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Renault and Mercedes trail top three - Marko UPDATE Mercedes boss Norbert Haug believes Mercedes can spring a surprise at the first grand prix of the season in Australia.

In recent weeks the team has been playing down its chances but has made several references to an aerodynamic upgrade for the final test. Haug hinted that the Mercedes package is now starting to come together.

"Because we were able to do more laps [in Barcelona], we understand the car and the tires better, and that brings us lap time," he told Auto Motor und Sport. "If everything goes in the right direction, the Silver Arrow may surprise you."

Haug added that the decision to call off the Bahrain Grand Prix will give all the teams "just a little bit more air" in their development race. "At this point before the start of a season, all the teams are doing things literally at the very last minute," he said.

Red Bull boss Christian Horner disagrees, telling Bild: "Ten more days is not going to make much of a difference."

But he does believe the Bahrain decision could help Red Bull as the new car is down on straight-line speed compared to its Mercedes-powered rivals. "With its long straights, Bahrain would not have been our showcase race," he added.

02/23/11 (GMM)  Helmut Marko has backed paddock sentiment that Red Bull and Ferrari are heading into the 2011 season as the early favorites for the title.

"Red Bull and Ferrari are at eye-level," the energy drink-owned team's driver consultant told Austrian newspaper Kleine Zeitung.

"And McLaren has the potential to catch up before the start of the season," added Marko.

Another potential frontrunner is Renault, after Robert Kubica and then his replacement Nick Heidfeld so impressed at recent Spanish tests.  zzzz

"Renault are showing they are a lot more competitive than they were last year," Fernando Alonso said in a television interview, according to La Gazzetta dello Sport.

German Heidfeld, however, is not quite as confident.

"My guess is that there are still some teams ahead of us -- especially Red Bull," he is quoted by F1's official website on Wednesday.

Red Bull's Marko agrees: "Mercedes and Renault are not quite at the level of the top three."

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