Christian Horner, the team principal of Red Bull Racing, has predicted that Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber could be battling a performance deficit of as much as half a second a lap when they race against their Mercedes-engined rivals when the new F1 season kicks off in Bahrain on 14 March.

Horner believes that the Renault engined cars – including those of works drivers Robert Kubica and Vitaly Petrov – lost out to Mercedes when the F1 engine specifications were frozen last year and that the rules effectively “froze in” a performance advantage for Mercedes, McLaren and Force India.

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“This could mean that we are facing a half second a lap deficit to the Merc-engined cars,” said Horner this week. “It would be a great shame if under an engine freeze the outcome of the championship should be determined by engine power when the whole idea is that engines should not be a performance differentiator. You can’t blame Mercedes for that, but you wouldn’t want Renault chased out of F1 because they felt they could not compete either.”