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Red Bull’s road to recovery - Christian Horner Q&A

13 Jul 2015

In 2013 Red Bull Racing won 13 Grands Prix (and both world titles). In 2014 they won three. In 2015 that tally is expected to drop to zero. A lack of performance and reliability from their Renault power unit, combined with a chassis design compromised by rule changes has seen the former champions go from heroes to relative zeroes. As the man in charge, how does team principal Christian Horner cope with such a reversal in fortunes - and how does he plan to turn things around? In an exclusive interview, we tried to find out...

Q: Christian, back in Canada Red Bull’s motorsport consultant Helmut Marko said that Renault’s new project was on the dyno, and you would know its potential in three weeks’ time. That window closed at Silverstone - so what is the state of affairs?

Christian Horner: I think this is a question to be answered by Renault because it is their business, not ours. But as far as I am aware I think that they are making good progress on their dyno. They now have some strategic decisions about implementation, and the direction they want to take their development for the rest of this season - and that has an enormous impact on next year.

Q: What does their timeframe mean for you then?

CH: Of course it tests our patience. Like any competitive team we want performance yesterday, and unfortunately with engines the lead time is a lot longer than with the chassis. Patience is something that we are not really good at. We want to have performance as soon as possible...

Q: What is ‘as soon as possible’? The next three weeks?

CH: From where the concept is at the moment you are probably looking at least at a couple of months. Two to three months. It needs to happen this year - but also what you learn this year will help you next season.

Q: Both Renault and Red Bull have reportedly drawn up exit scenarios - but given that you recently signed a personal contract renewal with Red Bull, can we understand that their exit is now off the table?

CH: Hah! I signed that contract a short while ago. We are determined to get back to a competitive position. It hurts when you are not competitive, and unfortunately there are certain elements we are not in control of. But where we are in control, we are working flat out so that when the power upgrades do come, we are in a position to make best use of them.

Q: Are you satisfied with the chassis situation right now?

CH: We are never satisfied. Here you always try to get better. The regulation changes over the winter did hurt us - probably more than we anticipated - but we now have a pretty good understanding of the areas where we need to improve - and how to improve.

Q: Is there interest in trying to bring James Key over from Toro Rosso? He is showing what is possible on a slim budget...

CH: No interest at all. We have a strong technical team. Adrian (Newey) is still involved in all the things that are going on and with Rob Marshal, Pierre Wache and Dan Fallows we have a strong technical group - so no desire to change anything.

Q: What about Renault? There has been speculation that they could purchase Lotus. What would that mean for the two Red Bull teams? Boss Carlos Ghosn reportedly said it is very unlikely Renault will play the part of engine supplier in 2017...

CH: Those are decisions that they have to make. It would hold a certain irony if they buy back the team they sold. But as far as our position is concerned, we have a very clear agreement with Renault, which guarantees us priority status. Any of those scenarios requires having a competitive engine - and doesn’t really matter based on the agreement that we have.

Q: Some suggested Red Bull Racing have been ‘flirting’ with Ferrari recently. Could that be a short-term remedy? For sure it doesn’t appear to be a long-term solution if you want to win titles again...

CH: Ah, I think it would be an exaggeration saying that Red Bull is ‘flirting’ with Ferrari. Obviously Red Bull Group had a relationship with Ferrari for many years as engine supplier for Toro Rosso. Sergio (Marchionne) made a generous offer without any details when he attended the Austrian Grand Prix - but right now our focus is on what we have at this point in time.

Q: 2016 is one thing - but what about 2017?

CH: That could be a completely different ball game.

Q: Would you ever have imagined after so many successful years that you would find yourself in the doldrums so quickly - and with no obvious way out?

CH: Things change here very quickly. The vast majority of the people that helped us win eight titles and 50 Grands Prix are still here. But the circumstances have changed. Unfortunately the element that has the biggest effect on our competitiveness is one we are not in control of.

Q: You have said that even were Sebastian Vettel still racing for Red Bull Racing, you would still be in the same bad situation...

CH: If Sebastian was still with Red Bull our position would be no different because the drivers aren’t our issues.

Q: Would you really be in the same situation with Sebastian? Does the driver make so little impact?

CH: We would be poorer!

Q: Bernie Ecclestone has suggested that F1 racing will be simpler - and more exciting - in 2017. Why did it take so long to understand that the sport was being pushed in the wrong direction?

CH: The fact is that if you have a bunch of ‘experts’ who all believe that they know what should be done, you end up with confusion. I think that the reality has only recently been understood - and as a result of that there is more alignment on what needs to be done.

Bernie was always right saying that F1 is about man and machine at the limit. It needs to be dramatic, it needs to be fast, it needs to be loud and it needs to be sexy. In one word, it needs that ‘wow’ factor to it.

We need to go back to these principles, which is relatively easy to achieve if everybody wants to achieve the same thing. They are not all quite sure how to achieve it - but they now have agreed on what they want to achieve! (laughs)