• Exclusive Christian Horner Q&A

The view from the top

Laurence Edmondson March 8, 2012

Christian Horner talks to ESPNF1 about the updated Red Bull RB8, how the opposition is stacking up and a chance for fans to join the team as an intern this summer

Christian Horner is waiting until Melbourne to find out where Red Bull stack up © Getty Images
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Horner on the Red Bull RB8

Last year you had a fantastic start to the season after a very positive pre-season testing campaign; how have this year's preparations compared?
They've gone reasonably well and I think we've managed to tick most of the boxes that we wanted. Of course you never know what your opponents are up to and there's quite a bit of gamesmanship that goes on at this time of year. But we'll soon know in seven or eight days, when we get to Australia and the fuel comes out the car for qualifying, where the pecking order is.

You had a fairly late update to the rear of the car at the final two days of the test, did you get the mileage you wanted on that and are there any concerns after Sebastian Vettel completed just 23 laps on the final day?
We had an annoying gearbox issue on the final day of the test with Sebastian, but we got some very good mileage the day before with Mark [Webber] and we're content with what we achieved. So yes, we are now looking forward to Australia.

So that is the rear of the car we can expect to see in Australia?
Yes. As in previous years we brought updates to the final couple of days of the test. It was no different this year.

Was it something you planned a long way ahead or was it a reaction to something you'd seen in testing?
No, basically your design process is usually about a month in advance of what you see on the car on the track. Those updates were worked on from early in the New Year, so they weren't a response to seeing what competitors had done. Then, of course, the development race will kick in from the first race and it will carry on all the way through to Brazil.

Last year the exhaust blown diffuser design you pioneered in testing seemed to appear on several other cars at Melbourne, including the McLaren. Was the late arrival of this year's update an attempt to hold some stuff back?
You don't want to go too soon, but then again you need to get some mileage to verify it. It always becomes a balance between an R&D exercise and a practical exercise. I think, hopefully, we got the balance about right this year.

Christian Horner is not worried about other teams protesting the developments on the Red Bull RB8 © Sutton Images
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Horner on the opposition

Every time you've had a fast car in recent years there has always been a protest from the other teams. Is there anything you can see your rivals picking on this year?
I'd be disappointed, on previous experience, if they didn't [protest]. No, obviously we feel the car is absolutely fully compliant with the regulations when we turn up in Australia and we won't spend too much time worrying about that.

Do you think there is a bit of a grey area over exhaust positioning this year?
It's the nature of Formula One that when a window of opportunity unveils itself the teams will put a lot of energy into that area. Exhausts are still an immature area in terms of development and therefore there's a lot of focus gone into them with the regulation change for this year.

Both your drivers commented on how quick the McLaren looked in testing, are you expecting a much closer fight this year?
It was very close on occasion last year, I just think that we were maximising our opportunities. If you think of Monaco, if you think of Barcelona, and even Melbourne at the first race, Lewis [Hamilton] was pretty tightly tucked behind Sebastian. I suspect McLaren to be strong, Ferrari to be strong and Mercedes also look like they've made a step forward.

Ferrari were playing down their chances towards the end of testing, do you think that was bluffing then?
I think Ferrari are a great team, they've got a quality driver in Fernando Alonso and it would be foolish to discount them before Melbourne, that's for sure.

Sebastian Vettel has received high praise since taking his second world title © Getty Images
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Horner on his drivers

Sir Stirling Moss recently compared Sebastian Vettel to Juan Manuel Fangio and said he had no other drivers on his level at the moment. Is that how you see Vettel? Is he in a class of one right now?
I think Sebastian has raised the bar in the last couple of years and he's operating at an incredibly high level - very focused, very dedicated to his profession and we've yet to see the best of him.

Do you think there is anybody else on his level then?
I think that he has been the most complete driver for a couple of years now. But it's a healthy period in the formula at the moment with the likes of Lewis, Fernando, Jenson [Button], Mark Webber, Michael Schumacher, Kimi Raikkonen … it's a long list of phenomenally talented drivers.

And which one of those are you most worried about?
I think it's difficult to pinpoint one individual. It will only be after the first couple of races that we will have a clearer picture.

Looking at Mark Webber, he struggled a bit with the tyres in the first half of last season; are you confident he's over that and do you think we'll see a better driver overall in 2012?
I think he's had a good winter and has focused on his training and has come back mentally refreshed. The tonic of winning the final race in Brazil last year was the perfect way to for him to go into the winter break. He's come back with a spring in his step and is now focused on putting a strong campaign together.

And the tyres issues, are you confident those are behind him?
Yes I think he's understood those issues and worked hard on them and I think he's in good shape.

Do you think he will challenge Seb this year?
I think he will. He's trained hard, he's tested well and it's in our interest to have two drivers right at the front. That's what we employ them for.

Red Bull and Ferrari left FOTA last year © Getty Images
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Horner on FOTA

Ross Brawn was recently talking about the Formula One Teams' Association [FOTA] and he said the teams would come to regret the split [Red Bull, Ferrari, Toro Rosso, Sauber and HRT are no longer members]. Do you understand where he's coming from with that statement?
Not really. I think the problem with FOTA is that its purpose had become clouded and it was dealing with issues that were beyond its remit. Therefore, we chose to step out of FOTA for the time being and wished them well for the future. But we are very comfortable with our decision and we'd rather be master of our own destiny than a part of FOTA at this time.

Do you think there's an argument for saying the teams are better off united when negotiating with Bernie Ecclestone and the FIA?
It depends if there's a common view on how that should be done. Obviously the competitive nature of the teams does make it very difficult to reach a consensus. So it's almost inevitable when FOTA has tried to get involved in areas that directly affect competitiveness that it becomes contentious.

But what about Concorde Agreement negotiations, where the teams have a fairly common goal [to get more prize money], are you not better united on those issues?
There are two views of thought on that. I think again it's very difficult to take a fully collective position because within the group some people have different outlooks.

Red Bull is offering five summer internships at its factory in Milton Keynes © Sutton Images
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Horner on Red Bull internships

I understand you have five internship opportunities open over the summer in different departments at Red Bull, can you talk about what that will involve?
This is to make Formula One accessible to five lucky individuals who might not have had the opportunity otherwise. Through a competition on the website we will be selecting five lucky candidates to come and spend a month with the team in the summer working in some of the main departments that produce the cars for Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel.

And you can promise they won't just be making the tea?
Absolutely. We already run an apprenticeship scheme that is successful and we also have a large intake of graduates so this just goes one step further. I think if they perform well while they are with us who knows what opportunities might come up.

Red Bull is offering five people the opportunity this summer to join current Formula One world champions, Red Bull Racing, on a one month internship. No experience is necessary, applications for the five internships across Aerodynamics, Electronics, Marketing, I.T., and Procurement is now open on the website

Laurence Edmondson is an assistant editor on ESPNF1

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Laurence Edmondson is deputy editor of ESPNF1 Laurence Edmondson grew up on a Sunday afternoon diet of Ayrton Senna and Nigel Mansell and first stepped in the paddock as a Bridgestone competition finalist in 2005. He worked for ITV-F1 after graduating from university and has been ESPNF1's deputy editor since 2010