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Christian Horner Q&A: Red Bull would consider FIA customer engine

02 Nov 2015

With Red Bull’s 2016 Formula One plans still unclear, we caught up with team principal Christian Horner in Mexico to find out the current state of play - and to discuss in what circumstance he might contemplate using the FIA’s mooted standard customer engine in the future…

Q: Christian, first and foremost, is there any news to report about Red Bull’s situation?

Christian Horner: Yes: we were fourth and fifth on the grid and finished in those positions at the Mexican Grand Prix - that is very respectable. Otherwise nothing to report, but a lot is going on in the background. So no need for the entire paddock to panic! (laughs)

Q: For so many years Red Bull have lived ‘life in the fast lane’ - and now it could be a ‘dead end street’. How could it come to this?

CH: Ha, that is very funny. Ever since Red Bull Racing came into Formula One, we are in the headlines either on track or off track. The situation we find ourselves in right now is unfortunate, but we rely on Bernie (Ecclestone) and Jean (Todt) to help find a solution.

Q: Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz was quoted as saying that by the end of October Red Bull must find a competitive engine - or else. It is now November…

CH: We are becoming clearer in our minds, but of course the final decision will lie with Dietrich. There is nothing to say at the moment. And if there is I am sure the official Formula One website will know it first.

Q: Can you speak about the options you have, or don’t have?

CH: No, I cannot.

Q: Mercedes engines are off the table, part of the reason supposedly being that no common ground could be found for the marketing strategy. Can you explain that?

CH: There are, of course, always two sides of the story and I am sure at the conclusion of all this it will all become clear.

Q: Is going back to continuing with Renault something that you are looking at?

CH: I don’t think you can discount anything right now. But it has to be a different relationship.

Q: There has been no recent news about Renault’s takeover of Lotus - could that have something to do with a possible buyout of the Renault engine department by Red Bull?

CH: No.

Q: There are plans for an FIA tender for an independent manufacturer to supply customer engines, so somebody must believe that this is a business. So why not take over the Renault engine department - supply Red Bull’s own two teams and two others?

CH: I think that the engine concept the FIA is talking about is a fairly straightforward engine - one that would be easy to have a third-party contractor such as Ilmor or Cosworth would produce. The key question is what are the regulations - and could that be considered an option for Red Bull? We believe it will be - but, of course, it has to be competitive. And it has to be cost effective.

Q: What time frame are we talking about, though, bearing in mind how long it took Mercedes to get where they are - and how Honda are struggling? Are we speaking about 2020 and beyond?

CH: No, because the technology would be very different. It would be a very simple engine with a technology that already exists.

Q: How will you convince Mercedes, Ferrari, Renault and Honda to step back from their sophisticated technology and get ‘simple’ again - or will there be a two-tier Formula One?

CH: We see in other motorsport championships that it is possible to run with very different engines - and think back in F1 we had V8s, V10s and V12s running at the same time. So that is nothing new to Formula One. There are two aspects - to have that engine is to reduce costs for the independents, and the fundamental aspect for us is that we need an engine - and an engine that can be competitive.

Q: We know that these hybrid engines are very complicated. Could it be that with a much simpler engine but with the same power, you will lead the field again?

CH: A simpler engine is lighter, is easier to install, is a twin turbo - so a much easier-to-handle technology than the current engine, and the costs will be a significant factor. Now it is down to the FIA to decide how they equalize the performance.

Q: Could you imagine teaming up with let’s say Cosworth or Ilmor?

CH: There will be a tender - and Red Bull is no engine manufacturer…

Q: …but maybe teaming up when the tender is decided?

CH: As I just said, we are not in the business of engine manufacturing. We are a chassis manufacturer.

Q: Red Bull motorsport consultant Helmut Marko said recently that it costs Red Bull almost the same amount of money to win as it does to race in the midfield. What would exiting the sport cost?

CH: This is something that is confidential between the group and the promoter - and, of course, I cannot divulge that kind of information.

Q: Austin finally saw the Red Bulls leading a race again, though alas it did not last. Why - and what did you make of that weekend?

CH: Yes, that was bringing back the old feeling - even if it was only for a couple of laps. It was a bit the same in Monaco, Budapest, Singapore and Austin - on tracks like that - because we have a very good chassis and we’ve got great drivers. We are a very strong team.

Q: What do you think when you see Haas becoming almost a semi-customer team to Ferrari, and we hear that there are negotiations between Force India and Aston Martin, a car manufacturer in which Mercedes hold a stake? Are we going in a direction where every top team wants to have its own junior team?

CH: …they probably copy the format that we have with Toro Rosso!

Q: But Toro Rosso is a real constructor now. Could you imagine them taking a step back to the customer plan?

CH: That is more of a strategic question for the future. Of course these teams are looking at different alliances mainly to circumnavigate the aerodynamic regulations. Hopefully the FIA will come up with a ruling that prevents unnecessary expenditure committed to circumnavigate future regulations.

Q: We were all surprised to hear about your road to a Renault engine deal back in 2007: sponsoring Flavio Briatore’s Billionaire Club and the Queens Park Rangers football team for a year…

CH: Yes, our relationship with Renault was unconventional from the start. Flavio Briatore was running the works team and I have to say he was very fair. He always delivered what he promised. He treated us extremely fairly.

Q: Coming back to the serious business, when is your deadline for a decision on your 2016 plans?

CH: Yes, it is the beginning of November and time is pressing. So it is important to have a decision in the relatively near future.

Q: Do you have different car concepts on the drawing board, ready to choose one once the engine is decided?

CH: We have designed four versions of the car - so one engine should fit. So we wait until the music stops and see which chair we are sitting in - or even if we have a chair at all! (laughs)

Q: So when will there be a resolution?

CH: I hope within a month. But remember back with the Ross Brawn team in 2009. They got a decision in January - and won the world championship that year. That demonstrates that things can be done at short notice - if you are clever!