RED Bull are the team to beat this season, insists Marussia Virgin Racing team principal John Booth.
Sebastian Vettel, the reigning world champion, stormed to victory in the opening grand prix of the season at Melbourne’s Albert Park on Sunday.
The young German racer led from start to finish in the 2011 curtain-raiser, having blown his rivals away in qualifying with a time 0.788 seconds faster than closest challenger Lewis Hamilton of McLaren. Indeed, Vettel finished 22 seconds ahead of Hamilton while Russian Vitaly Petrov came third.
Ominously for the rest of the grid, Red Bull chose not to run with the Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS) power-boost system in Australia. The expensive technology can provide an additional 0.5 seconds per lap at the press of a button.
“It is hard to see past Red Bull,” Booth told The Star. “They should have had the title wrapped up six races before the end of last season.
“Ferrari have also got a chance. They have got Fernando Alonso and he is an outstanding driver.”
However, Booth and Marussia president Graeme Lowdon are convinced McLaren can be involved in the shake-up.
Despite being dogged by poor pace and reliability during winter testing, McLaren defied the odds and topped the timesheets in the Friday practice sessions.
Following a superb turnaround in form, Hamilton claimed the 38th podium finish of his career in Australia while teammate Jenson Button clinched sixth spot.
“McLaren have the knowledge and resources to bounce back from adversity,” admitted Booth.
Lowdon added: “You can never count out McLaren. They have got some great engineers so I think they will be there or thereabouts.”
Hamilton is confident McLaren can catch up Red Bull, saying: “I’m only a few points behind the guy in front who has a much faster car.”