Christian Horner Q&A: Red Bull will attack at every Grand Prix 24 Mar 2011
Starting a new season as the paddock's top dog is a difficult role to manage at the best of times. But with wide-ranging rule changes set to level the playing field and a gaggle of more-established rivals desperate to regain their past pre-eminence, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner will have his work cut out if his men are to successfully defend their 2010 titles this season. Horner, however, seems to be taking all the pressure in his stride. And with world champion Sebastian Vettel, technical wizard Adrian Newey and a car which passed its pre-season test programme with flying colours in his arsenal, who can blame him? He spoke exclusively to Formula1.com...
Q: Christian, how does it feel to go into a new season on the defensive?
Christian Horner: It is definitely a different pressure but believe me it is fantastic turning up in Melbourne seeing the number one and two on the cars and being at the top of the pit lane. Its then you realise - with neighbours like McLaren and Ferrari - what you achieved over the last year. Everybody in the team is really motivated to build on last season. 2010 was phenomenal for us and it is really flattering to be perceived as the team to beat - that is a pressure we are ready to deal with.
Q: Was there ever a master plan? Were there timeframes in place outlining when Red Bull wanted to achieve things by?
CH: When I first sat down with (Red Bull owner) Dietrich Mateschitz at the end of 2004 he had a vision to win world championships, but we never really discussed any timeline. He just said as soon as possible. When the team first arrived on the grid it was perceived as the party team because of the energy behind the team and of course the Red Bull image. But very quickly we established ourselves with credibility in the paddock and obviously backed that up with performance. But coming back to your question - it was always the plan to win a.s.a.p!
Q: How difficult is it to defend your titles when the rules have changed so much?
CH: Well, everybody comes here starting from zero so it is the same for everybody. We will apply the same strategy that was in place last year. Well attack at every single weekend and do our very best. Hopefully we can look back at the end of the season and say that we gave everything. In Brazil we will know if it was enough
Q: Isnt it a pity to start from zero like everyone else, when winning both titles last year means you obviously worked better than the rest of the grid?
CH: There are always lessons that you can learn. Over the last few years there have already been significant rule changes. 2009 was an important season of change and people underestimate the refuelling ban in 2010, which was also a significant change. We had to deal with that. Weve got moveable wings, KERS and new tyres to deal with this year and I am confident in our team that we will be able to deal with those changes.
Q: It was very recently announced that Vettel has signed with the team until 2014. Formula One racing is a cyclical sport, so are you sure that you can keep up the performance curve until then to keep him happy?
CH: That is our target. Obviously he has faith in the team to commit for that duration - and the team have faith in him. But it is not just Sebastian. Its other key individuals like (chief technical officer) Adrian who has committed to a similar time frame. I think the continuity that we have enjoyed over the last two to three years has given us a break, as it is a factor that is very important to us. True, 2014 in Formula One terms is a long time away but I am sure that we will have good times between now and then.
Q: How did you persuade Newey to stay for so long? Every team that has let him wave goodbye in the past has suffered dearly?
CH: I know. Adrian is as important as any driver. He feels very attached to the team, as hes been involved from the beginning. He has built a fantastic infrastructure and my guess is that he really enjoyed that process. He is relatively young and is as motivated and committed as ever. In the end, a contract is just a piece of paper and is rather irrelevant. It is only if you have to revere this piece of paper that becomes important, but by then you are usually in trouble. It all depends on relationships and Adrian and I enjoy a very good working relationship. He enjoys working for Red Bull and likes the atmosphere in the team and the environment that we have. So while he continues to enjoy it then I am sure hell be here for a little while.
Q: He has been around a bit in the paddock
CH: No, not really. This is his fourth team. Leyton House, Williams, McLaren and now to us. Over a 25 or so year career thats not too many teams. A lot less than a lot of others.
Q: Before reality bites, what have you learnt from the tests?
CH: We had 15 days, which makes seven and a half days for each driver. We tried to extract the maximum for our own reasons and pretty much ignored the times - as I always say, you tend to read too much into times. We just focused on our own programme and had good pre-season tests. We elected to follow a different strategy this year compared to previous years. This - to have our new car out early - was primarily down to the change in tyres regulations. It was a truly huge effort by the whole team to get that car to the first test. I doubt there is a car that was designed and produced - certainly produced - in a shorter time than ours. Hopefully that strategy will put us in good stead for the first phase of the championship.
Q: Does that mean that you expect to have an advantage over those who didnt have their car ready for the first test?
CH: Who can tell? We decided to have the car ready for the first test and its hard to say whether it was right or wrong. Weve looked at it and said that if we could have the car at the first test with the new tyres then it could be a benefit for us. Adrian didnt release his drawings any earlier so the pressure fell on the design and production team to deliver in the shortest space of time. And they did a fantastic job!
Q: How did winning the two titles add to your own personal well-being? Did you feel 10-feet tall?
CH: I think that is what you hope to achieve when you start to get involved in Formula One. Believe me those 10 days in November last year - winning first the constructors and then the drivers championship - were very special. But in the end it is all about the team. I was immensely proud of what the team have achieved in a very competitive season. And 10-feet tall? Yes I did on one occasion - when Bernie (Ecclestone) gave me the constructors trophy at the FIA Gala in Monaco last December. You look at the names on the trophy - Cooper, BRM, McLaren, Brabham, Ferrari, and Williams. When you see those names and realise you are part of that was very special.
Q: Who do you think will be your fiercest challenger?
CH: Ferrari have looked impressive through the winter tests. Theyve enjoyed good reliability and beyond that it is impossible to predict. There have been quite a few who have looked pretty quick at times. To be honest we havent even really tried to identify our challengers. Weve been focused entirely on our own progress and performance.
Q: What about Mark Webbers concerns about the moveable rear wings? Do you understand those concerns?
CH: Yes, I can understand him and his concerns. Weve been the only team to voice our concerns. But again, its the same for everybody and drivers are very adapted to extracting the maximum out the car, whether that is with an F-duct or a rear wing. But I can understand drivers not being totally happy with it. It was a FOTA-driven initiative and I hope it will turn out to be the right thing.
Q: Melbourne is always a very tricky track. What do you think we will have learnt once the chequered flag falls?
CH: The first race is always a bit of a lottery. We have had a pace car over the past four years at the start of the race and the weather has always played a role over previous years, so its a tricky race and a demanding track. Our first race here has been our most successful Grand Prix here to date and we are determined this year to better the fourth place that we achieved in 2005!
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