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Max, Red Bull’s Monaco mistake, and more - Exclusive Christian Horner Q&A

12 Jun 2016

The ‘rollercoaster’ F1 season is a well-worn cliche, but there’s no doubt Red Bull are having one. From their early struggles, to Max Verstappen’s unexpected arrival - and debut win - and the pit-stop error that cost Daniel Ricciardo victory in Monaco, team principal Christian Horner has had plenty on his plate. We caught up with him in Canada to find out what it all means for the remainder of their 2016 campaign. In a frank interview the Englishman reveals why a Toro Rosso return was right for Daniil Kvyat, why Mercedes are uncatchable for now, and where Red Bull can realistically expect to win again this year…

Q: Christian, victory in Spain with the youngest-ever race winner - and then throwing away an almost certain win in Monaco two weeks later. Talk us through those marvellous and frustrating days…

Christian Horner: Ha, yes, these two weeks were very different in emotions. Barcelona was a fairy tale story. Yes, we benefitted from the misfortune of Mercedes - but Max still had to get the job done. In Monte Carlo Daniel produced the lap of his life to produce our first pole position since 2013 and was doing a fantastic job in the race. And then came the issue with the second pit stop - and that cost us the victory. Despite finishing second it was a very frustrating Monday after the race.

Q: What exactly do you mean by ‘a frustrating Monday’?

CH: We all could have avoided that. It was not down to one thing, one person making a mistake - it was a series of factors that included an aborted stop - the other car pitted on that lap - and the whole crew being outside, not being clear that the tyres that were requested were not available. So one little catastrophe led to the other. And there you have it. After analysing how it ever could get that far, the only thing left for the future is to learn from it and put procedures in place to make sure it does not happen again.

Q: Weren’t Red Bull once the ‘world champions’ of pit stops?

CH: Yes, that on top! Doing it in 2.2 seconds - and then Monte Carlo. It just demonstrates in this business that you can never rest on your laurels and there are always elements of human error. It bit us badly in Monte Carlo.

Q: These issues aside, were you surprised by how competitive you were in Monaco?

CH: In fact we always believed that Monaco could be an opportunity for us and together with the engine upgrade that was introduced in Monaco, that enabled us to achieve pole position and propelled our competitiveness there. All that shows that we are moving in the right direction: the car is competitive, the drivers are competitive and the engine is now becoming competitive - so we are really looking forward to the rest of the races.

Q: How did Max come to terms with his Monaco experience? Riding high in Barcelona and crashing out in Monte Carlo…

CH: Max turned up in Monaco full of self-confidence from his Barcelona victory. He pushed the boundaries - and sometimes if you get a bit greedy in Monaco it bites back. He was an unfortunate recipient of that! (laughs) The first half of his race was fantastic, but there the slightest misjudgement doesn’t let you get away with it. Max was unlucky - but we all know in Monaco you make your own luck.

Q: How much has the improved performance of the Renault power unit contributed to your recent success?

CH: For sure it is a big element. Chassis and engine have to work in harmony. We have started to see that this is coming together again.

Q: So all the hard feelings are a thing of the past?

CH: Obviously there have been some strong things said in the past - but that prompted action in Viry. Management changes were made and new personnel brought in, and that we are starting to see. It is a very cordial relationship now, and one that has been extended for another two years.

Q: Red Bull encouraged Renault to hire Mario Illien. Was his joining Renault the missing link in finding success again?

CH: Well, Mario has a lot of experience - and that is an asset. But fundamentally the restructuring under Remy Taffin that has gone on in Viry - the wise recruitment of the right people from some of their rivals, and encouraging the talent that was always in Viry to step forward - made the change. Now we start to see the fruit of that.

Q: The RB13 - is it the best chassis on the grid?

CH: Ha, it is so hard to measure these things. It is always about the whole package - and in this the Mercedes package is still the best. We are working hard to close that gap and in Monaco we actually had the best engine/chassis package - but Montreal shows a slightly different picture again.

Q: But fact is you are giving Ferrari a good run for their money. Are you the second force on the grid, as many believe?

CH: It is too close to call. At certain circuits we are stronger than Ferrari - just take the last two races - but the race before that, Sochi, they were stronger than us. I think it will be a fascinating battle as we definitely hope to pick up more speed during the season.

Q: So what is up your sleeve for the next couple of races? Something fundamental?

CH: It is more evolutionary, as you have to balance your focus between the 2017 car and this season.

Q: Moving Max to Red Bull Racing was obviously [Red Bull motorsport consultant] Helmut Marko’s initiative. Did he simply call you and say that from Barcelona onwards you will have a new driver?

CH: During the Russian Grand Prix weekend Helmut and I discussed Max doing a test for Red Bull Racing later in the year - probably at the Silverstone test. But then the events of the Russian race took over the planning - and that combined with other interests that were intensifying around Max accelerated that process. Helmut and I then discussed an early move and [Red Bull owner] Dietrich (Mateschitz) made the final decision. And it was absolutely the right thing to do.

Q: Are you saying that the two crashes Daniil Kvyat had in Russia were really decisive?

CH: We have an awful lot of information about the drivers in the car and in the simulator - and it was clear for us that Daniil was struggling compared to his team mate with certain aspects of the car. So it was a combination of that and more and more pressure building on it. So it was clear that the right thing to do was to remove him from that pressure and put him back to an environment he was familiar with. If Red Bull didn’t rate Daniil an outstanding talent, the relationship would have finished then and there.

Q: Press speculation has suggested Daniel’s contract could come to an end this season, prompting more rumours of a potential Ferrari move…

CH: …wrong, it does not come to an end this season.

Q: But there is a lot of talk…

CH: …but do all those who talk know his contract? No.

Q: Does that mean you will race with the same driver line-up in 2017?

CH: Yes. But not just 2017!

Q: Red Bull Racing are earmarked to finish second in the constructors’ championship this season - if Helmut Marko has his will. Does that mean winning both titles again in 2017?

CH: Who knows? As far as this season is concerned our objective is to do the best at every single race - and then the points take care of themselves. Ferrari have a good car, good drivers and a good engine, so they will be strong at some of the future races - very likely starting this weekend here in Montreal. But, of course, we will give them a hard time.

Q: If your chances are track related, which tracks present the best chances?

CH: Certainly Budapest, and Silverstone could be interesting as well. Then Singapore and Japan. Circuits like that.

Q: That sounds like a fair number of tracks where you could stake a claim. Are there also circuits where you think you can challenge Mercedes?

CH: Probably Singapore. Maybe even Budapest.

Q: Coming back to the pecking order: P2 seems to be feasible, but is there also a tiny voice in the back of your head that suggests you could be fighting for the championship?

CH: No such voice. I think the gap to Mercedes is too big. The fight with Ferrari will already be extremely tough. Our focus is to build on the momentum that we have achieved - and to probably try and win another one or two races this season.

Q: Looking at the hard facts, what might you be able to bring to the table that Ferrari can’t?

CH: This is only the seventh race of the season - there are still 14 races to go. The power unit progress has enabled us to get into the fight with Ferrari - but in the end it is also a matter of getting it right on the day. Who gets it right: strategy, reliability, tyre management, set-up - it all makes the difference on any given race Sunday. And that also goes for tomorrow. The two Mercedes make the front row - but our two guys have split the two Ferraris.