Mercedes are “absolutely favorites” for the 2017 Formula 1 title, Principal of Red Bull Racing Christian Horner considers.
The world champions will still be the team to beat. Regardless, new rules and the problems they are facing replacing title winner Nico Rosberg is something yet to be solved, Horner says.
“Mercedes have a few issues going on with drivers and technical staff, but they have a very strong team,” he said.
“It will be interesting to see who they select for in their spare seat because their options look relatively limited.”
Rosberg announced his retirement five days after winning his first world championship last month. Moreover, Mercedes have reached Williams to get Valtteri Bottas on board.
However, an agreement is yet to be finalized, and Mercedes’ fall-back option remains their reserve driver Pascal Wehrlein.
Horner spoke to BBC Radio 5 live for the BBC F1 Christmas review show. He referred the likely departure of Mercedes executive director (technical) Paddy Lowe to Williams.
But he said either Bottas or Wehrlein were potential front-runners if the Mercedes car is competitive.
“You give these guys a chance,” Horner added. Carlos Sainz, of Red Bull junior team Toro Rosso, has likewise been connected to the Mercedes seat. The world champions have expressed some interest but have not made a formal approach for him.
But Horner mumbled neither he nor lead Red Bull racers Ricciardo and Max Verstappen were available.
Horner said that the team might have a diverse approach to the last race of 2016 as they knew of Rosberg’s decision.
Mercedes ordered Hamilton to speed up when he was trying to back Rosberg into opponents.
When Asked for his view on Rosberg’s decision, which came only four months after he signed a new contract with Mercedes to the end of 2018, Horner politely said: “It’s a personal thing.
“He was probably concerned that if he told Mercedes before the event, they would perhaps have not been as enthusiastic for him to win the championship.” Horner explained: “So you can understand it from a personal point of view. “But of course that doesn’t serve the best interests of the team, it’s a very late call. He only signed a contract a few months ago. Then he was obviously happy to continue and then had a change of heart.”