Red Bull team boss Christian Horner has suggested that there could be a "curveball" in the pecking order at the start of Formula 1's new regulation cycle.
While Red Bull and Mercedes have dominated the last two seasons, it's only been three years since Ferrari were up at the very front of the sport with them and, as F1's 2022 pre-season tests loom, Horner thinks the Scuderia could be a team to watch this season.
"With such a sweeping regulation change, how teams have adopted these regulations is going to be fascinating to see," Horner told RacingNews365.com, when asked for his thoughts about the competitive order in 2022.
With Ferrari being the highest-placed and best-resourced team to have halted the development of their 2021 car early last year, Horner said the "positive noises" surrounding the new Ferrari machine and power unit are noteworthy.
"Ferrari started pretty early by all accounts, and there's been a lot of positive noises coming out of Maranello, so you shouldn't underestimate
them, that's for sure," he said.
Ferrari's 2022 car, the F1-75, will be revealed by the Italian team on Thursday.
Horner thinks a midfield team "could be a curveball"
As for the other teams on Horner's radar, he added that one of 2021's midfield outfits could spring a surprise and nail the regulation changes.
"Mercedes will be strong, that goes without question," he commented.
"Then there could be some curveballs in there, whether it's McLaren, or Alpine, or Aston Martin – they may have come up with something."
The last sweeping regulation changes, including the engine formula switch in 2014, and the car overhauls in 2009 and 1998, resulted in one team stealing a march and holding a performance advantage for quite some time.
Despite the possibility of this happening again in 2022, Horner said he is not worried as the tightly prescribed regulations should prevent any lasting advantage for a team with an innovative idea.
"It's only Chinese whispers this time of year," he said, when asked whether he had heard anything concrete about the other teams' expected performance levels.
"I think the regulations are sufficiently tight that it doesn't allow for a loophole like a double diffuser.
"Inevitably, there's always going to be the creativity of engineers that [are] pushing the boundaries of regulations – that's what they do.
"There'll be some interesting innovations on the cars, for sure, but it's all relatively tightly regulated, so it'll be fascinating to see the different solutions that teams have come up with."
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