbrook team have taken on engine development this season, under the ‘Tag Heuer’ moniker, but don’t expect their progress to really show until the second half of the campaign.
While Red Bull were at loggerheads with Renault throughout last season, even threatening to withdraw from the sport as a result, sister team Toro Rosso signed a deal to run powerful Ferrari engines for 2016 and beyond.
The Italian engine is already proven to be a fast and reliable unit, and after 10 seasons in the sport, Marko believes Toro Rosso will initially be the faster of the two teams.
“I could imagine that they will land in front of Red Bull Racing at the start of the season - probably until midseason - because the power difference is still that significant,” he said. “In midseason probably the performance will drop, as you cannot further develop the 2015 engine.
“It seems that with the engine development things are going in the right direction.
“But, to bridge the gap to the leading engines, that will take some time.
While two four-day tests in Barcelona proved inconclusive as to who holds the upper hand going into the first race - the Australian Grand Prix - in two weeks time, Mark expects Mercedes duo Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg to once again be leading the way, with Ferrari behind.
With a competitive midfield expected too, Marko doesn’t see a reason why, with the right development, Red Bull pair Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat can’t be fighting for podiums later in the year.
He added: “For the first half of the season I see Mercedes doing one-two finishes as long as they do not screw-up, then I see Ferrari and a tight fight between Williams, Force India, Toro Rosso and Red Bull Racing behind them.
“From midseason onwards our power unit situation should improve - and that makes me believe that P3 should be feasible.”