Red Bull boss Christian Horner calls new Mercedes car 'illegal'

Rivalry between the two leading teams kicks into gear 10 days before season starts in Bahrain

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The new Formula One season has not even started and the bitter rivalry between Mercedes and Red Bull has already kicked into gear.

Lewis Hamilton’s new Mercedes car has been labelled “illegal” by Red Bull team principal Christian Horner with the first race set to take place in Bahrain in 10 days.

The focus is on Mercedes’ virtually non-existent sidepods, designed to provide greater airflow, improving downforce, and effectively making the car go faster.

The design – unveiled on the opening day of the final test in Bahrain – comes after the biggest technical overhaul of the sport’s rule book in a generation. However, Horner questioned whether his rivals have bent the rules.

In an interview with German publication Auto Motor und Sport, Horner said: “From our point of view, Mercedes went a step too far. That doesn’t correspond to the spirit of the regulations. For us, these wings are illegal.”

F1 managing director Ross Brawn described the concept as impressive and a “very extreme interpretation of the regulation” that had not been anticipated. “Inevitably, there's going to be a lot of debate about their interpretation. That's what happens with new regulations,” he told F1 TV.

“However hard you try to close off all the options, and believe me we closed off hundreds of them, the innovation in Formula One is always extreme.”

Horner, whose Dutch driver Max Verstappen beat Mercedes' seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton to the title last year in a controversial final showdown in Abu Dhabi, later told Sky Sports television he had “not paid a great deal of attention” to the Mercedes.

“It's obviously a fairly different concept, but that's for the designer guys and aerodynamicists to get into,” added the Briton.

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff insisted he is confident the team’s car is legal. “When you go down a specific development direction, the FIA scrutinises it, and you make them a part of the process,” he said. “We were keen in not running alone, but being in touch with the FIA, and that is why I think it will be OK."

Verstappen said he was not worried that Mercedes, constructors' champions for the past eight years, might have gained an advantage.

“I'm not concerned. We can only focus on ourselves,” he told reporters at the Sakhir circuit. “Even if the cars look a bit different, there are so many unknown things that we need to learn about. I'm not worried at all.”

Updated: March 10, 2022, 3:54 PM