Exclusive Q&A with Red Bull's Christian Horner 23 Sep 2011
Red Bull have been enjoying a swell season so far. Leading the drivers and constructors standings by significant margins after clinching eight victories, the Milton Keynes-based outfit could be forgiven for feeling a little smug. Team principal Christian Horner, however, doesnt believe in celebrating prematurely
Q: Christian, you must feel like youre living a fairy tale - or so it looks from the outside
Christian Horner: One thing is true: this year has been a phenomenal year. What has really been satisfying so far is that weve managed to apply the lessons we learned from last year. After the first 13 races, having won eight and finished second in four and third in the others is a tremendous run of results. Across all areas of the team we have really made another step forward, which is a huge achievement - especially after the pressure of last year.
Q: Thats all about the team. What about your personal success? Youve achieved a lot at what is a very young age for a team principal
CH: For me personally it is fantastic to see that all the hard work is coming to a positive result, but the fact is that it is a team matter. It is not about me, or Adrian (Newey), but about the team and everything coming together perfectly. I am talking about the whole team because that is the most significant thing we have achieved since Red Bull purchased Jaguar. The objectives have been to create a team environment and I am very proud to lead this team.
Q: This weekend could decide the drivers championship - are you ready for it?
CH: We are ignoring the drivers points table at the moment. We are here with the same objective we had at Monza and Spa - to attack and do our best to optimize our performance and try to win the race. You saw that two weeks ago in Monza: we werent cruising and collecting points because that is not our philosophy in the remaining six races. Singapore is an event that we would love to win. Weve had a second and a third place here, so it would be fantastic to go one better this year. But, for sure, the Ferraris and McLarens will be pushing equally hard
Q: So is the champagne already in the fridge?
CH: No it is not, because it is important to keep our focus - even if the lead looks pretty healthy things can change. The most important thing for the team is to keep our focus on what we are here to do - winning races and maximizing our performance. Then the championships will take care of themselves.
Q: Weve rarely seen a driver lead the standings by such a margin, especially when pursued by former champions like Alonso and Button. What makes Sebastian so special?
CH: I think he has benefitted from last year. Last year was a tough campaign for him and he never gave up and never lost his focus, and in the end everything came right for him. But the fact is that he also had some really bad luck last year with engine failures and wheel nut issues and so on, so he came into this year as the reigning champion with his confidence obviously very high, with a total belief in the team and with the team having a total belief in him. He has performed so far on an exceptionally high level - quite a remarkable level. He is still so young and he is still developing as a driver as he gains more experience and I am certain that the best is still to come from Sebastian.
Q: Does that mean Michael Schumachers record of seven titles could be in danger?
CH: I think it is impossible to look at statistics like that, but what he has achieved in a very short period is phenomenal. But we are always focusing on the next race - and obviously looking at 2012 - but we are not looking any further down the road. Formula One is a very reactive business and you cant afford to be looking too far ahead as the real mission is to look at the here and now.
Q: In the past we have seen teams that have won the championship one year and then tumbled down the order the next. How have you managed to stay at the very top?
CH: That was one of the major targets that we set ourselves internally - not just last year going into 2011, but also in 2009 we finished the season with the best car and we followed that through into 2010. A huge amount of passion and effort went into that championship, going right down to the wire in Abu Dhabi, and what I am really proud of is that we went straight into the race in Melbourne this year with the quickest car, even with a significant regulation change. Losing the double diffuser, dealing with new tyres, with the DRS - to accommodate all these regulation changes and still turn up with the best car was the perfect testimony to how far the team has come - how strong we are as a unit to be able to bridge two seasons: winning in Abu Dhabi and winning in Melbourne. That demonstrated how strong the team has really become, since - as you rightly said - we have seen in the recent past teams who have put so much effort into one season that the following year has been a bit of a disappointment.
Q: From the outside this year looks to have been a walk in the park for Red Bull, but you must have had some dark times too. Can you say what they were?
CH: Well, weve won a lot of races this year, but a lot of races have been very hard fought. If you think back to Monaco, if you think back to Barcelona, these were races where Sebastian was under huge pressure and you think of the issues we had to deal with in Spa - the situation with the tyres and being unsure how far we could push the boundaries. So there have been pressure points, but the most satisfying thing is that we have been in a position to win pretty much every single Grand Prix his year. Even Montreal went down to the last lap, and China, if we had taken a different strategy, it nearly worked for Sebastian as the car was certainly the quickest car that day. Even when we havent had the quickest car, like in Monaco where we went so long on a set of tyres, all these points show that we have optimized our strategy, our pit work has been fantastic and the pit wall has been very efficient. So with all the unsung heroes in the factory we have developed into a very sleek operation with everybody raising the bar.
Q: Where would you say were the big points that have really put you in this leading situation?
CH: I think the last two races were a huge result for us: getting a one-two in Spa, where the track, especially the first and third sectors, havent historically played to our advantage and our key strength; and the same goes for Monza - weve never been on the podium there previously. To go to these two races - where our rivals expected us to ruffle up a bit - and dominate, that again was testimony to how far the team has come and the level that we are delivering at. Those were really satisfying victories - and it was a great pleasure to add those two trophies to our cabinet! (laughs)
Q: Helmut Marko said that the 2012 car will be ready when Adrian Newey says its ready. Has he already whispered anything in your ear?
CH: No, no whisper. But as we have reasonable stability in the regulations, I think that what we have learned this year can be applied to next season we are looking forward to next season. And we are delighted having tied up the long-term future with our engine partner in the Renault and Nissan alliance, as this strategically is an important relationship for us. So for the last races our focus is also to learn as much as we can and incorporate that into the RB8.
Q: That sounds like well be seeing your new car at the first 2012 test in Jerez - and not at the second test like this year
CH: I didnt say that. Adrian doesnt tend to be known for being early with his design releases. I asked him this morning how its going with the chassis and he said he knows it will be blue (laughs)
Q: Other big teams would no doubt like to woo Adrian away from Red Bull. How do you make sure you keep him?
CH: Well, Adrian is for sure the most sought-after designer in Formula One and every team wants to have him, but thats been the case now for 20 years. I think when Adrian joined the team the team was not ready for Adrian, but now he has created an environment that he feels very comfortable in. He is an integral part of what we do and he enjoys the freedom that we give him.
Q: Winning the second title means
CH: Job well done!
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