Q&A with Christian Horner

Wednesday 30-October-2013 11:01

PlanetF1's Chetan Narula chats with Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner about Sebastian Vettel, Mark Webber, Adrian Newey, 2014 and more.

Q: Sebastian came to you as a young driver. He's still very young considering the success he has had already. Did you expect four Consecutive Championships from him?
CH: "It was very clear very early on that Sebastian is an exceptionally talented driver. But I don't think any of us could have dreamed that he will have the success rate that he has enjoyed. He has developed, matured and improved as a driver, and he has shown us that year upon year. And now, he is performing at a level which continues to surprise us."

Q: What is the one aspect of Sebastian's driving that you would want to put a thumb on? Getting pole with ease, controlling races or developing into a driver who can come from behind and still win, say like he did in Japan?
CH: "It is his mental strength which is a key point, I think. Whether that is in qualifying when he needs to deliver a lap, or whether when he needs to deliver in a race. Whether that is nursing tyres or producing fast times by extracting everything out of them, he has the ability to react and deliver at different pressure points during a Grand Prix weekend."

Q: He drove an exceptional race in Singapore. The car-driver package was on a different level. He got the maximum out of it and Mark Webber couldn't do it. Yet he was booed and criticised. How much does that get to Sebastian and how fair do you think it is?
CH: "I think it is unfair. Anybody who criticised Sebastian's drive in Singapore has a fundamental lack of understanding of how Formula One works. And what he produced in Singapore was one of the most - if not the most - impressive drive certainly I have ever seen Sebastian produce. It was driver and car in total harmony, on the absolute limit and he should be recognised for that. Of course there will be people who always question or detract his performances, but the level at which he has driven this year has been unbelievably high."

Q: Mark Webber is one of the best drivers on the grid and that is why Red Bull Racing employs him, of course.
CH: "Yeah, absolutely."

Q: But then, for four continuous years, five considering 2009 as well, he has comfortably beaten Mark. So how does the team see this intra-team rivalry?
CH: "Well, firstly, Mark is a very strong driver. Prior to Sebastian joining the team, Mark had destroyed every team-mate he had gone up against. And then for Sebastian to come in and beat Mark just indicates the level at which Sebastian is operating.

"It is very easy to underestimate Mark Webber. He has driven some great races for us, but it puts into context the level at which Sebastian has been performing and Mark himself would be the first to recognize that."

Q: It is unfair to compare different teams and different drivers, especially when Red Bull has been a class apart from Ferrari, McLaren and Mercedes. So is it a fair assessment to judge Sebastian against Mark then?
CH: "That is a very difficult one to answer. Fernando Alonso rarely gets compared with his team-mate and you can argue the same for Lewis Hamilton, irrespective of the team. Mark is a very strong driver and what Sebastian has produced is extra-ordinary. We are not finishing first and second in every race. He has quite often won in a car that hasn't been the best on the grid, particularly last year (2012). Or even some races this year, the Nurburgring for instance. The Lotus on that day was the quicker car!"

Q: A lightweight question, before moving ahead. Tell us about Sebastian's fastest laps. You get quite nervous on the pit-wall when that happens towards the end of a race.
CH: "Sebastian always assures us that he has got everything in hand. There is a DHL Trophy at the end of the year for the highest number of fastest laps in a season, which is a small reward for the risk that he takes and it drives us mad to be honest. But it's part of his make-up."

Q: Talking of 2014, Ferrari have Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen for next year. You had the chance to sign Kimi. What was the thinking behind going for Daniel Ricciardo instead? Long term or do you think Daniel is up at that level already?
CH: "First of all we believe that Daniel, in terms of pace, is absolutely right up there. We have seen that in a Toro Rosso where he has produced some real flashes of talent in what is a difficult car. In testing that he did for Red Bull Racing he has been very impressive. Of course the question mark with Daniel is experience and that he has never had to deliver under the spotlight like he will be at Red Bull Racing. But we believe that he has all the right credentials to be the star of the future. Therefore the decision was made with not just next year in mind but also the future."

Q: But then again, he's just starting off at Red Bull in a year which sees a complete overhaul of regulations. Do you think you have a disadvantage considering the pairing at Ferrari or indeed at Mercedes, like you mentioned in terms of experience even if those two teams build a poorer car?
CH: "Nobody has an experience of what these regulations are going to be. So it is a clean sheet of paper for everyone. And Daniel has now had a two and a half years' of F1 experience. So he is very capable of doing a good job for us."

Q. Red Bull's current domination actually came into effect with the 2009 regulations. Did you expect so much success?
CH: "I don't think any of us ever envisaged the success that we have managed to achieve. Of course we have dreamt about it and aspired to achieve it. 2009 was a game-changer in terms of regulations and it was a clean sheet of paper. But in the last four, five years, we have had significant changes within these regulations, whether be it going from refuelling to not refuelling, changing tyre suppliers, blown diffusers, non-blown diffusers, double diffusers, etc. As a team that is usually a call to react and adapt, and we have done that. And I think the manner in which we have done that is what has enabled us to achieve the sustained kind of results that we have had over the last few years. Our ability to adapt and adapt quickly has been key to this success."

Q: One of the theories is that Red Bull's success is due to driving to a delta time, with calculations always going on the pit-wall and at the factory back at Milton Keynes. You always have a specific calculated target and that's how you control races. Does it work like that? Can it work like that?
CH: "No, not really. With the tyres the way they are, you need to have the discipline to manage those tyres. And Sebastian in particular has proved to be especially adept at doing that. But there's no formulated plan in advance to say that we have to pace ourselves to a particular time. Our pace is dictated by grip which I think is the same for all teams."

Q: Aerodynamics has played a huge role in this regulations' cycle and Adrian Newey is a master at that. How vital has his role been, considering it is Sebastian who has driven the car to four Championships? How do you put that in perspective? And how will it change for 2014?
CH: "Adrian obviously plays a key role. He is the conductor of our technical orchestra. But we also need all the departments beneath Adrian to be delivering their parts as well. And of course the drivers have to be doing their bit. So that's what makes Red Bull such a strong team. To win and achieve consistent success at this level, you have to work as a team, as one unit. And that's what we have managed to achieve over the last five years.

"2014 is a massive regulation change and the power units will become a much bigger performance differentiator. The chassis will, however, still play a key role as it should in Formula One. And we rely on Renault to provide us with a good engine and which I am sure they will. Nobody knows at this point what is going to be the grid order in Melbourne and that is, I think, one of the most exciting aspects of this sport going into next year.

Q: Are you worried that Renualt might not do a good job as they have done currently. Even with the current engine regulations, they did have to tweak their engines earlier to bring them at par with Mercedes and Ferrari.
CH: "There is an awful lot of hearsay at the moment, but nobody really knows what the other manufacturers are up to. But I think it is healthy to have that fear, because it drives you on and removes complacency."

Q. Finally, costs are always an issue in F1. Next year is going to be expensive. Can costs ever be controlled given that associations like FOTA haven't previously worked out?
CH: "Yes, costs for next year are going to be very expensive for all teams. We have a more expensive power-train, and we have introduced in-season testing. Nothing in the regulations is cheaper about 2014. I genuinely believe that the only way to control costs is through the sporting and technical regulations. Because a team will always spend what it has and a little more than it has sometimes, that is the nature of F1.

"It is like squeezing a balloon. You squeeze in one area and it will blow up in another part of the balloon, like driver retainers, car development or staff. The best way in my mind for this is stability but to control costs is through sporting and technical regulations that enable the reduction in necessity to spend to be able to be competitive. If you take GP2 as an example, the budget there is 3.5 million euros. The budgets there are totally fixed and the cars are identical. F1 being the pinnacle of motorsport is open to development but obviously spend profile to go four seconds quicker is significantly higher and I don't think to go as far as GP2 is the right way.

"We need to look at what the cost drivers are in Formula One and focus on those, rather than trying to cap costs."

Chetan Narula

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