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Exclusive Q&A - Horner on Renault, Verstappen, and 2017

06 Apr 2016

After the trials and tribulations of 2015, Red Bull Racing now appear to be on a far more even keel. It may be early days but they are currently out-performing Williams and lie third in the standings, with a 30-point haul from the opening two rounds. So what now? We caught up with team principal Christian Horner to find out more…

Q: Christian, after all the uncertainty surrounding Red Bull’s F1 future towards the end of last year, how are things looking now?

Christian Horner: I think we are in a better position than 12 months ago. Progress is being made with the power unit and regulation changes are happening for 2017 already on the chassis side. And there is a lot of discussion going on about the power unit situation for the future. So there is a much different outlook than one year ago.

Q: Has Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz given out any minimum expectations for the team?

CH: Dietrich’s will is very consistent since day one: he wants to compete - and compete for victories. He understands the situation that we have - that we have a great team and that we are fighting back. That process has started this year.

Q: In Melbourne Daniel Ricciardo did the fastest lap of the race. Does that mean that the TAG Heuer-badged Renault power unit has caught up significantly over the winter in terms of horsepower?

CH: Melbourne, of course, was a very positive race for us. Daniel raced very well and the car was competitive throughout the race. The degradation on the tyres was good and the characteristic of that circuit suited us, as there is not a huge dependency on power. The next few races will be much tougher - until we get a significant upgrade with the power unit.

Q: There is more freedom with engine development this season. Will Renault be able to grasp that opportunity? Will we see a raise in performance over this year?

CH: I think they have all the opportunities. Over the last six months they really started to make progress. Now that they have their own team as well their determination and urgency only increased.

Q: To what degree are Red Bull directly involved in the development of the power unit?

CH: We obviously have introduced Renault to Mario Illien who is now working directly with Renault. That relationship seems to be working well. But we have no technical involvement.

Q: Is Mario Illien also working on the power units for the Renault team or exclusively on those for Red Bull Racing?

CH: They are both the same. They are identical. Whatever Renault benefit from also goes for the TAG Heuer-badged engine.

Q: Confirmation of the 2017 regulations has been postponed until the end of April. What does that mean for the teams - and who will profit from the late date?

CH: It was planned for the end of February, but because nobody can decide these days it was postponed until April. As we already know with a fair degree of certainty what the regulations are for next year, I should think all teams are now balancing their resource between 2016 and 2017.

Q: So what are the cornerstones of the 2017 regulations?

CH: The cars will have more downforce, more mechanical grip. They will look more aggressive and be more of a challenge for the drivers. It is not carried as far as we would have liked - it’s a compromise solution - so let’s see. It is better than standing still.

Q: Williams’ Pat Symonds said that the late date means big teams will have an advantage because of their resources - so that should automatically put Red Bull Racing among the winners…

CH: Ha, we’ve always enjoyed regulation changes on the chassis side. The team relishes the opportunity. That is the car side. Power unit-wise we will have to see.

Q: From what we’ve seen so far, the Toro Rosso youngsters may well give your two drivers a hard time this year. Is their 2015-spec Ferrari engine still superior to the 2016 Renault power unit?

CH: We estimated the gap in Melbourne to be 0.8 seconds [per lap] between the power units. They have a good power unit and you can see the benefits from that - especially in the first half of the season. We hope to catch them by then.

Q: Some say Max Verstappen looks destined to join Red Bull Racing in 2017. What’s your guess: who will have to move aside?

CH: It is a nice situation to have. Both Toro Rosso drivers are Red Bull drivers, as were Ricciardo and Kvyat - and Vettel before - and all started out at Toro Rosso. It is an incredible situation to have such a pool of fantastic drivers. We don’t have an issue with [finding] competitive drivers in the next few years…

Q: …but surely one driver at Red Bull Racing will get a handshake and a ‘thank you for your services’ at the end of the season…

CH: It is a healthy situation, it’s healthy competition and it keeps all the drivers honest.