Will Red Bull Racing make it a three-way fight for the F1 title?

Red Bull in testing
Red Bull in testing

Red Bull Racing could make it a three-horse race for the F1 world championship this season, which gets underway this Sunday.

Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo looked competitive during pre-season testing, despite niggling problems with the new RB14 initially hampering their running.

Daniel Ricciardo

Daniel Ricciardo

But with the cloak and dagger nature of testing, not many teams have shown their hands ahead of the curtain raiser in Melbourne, Australia, and many in the paddock believe the team from Tilbrook have a little something extra up their sleeves.

While many will fancy Verstappen to be Red Bull’s leading driver this season - his second full term with the team - it was Ricciardo’s impressive lap record in Barcelona which had many sitting up to pay attention. Set on super-soft tyres, Pirelli data suggests his time would have been even quicker than Sebastian Vettel’s time, which eclipsed it 24 hours later, albeit on ultra-softs - the faster of the tyres available this season.

But having ended the season on a high, with two wins and four podium finishes in the last six races, Red Bull are fancied to take the challenge to Mercedes and Ferrari for the first time since 2013.

It will be tough to break the Mercedes dominance of recent years though, after world champion Lewis Hamilton and team-mate Valtteri Bottas enjoyed a solid winter, with their new W09 car.

Max Verstappen

Max Verstappen

And few are looking beyond Hamilton to dominate the opening round at Albert Park as he and Vettel set their sights on becoming five-time world champions this year. Ferrari too looked in impressive form in the tests, with Vettel setting the fastest time ever around Barcelona.

The three teams look to be out of reach of the rest, though more is expected of Renault and McLaren this season, while eyes will be fixed on Red Bull’s sister team Toro Rosso’s progress with their Honda engines after a dismal three years with McLaren.

Red Bull haven’t won the first race of the season since 2011 when Vettel dominated around Albert Park, and indeed the rest of the season en route to his second world title.

And though the winner in Melbourne won’t necessarily go on to win the title, it will give a good indication of whether Red Bull will be able to make it a three-way battle for the crown.