Exclusive Q&A - Red Bull's Horner on diffusers, that crash & more 04 Apr 2009
Red Bulls performance curve is heading skyward. Whatever track, whatever conditions, the RB5 looks set to become a car that must always be considered a potential frontrunner. Team principal Christian Horner is optimistic for Malaysia, even if the Melbourne result did not make for many happy faces in the Red Bull garage. And behind the scenes, design guru Adrian Newey is looking into new diffusers designs, in case the teams protest against Brawn, Williams and Toyota fails...
Q: Christian, the Melbourne weekend started excellently for Red Bull but ended miserably. How did that go down in the team?
Christian Horner: It was a massive disappointment for the whole team. Sebastian (Vettel) had driven brilliantly and the car had performed faultlessly. It was a great shame. The thing that messed up our race was the safety car caused by Nakajima which bunched everything back up. Without that, Sebastian would have been more than a comfortable second place. It was a racing incident in my opinion. One of those things, and yes, hugely disappointing to be so close to a great result.
Q: Sebastians crash was partly down to him running on the softer tyres at the end of the race. Was the strategy at fault?
CH: No, not at all. We were running the same strategy as Button and a couple of others. The thing that really killed our race was Nakajima causing the pace car, because after the first stint Sebastian already had a pit-stop gap of 25 seconds over third place. But after the safety car Kubica was able to catch up as he was on the hard tyres. At that point of the race and without that pace car we wouldnt have seen him all afternoon. But these things happen and it is impossible to predict pace cars. It is just down to luck on the day.
Q: Was Sebastian a bit too optimistic in defending his position - he could easily have settled for third place and brought the points home?
CH: I dont think so. Ive watched the replay many, many times. Sebastian was 100 percent on the inside, defending his line. And its the responsibility of the driver on the outside to go around you. Sebastian couldnt just vanish and my guess is that whatever Sebastian would have done, Robert still would have hit him. It was a great shame to finish such a great race in such a way.
Q: Speaking about the excellent start, have you been surprised by the competitiveness of the RB5? The tests didnt really indicate it would have quite that performance
CH: Well, in tests you never know what everybody else is doing. We were very happy with our performance in the tests as we knew what fuel loads we were running. Obviously the Brawns took everybody by surprise. But we are where we had predicted after the last test in Barcelona.
Q: When looking at the Melbourne grid the fastest cars were running without KERS. Could that be an indication for the season?
CH: I think the biggest benefit KERS offers is a strategic one. It gives you a start-line advantage to the first corner, behind a safety car after a restart, and also if you are defending as we have seen with Alonso. He was very effectively defending his position with KERS. The lap time advantage is debatable at the moment.
Q: When will you make your decision about Red Bulls position on KERS? When a KERS car wins a race?
CH: When we feel that we can get a strategic advantage out of it. We will not run KERS here in Malaysia but we have tested the Renault KERS extensively in pre-season testing and we are happy with the way it functions and operates. But again we will only use it if we feel there is a clear advantage in using it - without compromising the rest of the car.
Q: The diffuser issue overshadowed the Melbourne weekend. It looks as if the interpretation of the rules by Toyota, Williams and Brawn is the smarter solution - be it legal or not. What is Red Bulls stance on that issue and is your technical department in Milton Keynes already working on a similar diffuser?
CH: I dont think it is a smarter interpretation of the rules. I think its just a different interpretation that goes very much against the spirit of what the rules were set out to achieve, which was very clear with the Overtaking Working Group. We protested the cars because we felt that there is ambiguity of the regulations and it opens up a huge amount of development potential on the underbody side of the car, which is aerodynamically the strongest contributor to the lap time. So weve got our appeal hearing with the other teams on April 14th and await clarity from that. And then we will have to decide from a development point of view how we move forward. The problems are the costs associated with it in a difficult economic climate.
Q: But should that diffuser be found to be in line with the regulations will you try to run something similar?
CH: Then we will obviously be forced to do something in time for the early European Grands Prix. Of course we will have to look for a solution, but that would mean not a small change. Its almost the whole rear of the car. And the problem is that it opens up such significant ground for development that the speed of the cars will continue to rise, which was not the intention of the regulations. We have already seen that the cars go quicker than last years lap times.
Q: Is somebody in the factory at Milton Keynes already working in that direction?
CH: Adrian (Newey) has obviously been looking for a solution for some time now, but we didnt believe that it was within line of the regulations.
Q: Sepang is a very different track to Melbourne. What do you think your boys can do here?
CH: I dont see any reason why we cant be in the same position we were in Melbourne. The cars strength is in the high-speed corners, of which there are a lot here. The drivers really do enjoy this circuit, so I dont see a reason why we should not be as competitive here as we have been in Melbourne.
Q: Any predictions about how the weekend will go?
CH: Obviously the Brawns still have an advantage at the moment, but hopefully we can get a little closer this weekend. The biggest problem that we have is the penalty for Sebastian - the 10-place grid penalty - which is a huge handicap, and which I personally dont think fitted the crime, as in our view it clearly was a race incident. Mark (Webber) has always done well here, so I would be disappointed if we dont have at least one car in the first three rows. For the race, its hard to say, as the weather could be the biggest variable in the race. Maybe that works for us, as Sebastian has always been good at coping with that.