In an exclusive interview, Horner discusses what’s needed to transform the RB10 from a very strong chassis into a Mercedes-beating car, plus Daniel Ricciardo’s stellar start to 2014, Adrian Newey’s future, and the chances of a Red Bull win in Monaco…
Q: Christian, it has been a rather unusual start into the season for Red Bull Racing this year. Has it been hard to swallow?
Christian Horner: We had a very tough pre-season - probably covering less laps than any other team - so therefore turning up in Australia not believing that you would get past the first pit stop was indeed a very unusual feeling for us. But I think how the team - and Renault - have responded to that situation has been remarkable. Heading back to Europe second in the constructors’ championship, including a couple of podiums is a clear indication that we are fighting our way back.
Q: Was the poor start the price you had to pay for winning both titles last year? That others were already deeply involved with their 2014 cars while Red Bull were still developing the 2013 machine?
CH: We have a very good chassis, so from that side we are in good shape. Unfortunately Renault had some issues, which they are working very hard to get on top of. So I don’t think that winning last year’s championship affected us in any way at all.
Q: The chassis seems to be another Newey hit - if it would only work together with the power unit. When will you finally bring these two components smoothly together?
CH: The analysis that we have shows that we have a very good car: the corner speed is very high, so we know that the chassis is working really well. We are closing the gap to Mercedes, yes - but it is still a serious gap. Hats off to Mercedes: they’ve done an incredible job with their power unit.
Q: The gap is exactly 113 points in the standings - not an inconsiderable advantage…
CH: Ha, but at the last race of the year there are 96 points available - and that can change a lot!
Q: So you are banking on double points, something that Red Bull weren’t too keen on?
CH: The season is long. True, Mercedes have got themselves into a very dominant position, but we never give up.
Q: Red Bull boss Dietrich Mateschitz has reportedly already called this season a write-off. Is this too pessimistic?
CH: I think he knows that 2014 is a massive challenge, but as I just said, we never give up.
Q: But could it be that he is the only realist? Perhaps the team management, with their naturally overwhelming will to win, are being overly optimistic?
CH: If we were to accept at this stage that we will be second we might as well not turn up! Our motivation is to close that gap to Mercedes. Whether we can we will know at the end of the year.
Q: Believe the rumours and there are job offers from both Ferrari and Mercedes on Adrian Newey’s desk…
CH: Adrian made it very clear that his foreseeable future is committed to Red Bull. It is inevitable that other teams are looking at all our key members of staff.
Q: So you don’t take any of these offers too seriously - they are just par for the course?
CH: There are always a lot of rumours, but Adrian is extremely comfortable within the team. He enjoys the environment of Red Bull.
Q: Why is Sebastian Vettel’s car seemingly jinxed this year? What is the matter with it?
CH: We had some issues with some set-up equipment on Sebastian’s car that we identified before Barcelona. His race in Barcelona was incredibly strong: he did the fastest lap - despite the problems that he had with very little running on Friday and the problem in qualifying on Saturday. His recovery on Sunday was exemplary. He is in much better shape now.
Q: What about Daniel - he is doing amazingly well…
CH: Yes, he is. We recruited him as we believed he is the right guy and so far he has outlived all our expectations.
Q: So it’s Daniel who is making your day right now?
CH: Ha, fact is that both Daniel and Sebastian have come from the Red Bull junior program - and it is great to see that this program really delivers! The quality of drivers coming through the Red Bull program is exceptional. Daniel has grabbed the opportunity he’s been presented with with both hands.
Q: Sebastian appears well balanced after yet another difficult race - but there are rumours that behind closed doors not everything is sweetness and light…
CH: Sebastian is very balanced. But of course he is also very driven and competitive. He expects a lot from himself as he does from the team. You will hardly find a more focused or determined character than Sebastian Vettel - but he also combines that with an exceptionally nice person, which makes him a pleasure to work with.
Q: So no outbursts?
CH: Absolutely not.
Q: Coming back to that gap to Mercedes, what is up your sleeves for the next couple of races to help close it?
CH: Well, we do bring something new at every race, but the most significant thing will come from Renault’s side and with Total because the fuel seems to be a big thing as well this year. They will be our biggest single gains, but as I just said, at every race we are developing the car to try and extract more performance from it. We have won all our eight titles with a Renault engine so I am very confident - but of course it is a race against time. They will get there - it’s just a case of how quickly.
Q: Monaco has many times been a lucky place for Red Bull - what are the chances of that this Sunday?
CH: If we make the podium in Monaco, that is a massive result in itself. You have to be realistic about what your expectations are. We know that Mercedes is also very strong here - true, probably many of their advantages do not mean so much here, but historically they’ve always had a good car here so they will be tough to beat.
Q: Daniel said that if he takes the winner’s trophy this weekend he will jump into the harbour with it…
CH: …we had drivers who did that before - and nearly drowned! So I hope in many ways that he is in the position to jump into the harbour, but actually doesn’t do it.