Red Bull Racing's success last year gives no guarantees that its new RB8 challenger will set the pace this season, according to chief technical officer Adrian Newey.
The car ran for the first time at Jerez today in the hands of Mark Webber. But despite the RB8 being the latest step in the evolutionary path that dates back to the 2009 RB5, Newey believes that the rule changes for this season mean that Red Bull does not necessarily carry an advantage.
"We could well be behind, as far as we know," said Newey at Jerez on Tuesday. "We know what we have done over the winter but with things like the exhausts, front wing stiffness [tests] and other things there have been significant regulation changes. Where that leaves us is impossible to say."
Newey believes that the new rules, conceived to prevent teams from running exhaust blown diffusers, is the main challenge facing the design teams for this year. He claims that it is not possible to replace the effect of the exhaust gases, meaning that the team doing the best job to adapt to the changes will lead the way.
"When double diffusers were banned at the end of the 2010, we were able to largely replace the effect that they had with the exhausts," he said. This time around it's very difficult to replace the exhaust effect – we haven't managed to do it. Obviously, there is a re-optimization to be done to the car. Whether we have done a better job on that than others is hard to know. There is no big grand idea that can replace that. It's about re-honing the car and understanding what is needed from the car with the exhaust gone."
Newey added that the platypus nose of the RB8 was the obvious choice, although he conceded that it is not aesthetically pleasing. He also claimed that the hole in the step section of the nose is for driver cooling, despite some suggesting that it could have some alternative aerodynamic purpose.
"It's a shame to have to come up with a solution that is not particularly attractive," he said of the nose. "But, ultimately, performance has to come before aesthetics and this is no exception.
"The slot in the nose is simply driver cooling. Traditionally, the driver cooling slot is at the front of the nose, but really for styling as much as anything we moved it to where you now see it to break up the aesthetics of the ramp."