Christian Horner Q&A: F1 in for a stellar year 08 Feb 2012
Being Formula Ones leading light must feel exhilarating and nerve racking in equal measure. After defending both titles in such dominant style in 2011, Red Bull are the target for every other team, all of them intent on pulling the champions off their pedestal in 2012. But team principal Christian Horner is facing the threat with cool determination, thanks to an unchanged driver line-up, another Adrian Newey-designed car, and a maturing team behind him. Horner speaks exclusively to Formula1.com about the season ahead
Q: Christian, for the second successive year you lead the team everybody wants to beat
Christian Horner: Well, in many ways its a nice situation to be in - even if its a demanding one. It means that for two years in a row we must have done something right! 2011 was an incredible year for the team and it is amazing what we have achieved. Defending both world titles obviously raises the bar again for 2012 and of course our goal and objective is to defend both trophies again. They look perfect on the shelf in our factory.
Q: What is the most difficult thing you have to manage to try and keep up the teams performance level?
CH: First of all, Formula One is a hugely competitive sport and of course time doesnt stand still. The speed of new innovations is spiralling and if you throw into that the regulation changes we have seen over the last three years - the double diffuser, the F-Duct, DRS, etc. - its a huge challenge to manage. Weve always been good at adapting to those challenges and we must not lose that ability. Of course, in such an environment you can never be complacent, as reality will bite immediately if you are. Red Bull Racing hasnt been in F1 long, which means that we are competing with teams with some phenomenal history and a lot of knowledge to fall back on. So we are taking nothing for granted. We are fortunate to have continuity in all areas, which is a key factor. Weve become a very strong unit.
Q: Red Bulls chief technical officer Adrian Newey has been quoted as saying that designing this years car was easier than it has been in previous years. Is that a good sign?
CH: Believe me, it is never easy - or easier. But yes, we have designed and produced the car in the shortest time that we ever have done and this is testimony to how we have grown together and to the dedication of all the staff. Adrians drawings dont arrive any earlier so its all about pulling all our strength together and making the car happen. What sets Red Bull Racing apart from our opponents is that we have pushed the boundaries. This is because we needed to, because we are not the same size as some of our competitors and we dont have the same resources that some of our rivals have. The secret behind it all is that we are a young team which has matured. I know it sounds a bit old-fashioned, but harmony is an asset that really makes a difference.
Q: Some have said that McLaren had the fastest car towards the end of last year and it was only Sebastian Vettels skills which kept you ahead. Do you agree?
CH: Well, I dont remember them having the fastest car in 2011. 18 pole positions and 12 wins speak for themselves and these results leave very little space for another fastest car. Of course Sebastian had the most fantastic year last year. He evolved as a driver, he took his chances and drove with incredible maturity and skill. He won some brilliant races last season - and he is still evolving.
Q: Vettel seems to be the sort of champion that the sport has been seeking out for quite some time. What makes him so special?
CH: He is a great champion and a great ambassador for the sport. He connects to his age group in a fantastic way as he has all the features of a modern-day hero. He is fiercely competitive in the cockpit and very down to earth and approachable outside the car. People see his personality. He spends time with the fans and they appreciate it if their hero is living among them and not above them. He is a grounded superstar, if such a thing exists. Thats why his popularity has mushroomed so much over the last few years.
Q: With Mark Webber you are taking it one year at a time
CH: Mark is 35 so it is only normal from both sides that we take steps one at a time. He has come back now from a good winter break after his win at the last race in Brazil, which did him a world of good. Now he is back leaner, lighter and rejuvenated, which is great to see. There were times last season when it looked like he wasnt enjoying himself, but he refocused and my guess is that he will be a stronger driver this season.
Q: Toro Rosso is there to nurture possible talents for Red Bull Racing. How disappointing was it to find out that the two guys they had been nurturing for three years (Jaime Alguersuari and Sebastien Buemi) werent the right stuff in the end?
CH. Well, of course it is something that we are looking at closely. The two drivers Toro Rosso had are both very talented but what happened last year followed Toro Rossos philosophy exactly. Weve retained Sebastian Buemi within the group because of his experience and we are delighted to use that this year, as it has a value to us. But we felt that after three years it was only right to give two exciting new talents the opportunity and it will be fascinating to see how they evolve over the season.
Q: Is it possible that Webber may stay at the team in 2013 too, as the two Toro Rosso drivers may still be too inexperienced to move to Red Bull Racing?
CH: This season hasnt really started so I think it is a bit premature to speak about next year. All I can say is that at Red Bull we have a great pool of drivers and Mark is doing a great job for the team. He is a popular member of the team and he is determined to have a good season, so well take it from there. Of course it is not easy to be up against a double world champion, but Mark has the strength to deal with that.
Q: It was quite a surprise when Red Bull Racing left FOTA
CH: We felt that FOTA was getting involved in aspects that were beyond its regime. We didnt feel comfortable with the way FOTA was evolving and couldnt see its true agenda or purpose anymore. FOTA in the early days did some good things when the financial crisis came and suddenly rapid decisions were made about the reduction in the amount of engines and gearboxes used, or testing and wind tunnel hours. They were all good things, but recently FOTA has become much more ineffective and therefore we took the decision to step out of FOTA, to be free and see how things develop. Ferrari obviously took the same decision, as did a couple of other teams. We wish FOTA the best of luck but we are not part of FOTA in any way, shape or form.
Q: Why do you think Ferrari left too?
CH: I guess their reason was similar to that of our own. Weve elected to step out for now and will follow their progress with interest, but we are very happy being the masters of our own destiny.
Q: Did the resource restriction agreement play a part?
CH: Well, it wasnt the only reason but the fact is that it wasnt going in a healthy direction as far as we could see. Cherry picking certain elements of the car is not an effective way to control costs.
Q: Will your 2012 title challengers be the usual suspects, or do you expect some surprises?
CH: Well, we know that McLaren is always a strong team. They have two great drivers so they definitely will be pushing very hard. Fernando Alonso and Ferrari will also be strong opponents. So yes, they will be the usual suspects. It is nice to have Kimi Raikkonen back and Im sure that he can be a factor at some point in the year. And nobody knows what Mercedes is going to do. But we are heading into a season with six world champions on the grid and that translates into a really stellar year.
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