UNTAPPED POWER: Daniel Ricciardo tests Red Bull's camouflaged racer during 2015 F1 testing at the Jerez circuit in Spain. Renault says it has yet to tap the true potential of its 'power unit'. Image: AP / Miguel Morenatti
LONDON, England - Renault has confirmed reports that it did not hit full throttle during pre-season Formula 1 test at Jerez in southern Spain.
Red Bull evidently had a difficult start to the season, struggling for pace and laps with its new RB11 car.
Under its skin is a heavily-upgraded Renault 'power unit', the result of a sweeping restructuring at the automaker and the hefty exchange of so-called unfreeze performance 'tokens'.
After Jerez, though, Red Bull's Helmut Marko played down rumours of technical trouble, insisting the RB11 was running "a mix of old and new parts" and a new engine running at "reduced power".
NOT YET 100% POWER
Renault's Remi Taffin confirmed to the French outlet F1i that, at Jerez, the 2015 power unit was indeed only running at "80 or 90%". He said Renault would now "gradually pick up the pace and gain momentum to reach 100% by the season-opener".
Taffin said: "At Jerez I think we were 1.5sec off our potential in terms of raw pace but we had to preserve the power units to get mileage. In Barcelona, we'll move more to the performance aspect of the engine and explore its limits."
Renault notably struggled at the start of the new V6 era with Red Bull team boss Christian Horner in 2014 revealing the deficit to Mercedes was as much as 56kW. Taffin said: "We've definitely taken a step forward but it remains difficult to know where we stand compared to our rivals who have also progressed, hopefully not as much as us."
'HARD TO CATCH UP'
Adrian Newey, Red Bull's car designer who is now taking a step back, is not sure the team's 2015 package will be capable of beating Mercedes. He said: "When you're at a disadvantage it's hard to catch up. Engine lead times are very long - much longer than chassis lead times - but Renault is working hard and we have to have faith in our partner."
The team's optimistic No.1 driver Daniel Ricciardo - the only non-Mercedes driver to win races in 2014 - is hoping to mount a full title challenge in 2015. Newey, however, is not sure that will be possible.
Newey said: "I think it's going to be extremely difficult. The Mercedes engine power advantage in 2014, about 10%, is not really something we can close in the space of one season.
"In truth, we are still going to be on the back foot but we'll keep pushing."