World champion Sebastian Vettel admitted this weekend that he needs to up his game.
The German has won the last four drivers' titles on the trot, but all of them were alongside Mark Webber, who retired at the end of last season.
Australian Webber was replaced at Red Bull by his compatriot Daniel Ricciardo, who so far in 2014 has outqualified Vettel on no fewer than three out of four attempts.
Told that Ricciardo is clearly more competitive than Webber, Vettel said after qualifying in China: "Well, that's (not) a compliment to Mark, I should say, in his absence.
"I think this year is very, very different, the cars are very different so I don't think you can compare last year to this year," he insisted.
"But nevertheless, I think Daniel is doing a very good job, he has not just had one good weekend, he had good weekends and so far he seems to be able to get the maximum out of the car," Vettel admitted.
"On my side, maybe I'm struggling a little bit more, but at the end of the day we have the same car -- there's nothing between cars, so if he manages to beat me, then he beats me on the circuit, fair and square," he said.
"Of course, that's not to my liking but equally, I know that I have to do a little bit better."
Red Bull 'surprised' by Ricciardo pace
Daniel Ricciardo thinks he has shown he deserves his new seat at Red Bull.
The Australian had driven at backmarker HRT and Red Bull's junior team Toro Rosso, but this year he stepped up to the big league to replace his retired countryman Mark Webber.
Some think Ricciardo currently has a better grip on the reigning world champions' new RB10 even than quadruple title winner and teammate Sebastian Vettel.
"The team have been a bit surprised," the always-smiling Ricciardo grinned to the Telegraph.
The 24-year-old has had a quite luckless 2014 season so far: disqualified in Melbourne and caught up in trouble in Malaysia, but he finished a solid fourth two weeks ago in Bahrain.
Ricciardo suggests he has exceeded even his own expectations.
"I don't know how to say it – I don't want to sound arrogant – but I believe a lot in myself, and I believed if I had the right equipment and the right opportunity then I would be able to show what I'm capable of, and that's been shown now," he said.
"I haven't surprised myself but it's been nice to confirm it to myself that I can do this. I believe I can keep doing it," Ricciardo added.
Mercedes wanted three-race ban for Red Bull
Mercedes wanted reigning world champions Red Bull to serve a three-race ban for appealing against its Melbourne disqualification.
Earlier rumours in the Shanghai paddock had hinted at Mercedes' push for a ban, after Dr Helmut Marko said he was surprised by the "aggressiveness" with which Mercedes argued at the Paris appeal on Monday.
Although McLaren, Lotus, Williams and Force India also attended the appeal hearing, none of them "submitted any written observations, and none took any active part in the hearing".
The information emerged officially late on Friday, as F1's governing body revealed the full text of its decision to reject Red Bull's appeal.
Mercedes, on the other hand, did indeed play an active and forceful role in Paris, the carmaker's lawyer saying Red Bull actually deserves "a more severe sanction".
It was believed Mercedes only wanted a suspended further penalty for Red Bull, but in fact it argued in writing that the court should ban the reigning world champions for "no less than three races".
On top of the race ban, Mercedes called for "a disqualification for a further six months, suspended for a year".
Bild newspaper said Mercedes' tough stance might be viewed in the context of 2013, when Red Bull attacked the Brackley team when the 'secret' Pirelli tyre test was revealed.
"Was this the Silver Arrows' revenge?" wondered correspondents Nicola Pohl and Lennart Wermke.
Mercedes chairman Niki Lauda on Saturday tried to ease any bad feeling between the two camps by delivering a chocolate cake to the Red Bull hospitality area.
"I personally brought them an Austrian Sachertorte," he told German television RTL. "It was just a nice gesture."
'Tactical' rivals playing down chase - Rosberg
Nico Rosberg is sure Red Bull is playing down its title chances for "tactical" reasons.
Although Mercedes' chasers Red Bull and Ferrari appear closer to the pace in Shanghai, world champion Sebastian Vettel on Friday said he was driving behind a W05 in Shanghai and "it looked as though they could do whatever they liked".
"Maybe they are not showing us everything they are capable of," Germany's DPA news agency quotes him as saying.
As Mercedes' rivals apparently catch up with the Brackley team, however, championship leader Rosberg admitted he smells tactics at play.
"We will certainly not make the mistake of writing off Red Bull," he told Der Spiegel.
"They are trying to convey the impression that they have little chance of the championship," Rosberg explained. "All tactical, I think.
"I am quite sure that Sebastian and Daniel (Ricciardo) will win races this season," he added.
On the other hand, perhaps Mercedes is also playing its own tactical game.
McLaren's Jenson Button said on Friday that the German squad should not be overly concerned about the development pace of its rival teams.
"It is not like Mercedes are going to stand still," said the Briton.
"It is going to be half a season before anyone else can challenge for a win," Button argued.
Former F1 driver David Coulthard agrees, saying he has not seen one team with such a gap over the field since he drove for McLaren in 1998.
"But even then, and also in the Ferrari era, they weren't this far ahead," he told Austria's Laola1. "At that time it was half a second or one second per lap, but Mercedes is almost two seconds faster than anyone else.
"I very much hope that Ferrari and Renault can catch up," said Coulthard, "otherwise it will be a very one-sided year."
McLaren taking Red Bull dispute to high court - Dennis
Ron Dennis on Saturday confirmed McLaren will likely take its dispute with world champions Red Bull all the way to the High Court.
Earlier this month, new team boss Eric Boullier said the matter is "in the hands of our lawyers", after Red Bull announced it had successfully wooed Dan Fallows back to Milton Keynes.
Late last year, we reported that as well as Red Bull's aerodynamics chief Peter Prodromou, McLaren has also signed his 'deputy', Fallows.
But just as Fallows was ending his 'gardening leave' and due to start work at McLaren, Red Bull announced that he has in fact returned to work as the reigning world champions' newly-promoted 'head of aerodynamics'.
McLaren, however, insists it has a "legally binding contract" with Fallows.
"We regard this turn of events as completely unacceptable," Dennis, who revealed that Fallows had even moved to Surrey prior to returning to Red Bull, told us in a statement from Shanghai.
"He'd got no lawful right to change his mind in that way, because he'd already accepted our offer of employment and had already signed a contract in recognition of that," he insisted.
"Not surprisingly, when he failed to start work on the start date we'd agreed on, we called, texted and emailed him, but got no response.
"It was only when he was belatedly revealed via press release as Red Bull's head of aerodynamics that we finally understood what had happened.
"As a result of all of this, McLaren will probably have no realistic option other than to instigate a High Court action against Red Bull," Dennis confirmed.
Red Bull boss Christian Horner reacted to Dennis' comments on Saturday by saying the team will "vigorously" defend its re-employment of Fallows.
"We don't see there is any case to answer," he told Press Association.
"Perhaps Ron would have been better giving me a call."
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