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Exclusive Christian Horner Q&A: Daniel drove fantastically

27 Jul 2014

Only twice have Mercedes been defeated in 2014, and on both occasions it was by Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo. After watching the Australian charge to victory in Budapest, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner discussed Ricciardo’s achievement, the team’s season so far, and his hopes for the rest of year…

Q: Christian, what a fantastic afternoon - a win that was somewhat against the odds…

Christian Horner: To be fair, not so much against the odds as qualifying was a rather promising affair…

Q: But the result is a bit different to what you probably anticipated…

CH: Daniel drove a fantastic race. Of course the Budapest track worked to our advantage, as it is a slow circuit without long straights, so it suits the characteristics of our car - but we’ve also been making quite visible progress.

Q: Is power - or a lack of it - still an issue for you? And despite today’s podium, will things look different again in Belgium and Italy?

CH: Yes, power is still an issue for us - but today it simply didn’t matter! (laughs)

Q: Is it still somewhat puzzling that the Renault engine was one of the most powerful last year and now they are struggling?

CH: The regulation change has been massive - and I have to be fair, Mercedes have done an incredible job and it is down to our competitiveness now to catch up - on all tracks. We’ve won a lot of races and championships with Renault and they have really good people who are working very hard to close that gap.

Q: Red Bull have now won two races this season. Last year you won 13, so communicating ‘troubles’ must be one of your major tasks. Are you a good salesman of troubles?

CH: Well, our standard this year is not as strong as in previous years - but we are still the only other team to win a race, we are second in the world championship, and we’ve had a whole bunch of podiums with the handicap of an engine that is very underpowered compared to our rivals. Actually, I would say that we’ve overachieved in many respects, so as soon as we start to close that horsepower deficit then we will able to take the fight to Mercedes. And today was a fantastic example: when the horsepower deficit is not so much of an issue we are right there again.

Q: What is the state of affairs right now? The Hungaroring, as you just said, is a rather unusual track, but Williams have shown that they are a force this year and they are already dreaming of P2 in the constructors’ championship…

CH: I tend not to look at the championship table too much. We approach each race one by one and do our best - the championships will take care of themselves. We will take another look at it at the end of the year to see where we are.

Q: Obviously winning is addictive. Can it be that some members of Red Bull Racing are showing withdrawal symptoms with their comments?

CH: Everybody in the team is motivated to get back to where we’ve been: winning regularly. We have a strong and competitive team and we’ve enjoyed so much success over the last few years that of course it is addictive in many respects. And of course you want to have that feeling back!

Q: In terms of the power unit, can you explain what has already been solved and where the glitches still are?

CH: Reliability is an issue for all the teams. The technology is still so new. What we do is engineer solutions to all our problems. That’s basically it. And we are getting there step by step.

Q: Are you surprised that Mercedes are now starting to run into reliability issues? At the beginning of the season they seemed to be completely free from problems…

CH: I think that this is a normal process - plus the engines are getting older in their life now that they are being circulated. All teams - probably aside from Ferrari - have had reliability issues…

Q: But on normal tracks Ferrari have not been fast enough…

CH: That’s another matter.

Q: Can it be that you trade away speed for reliability?

CH: That is always a balance. First, you’ve got to be quick - then you have to be reliable. You have to find that balance. There’s no point being quick and not finishing races, and vice versa.

Q: Is the search for the perfect balance more difficult this season?

CH: Of course - it’s a bit more difficult because it is more complicated.

Q: Helmut Marko said that if massive changes don’t come to Red Bull soon, then it’s possible that the 2015 season could be at stake. How much of a threat is that?

CH: I think we have some good things in the pipeline - we are working very closely with Renault. With their recent management change…

Q: …is that already showing?

CH: Absolutely! We have a very good working relationship with Renault and I think Cyril (Abiteboul) is doing a great job. We are getting much more involved - something similar to working like a proper works team.

Q: Next season it’s possible that Renault will concentrate their efforts with the two Red Bull teams, as Lotus are rumored to be moving to Mercedes power units. What difference would that make?

CH: The whole focus will then be on Red Bull Racing - and then a customer engine supplied to Toro Rosso. Of course that makes a difference. It would be positive for us and it makes sense to Renault as well.

Q: In hindsight was it a huge mistake - and the reason for all of the troubles - that Renault distributed different engines to Red Bull and Lotus?

CH: It was an issue. If you look at Mercedes and Ferrari they focus on one team and then their customers still get a very good product, whereas Renault’s philosophy was different to that and I think it cost them a little it. But now under the new management structure things are different.

Q: And how much are Red Bull also eyeing a new engine partner? Is that in any way or form on your agenda?

CH: It is not on our agenda at this point in time. We want to make things work with Renault. We’ve had huge success with Renault - we’ve won almost 50 Grands Prix with them, eight world championships. They have very capable people - we just have to work closely together in the same direction. That’s what I believe is happening now.

Q: How irritating is it that your four-time champion, Sebastian Vettel, has had such big issues with this year’s car, whereas your new boy, Daniel Ricciardo, seems to have an easy flow?

CH: Well, that is a testament to Daniel. Look at today and the job that he has done so far. He is really impressive and he has exceeded everyone’s expectations - probably also his own. (laughs) I think it is really healthy for the team to have two competitive drivers that work well together. Sebastian has had his issues - he’s had reliability issues as well - but as he starts to find his set-up and his way with the car his potential will come through.

Q: Are you surprised about Sebastian’s struggles? And where has he been struggling most?

CH: I think his glitches have all been linked to the powertrain - whether it is braking or traction. On top of that, reliability. When that is disrupting your race weekend it makes things very difficult. But that will become a thing of the past sooner or later.

Q: How difficult is it to have an unhappy champion?

CH: I don’t think he is unhappy. He’s probably a bit frustrated. He works incredibly hard and he will come through this period. It is character building for him. He will emerge a stronger driver.

Q: Do you think he thinks that he needs character building?

CH: He obviously has plenty of character as he is - but sometimes in this sport that happens. He will be back.

Q: Mathematically there’s still a slim chance in the drivers’ standing for both Sebastian and Daniel, but realistically is 2014 a race between the two Mercedes drivers?

CH: In all likelihood it is - but we won’t give up. Every race is an opportunity - and we started this weekend!