Q&A with Red Bulls Horner and Newey 20 May 2008
Having already banked 10 points and currently lying fifth in the championship, Red Bull have enjoyed a strong start to 2008. And with over a quarter of the season complete, team principal Christian Horner and chief technical officer Adrian Newey discuss the squads performance so far this year and reveal their hopes for this weekends Monaco race and beyond
Q: Christian, how do you sum up the first part of the season?
Christian Horner: The last four races have seen us running pretty much where we expected to be. We lost out in the first round, which was an atypical race in which, unfortunately, neither of our drivers was around to score points at the finish. Since then, Mark (Webber) has scored points in every race and David (Coulthard) has come close, with two ninth places finishes in Malaysia and Istanbul.
Q: What about the cars performance?
CH: In general, we have made a significant step forward from last year, both in performance and also in reliability. The battle to finish fourth in the championship seems every bit as intense as the one to win it, with our major rivals being Renault, Toyota, Williams and, on occasion Honda. We have seen over the last three or four races that we have been very competitive when compared to the works Renault team and Mark and Fernando (Alonso) have had some good races.
Q: Where has the new-found reliability come from?
CH: Reliability is always important, but the new regulations regarding engine and gearbox life make that even more of a factor this year. Good reliability usually comes from good design and last year we suffered because the car was such a complete change to anything this team had seen previously. Since then, we have strengthened the group in several areas, appointed new project managers and reliability has been one of our main focuses over the winter. So far, touch wood, we are one of the few teams with a one hundred per cent mechanical reliability record. The gearbox was our Achilles heel last year and we gave away a lot of points because of that. Hats off to the whole transmission group who have done an exceptional job with the four race gearbox.
Q: How do you rate your drivers performance so far?
CH: Mark is in the form of his life at the moment and I think he is driving extremely well. He has put in some impressive race performances for us in the last four races, and has had a strong start to the season while David has had more than his fair share of bad luck, but he was very much back on form in Istanbul, which is very positive for the team, as we rely heavily on both our drivers bringing back points.
Q: Care to make a prediction for Monaco?
CH: Monaco is a lottery and it is always dangerous to go there with too many expectations. Two years ago, we had a great result when David scored the teams first podium, whereas last year was very frustrating. Both drivers like the circuit, with David having won twice and Mark winning the F3000 support race in 2001, so they have a strong track record but its a unique circuit which makes unique demands, penalising the slightest mistake from man or machine.
Q: Adrian, with five races run, how do you assess progress so far?
Adrian Newey: We can be reasonably satisfied with where we are after the first quarter of the season. The field has tightened up and we are significantly closer to the top than last year, if you look at lap time difference between our times and that of pole position and the race winner. Certainly the pack behind the top three teams is very tight and quite often at the end of Q2, there will be just a couple of tenths between eighth and fourteenth places. The slightest slip up can really affect your Sunday afternoon.
Q: Are there any areas of the RB4 that need more work rather than just planned development?
AN: Generally, we are reasonably happy that the car has lived up to our expectations. One area where the car is struggling a little bit is in terms of traction and we are working hard on finding out why. Other than that, the general package is performing much as we had hoped for. In terms of aerodynamics, we are also on target. Last year we struggled with the correlation between wind tunnel figures and what we saw on track. This year has been much better on that front. There are still some differences we would like to eliminate, but they are much less marked than last year.
Q: The next two races, Monaco and Canada, present some interesting challenges. What has changed on the cars for these two events?
AN: Monaco is of course a high downforce circuit and this weekend we will have a new front wing to balance the higher downforce rear wing which we had already, even though we had no requirement to run it at maximum so far this year. Then for Canada, the lowest downforce circuit we will have tackled so far this year, we will revert to the same front wing as used in Turkey but trimmed to a different profile. Those are what I consider the normal race to race specific changes, but in addition to that we have some new aero and mechanical parts for Monaco, including a revised suspension package, which we evaluated at the Paul Ricard test last week. Some of the parts will specifically tackle those traction issues I mentioned. Monaco is also quite tough on brake calliper cooling. It is a strange circuit as brake cooling per se is not too much of a problem but the callipers get very hot because of lots of fairly light applications. The other key element is down to the undulating nature of the circuit, which therefore puts a premium on how you look at the mechanical set up of the car.
Q: A circuit where the slightest mistake involves an unscheduled meeting with the barriers, the possibility of rain over the weekend and all this with no traction control. What can you do to try and help the driver in these conditions?
AN: You can divide development into dealing with the lack of traction control into various areas. Firstly there is engine mapping to make the engine as driveable as possible which is on-going for all engine manufacturers and involves us too, as ultimately how the chassis performs can be affected by how the engine delivers its power. The second element is trying to make the car more driver friendly in terms of its basic handling which is down to suspension and aerodynamics. People talk about the loss of traction control, but actually, it should be loss of electronic control aids. The most obvious element is the lack of engine power modulation on corner exit but equally if not more importantly we were all using the engine as a stability control aid on corner entry where everyone was effectively running a form of rear wheel ABS, so that if the rear wheels began to lock up the engine would be accelerated to stop the wheels locking. To some extent that would be carried into the entry stage of the corner. Without this, it puts a premium on the chassis to cover up what we were able to do electronically before.
Q: Are you looking forward to the Monaco weekend?
AN: I think everyone looks forward to Monaco. Its an idiosyncratic place, but the fact it is so different to anywhere else we go means it is always something to look forward to.