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Exclusive Christian Horner Q&A: No short-term fixes for Red Bull

23 Apr 2015

Unreliability, disputes with Renault, pull-out threats and a 136-point deficit to Mercedes - to say the start of 2015 has been difficult for Red Bull would be an understatement. And as team principal Christian Horner explains in this exclusive interview, the former world champions might have to take more pain yet…

Q: Christian, despite a points finish in Bahrain for both drivers, Red Bull Racing’s free fall seems to be hard to stop. Why is that?

Christian Horner: We had a difficult start into the season. We are not remotely in the position that we expected to be - or wanted to be. Some of our problems are beyond our control and all we can do is offer our support where possible.

Q: If a year ago somebody had told you that Red Bull Racing would fall behind its junior team you would have brushed it aside as folly. After Malaysia that was suddenly a reality, albeit a short-lived one…

CH: Ha, that was a snapshot of a small episode in the season. Yes, Toro Rosso has done a superb job - even though they were very unlucky in Bahrain - and both their drivers are doing well. But a championship is about 19 or 20 races and not about one. It is super to see the youngsters doing so well and we haven’t given our drivers a fair chance. They’ve had to fight with so many issues that driving somehow became almost a second thought.

Q: Why was it that Toro Rosso looked almost stronger in the first three races? What are they doing differently with the power unit? Their team is probably half the size with half the budget…

CH: They are operating the power unit in exactly the same way as we do…

Q: So why did they come so close? Not so long ago they have been worlds apart…

CH: They haven’t out-qualified us yet! But they have a good car. [Technical director] James Key has done a super job with the technical team - and we haven’t had a straightforward weekend yet.

Q: Red Bull’s advantage was always a superb chassis (which could compensate for a weaker engine). But even there now seems to be some kind of shortcoming. Where is Adrian Newey’s magic touch?

CH: For sure we need to improve the car. But we have compromised the set-up a lot to address other issues that we have. So you end up in a vicious circle - less downforce, etc. - which creates other problems. We are not in an optimal position with the RB11 yet - but it is definitely an Adrian car…

Q: How much is it an Adrian car?

CH: Very much. Yes, he has taken a step back but he is involved in the RB11 as in every previous car. The difference will come from RB12 onwards. Yes, he is not that close any more - but he was in Bahrain. He is still mentoring and guiding the technical team.

Q: The power unit is probably the weakest link of the RB11. How difficult is it to run a full season with only four units?

CH: It is frustrating. For sure we are going to use more than four - we’ve used three in three races - so the chances of us staying within the limit of four is close to zero. The teams agreed unanimously in Malaysia to introduce a fifth engine, but the engine penalties will affect others too - not only us. For us we would need that number to increase to seven, eight or nine engines for the season. Unfortunately these are the rules and we are not looking great within these rules. Hopefully these rules will become more realistic in the future.

Q: Right now there is a haggling over the question of whether there should be rule changes for 2017. Red Bull wants these changes. How urgent is that matter - and what if no consensus is found?

CH: If they freeze this engine effectively in February next year then you are going to freeze advantages and disadvantages. I think it has to be opened up to allow more development as this is a very immature technology. The downside is cost. Or you come up with regulations that make the engine less of a performance differentiator and take costs out. Whatever you do you will have happy and unhappy faces. So the real question should be what is best for Formula One. But the teams have to look out for their own interests, so there will always be those that try to exploit the rules and it is against everything that a competitive team is to give away an advantage.

Q: Helmut Marko said that Red Bull is working very intensely with Renault to get out of the slump. But if there is no light at the end of the tunnel then one option is to look for another engine partner. When is the logical deadline to make such a decision?

CH: We have a contract with Renault for 2015 and 2016 and it is in Renault’s interest as much as in ours to sort the current issues out as quickly as possible.

Q: So there is not a paragraph in the contract that would allow you to exit if a certain position in the constructors’ championship cannot be reached?

CH: In reality our best chance is with Renault - and vice versa. We have won 50 Grands Prix and eight world championships together - so sometimes frustration boils over.

Q: Red Bull Racing is not the team that it used to be - aside from the difficult car situation there has also been the departure of Sebastian Vettel and his star qualities. What is the team doing to reinvent itself again?

CH: A fast car will do all of that. A fast car will address all the issues - and one must never forget that Daniel (Ricciardo) won all our races last year!

Q: When will that ‘fast car’ surface?

CH: As soon as possible.

Q: What is as soon as possible then?

CH: I have no idea.

Q: It took Williams - a team with a big past - almost a decade to bounce back from a low ebb. Does Red Bull have that kind of stamina?

CH: I guarantee it won’t be ten years! Red Bull has been in the sport for around 20 years: first as a sponsor, then as a shareholder and then as a team owner. Dietrich Mateschitz has invested more in F1 in the last 20 years than probably any other team or company in the sport.

Q: Dietrich Mateschitz has been quite critical lately. What signals does that send?

CH: Dietrich doesn’t talk publicly very often - but when he does you have to listen. What he was conveying was: Renault should do either the job properly or not at all. You can’t be half pregnant.

Q: How satisfied are you with your two drivers? Daniil Kvyat has been a bit invisible so far…

CH: Daniil has done a good job so far. The problem is that he had a number of issues that had nothing to do with him. He hasn’t had a fair run yet - but what we see is that he is very quick and has a good feel for the car. With regard to the standings of both drivers in the championship, neither can be blamed.

Q: Can you draw a picture of Red Bull’s 2015 season? What if the power unit finally delivers; what if Red Bull settles around P5…

CH: No what ifs! The only answer right now: terrible start - great finish! But to be realistic: our problems are not short term so there will not be any short-term fixes. We have to take a bit of a pain at the moment. And if that is the foundation for a better future then you’ve got to take the pain.