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.”

Even so, Christian remains cautiously optimistic that Sebastian is poised to fulfil his potential and  Mark will be right with him.  “The cream always rises to the top,” he grinned knowingly.