Dieter Rencken believes that the possibility of Mercedes sandbagging their pre-season problems could lead to a big headache for Red Bull Racing as development throughout 2021 continues.
Mercedes have started the 2021 season strongly, with three wins from the first four races. Having struggled for pace and balance throughout pre-season testing, the W12 proved immediately competitive once the season began in Bahrain, and Rencken believes this raises some question marks.
"I think the first question that's got to be asked is whether Mercedes were actually sandbagging in Bahrain during testing, or whether they genuinely had an issue that they have developed themselves out of very, very quickly and very, very competently," Rencken told Thomas Maher on the RacingNews365.com podcast.
"Now, if they did actually have a quicker car than they let on, then I think that Red Bull have got a major issue because then the car has still got some development potential in it.
"If Mercedes really were battling in Bahrain, and we'll never know what the true situation was, but if they really were battling in Bahrain, I think they've got to be commended for developing their way out of it."
While Mercedes have enjoyed most victories, the outright pace of the two cars appears to be delicately balanced, and Rencken explained that personnel from both sides believe the other to be quicker.
"At the moment, Red Bull believe that Mercedes are slightly quicker, and I think certain people at Mercedes believe the Red Bull is a bit quicker, and that it's really coming down to a strategic battle rather than a technical or sporting battle," Rencken outlined.
"And I think that's what makes a season so absolutely fascinating that depending on where the one is slightly stronger than the other one, depending on how the circuit suits the other driver, I think we can sort of see this going back and forth throughout the season."
But the concern for Red Bull is that Mercedes do have far more of a grip on how quick their car really is, and that they could be suckered into developing their '21 car for longer than Mercedes, thus putting them on the back foot for next season.
"This is the big danger point here that, if you concentrate on '22 too early, you obviously lose momentum this year. And with that, you lose the championship," Rencken said.
"The big danger lies in deciding to develop your way all the way through to the end of the year in the hope of winning the championship. And I think for Honda, this is absolutely crucial, being their last year.
"I think the danger here is that Red Bull do decide to develop all the way through and don't win the championship. And then are weak for next year, because they would have neglected to a degree the '22 car.
"Let's not forget that with the budget cap, of course, this is absolutely crucial that you balance this correctly. Because you know, in the past, a team could look at the '21 car and develop all the way through and have a separate team of engineers on the '22 car. That's no longer possible."
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