Q and A with Christian Horner
Christian Horner sat down with the F1 media at last Friday's launch to talk about the team's first Adrian Newey-designed car, his views on the customer car row and RBR's experienced driver line-up.
Q: We’ve finally seen the RB3, we like it…
Christian Horner: Good, Adrian has a habit of producing good-looking cars.
Inevitably expectations are high, because it’s very easy to look simplistically and say that with Adrian Newey, Renault engines, Bridgestone tyres being the same for everyone and a strong driver line-up, we’ll be competing for wins, but…
Q: How much of a no-compromise brief did Adrian have? Obviously the car is all-new – how much was that was a controlled risk and how much did you say we’ll throw the kitchen sink at it and just go for it?
CH: Adrian hasn’t had any constraints. He’s had technical freedom; he turned up with a clean sheet of paper and started drawing from the day he arrived.
And what has been massively encouraging is that he’s very much brought out the best in the guys in the team, [encouraged] their creative flair, and they’ve got a sounding board with him that they can bounce ideas off.
And I think the whole group has made a significant step forward aerodynamically.
We’ve got some very strong guys in there, with Peter Prodromou joining recently, Ben Agathangelou already there – the strength in depth in that group is already very strong.
I think it’s just a case of getting the best out of it, under Adrian’s leadership and direction.
In other technical areas, Rob Marshall was a key appointment for us last Easter time, along with Mark Smith.
There’s some very bright guys, and inevitably it takes a little bit of time for that all to synchronise and come together, but it’s working collectively as a group very well [now].
When you look at Red Bull Racing today compared to 26 months ago when it acquired Jaguar, it’s a completely different team.
And obviously RB3 is the first product of that group, which we’ll develop and hopefully progress throughout the year.
Q: Are there more names coming in the new year?
CH: Not really – all of the key positions are in place. We might bolster a couple of areas, but you look across the board now and we’ve got strength in depth in all areas.
Keith Saunt recently joining us from Renault on the operational side, making sure that we get stuff from the design board onto the car as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Renault as a role model were second to none in that area, so therefore Keith is going to have a big involvement in that for us.
Q: One of the characteristics of Adrian’s cars is that they are almost so uncompromising that when they first come out there are some problems and unreliability. Are you prepared for a few niggles at the start of the year?
CH: To find the limit sometimes you have to step over it.
I think from a mechanical design point of view, again, we’ve got some very bright guys in there and mechanically the RB2 was fundamentally a reasonable car, so some of those philosophies have very much been carried over and optimised.
I think they’ve managed to find a decent compromise, and certainly the working relationship with Adrian, the aero guys, Mark Smith, Rob Marshall and the mechanical guys, is very much working as a unit – it’s not a them and us situation.
And I think the way the team is working as a group is one of our strengths.
Q: Where would you put RBR’s budget on a scale of all F1 teams?
CH: I don’t know what the other teams’ budgets are so it’s impossible for me to gauge.
We have a sensible budget and we’ve got a reasonable development programme for the year.
One must remember that we’re still an independent team, so we don’t have the depth of pockets that manufacturer teams have.
But I think we’ve invested shrewdly and we’ve got some good people on board, and hopefully are getting the best out of them.
Q: How are you going to get around the issue of customer cars in view of the current dispute?
CH: I think from a Red Bull Racing point of view our position is very clear: We satisfy the Concorde Agreement, we satisfy the regulations.
We are very happy that we comply with all those boundaries, so I think the situation for us is very clear.
Q: A blunt question for you. When you ring up Milton Keynes nowadays you get ‘it’s not us at Red Bull Racing any more, it’s Red Bull Technology'…
CH: Which number do you ring?
Q: Does this mean that the Toro Rosso tubs will be built in Milton Keynes or will they be built in Faenza?
CH: STR have built their own car.
Q: So the drawings have gone to Faenza, the composites have been built in Italy?
CH: Red Bull Racing haven’t made a single component for STR…
Q: But Red Bull Technology have?
CH: Red Bull Technology haven’t manufactured any component for STR. But that’s a question you need to address to Gerhard [Berger].
Q: On the broader point about customer cars, there’s been concern that what we’ll end up with is manufacturer teams effectively fielding four cars, and that instead of protecting the independent teams it will actually entrench manufacturer control of F1. How do you respond to that?
CH: If you look at, say, Toro Rosso compared with Minardi, I think it’s far better for Formula 1 to have a serious team like Toro Rosso than Minardi.
You then start to look at the competence of the teams running the cars.
If you look in GP2, everybody has the same car there but it’s the same teams that win year in and year out.
It’s hard enough to achieve a 1-2; to achieve a 1-2-3-4 is… I don’t think the sport’s in danger of being in that position. I think there’s too many variables involved.
And I think having 12 competitive, healthy teams is far better for Formula 1 than three that annually compete for the championship, some in the middle and tail-end independent teams that just cannot compete on a level playing field.
I think for an independent to come into Formula 1 now and employ 700 people, run two wind tunnels and try and compete with the manufacturers is financially totally unviable.
Q: Do you think that situation will change post-2008 or are the days of genuinely independent teams over?
CH: I think the only realistic financial model to enter Formula 1 now as an independent is with a customer car.
And as I said, I think that’s more healthy for Formula 1 because it means that budgets are sustainable and you end up with 12 viable teams rather than having a Minardi running round five seconds off the pace, which I don’t think was of any real benefit to the sport.
Q: But it’s artificial because the satellite team is never going to be allowed to beat the principal team, is it?
CH: That depends on the structure and the nature of that satellite team.
Q: The structure and the nature, you and I know, is going to dictate that team A wins and team B has to take what’s left…
CH: That certainly won’t exist with the Red Bull teams – Toro Rosso and Red Bull Racing are two teams that will compete against each other.
Q: But isn’t the logic of what you said about it being unlikely to have a 1-2-3-4 that there will in future be two classes, one for the manufacturer teams and one for the so-called independents?
CH: [pauses] Well you could look it in a different way and say it will encourage new talent to come into Formula 1, young drivers and so on.
And it’s down to a team like, for example, Prodrive to negotiate their terms so that they’re not hemmed in by constraints that you must finish behind the works team.
It’s the same with an engine contract – that [stipulation] doesn’t exist in our engine contracts and never will do, so why should it in a chassis contract?
Q: So you think if you’re poised to take the lead from a works Renault, there will be no messages coming down from Flavio?
CH: I certainly don’t think so. The message might go down to his own boys, but it won’t be coming in our direction!
That’s one of the key aspects of our relationship with Renault – it’s operating very much as a partnership.
The way Renault have approached this, they would far rather have four engines out there running competitively and learn from them, than having an A and a B team.
So there are no stipulations within our agreement that say ‘you must finish behind a Renault’.
And I think Renault have got a good track record of supplying two teams in Formula 1.
We’ve been very pleased with the way this relationship has started – the integration between their engineers and ours.
They obviously have a great product, hopefully we can maximise it.
Q: How much better equipped is the team to move forward this year with two experienced drivers on board, and how will you manage the natural rivalry that’s going to occur between the two of them?
CH: Well if you look at our situation during the first two years, David scored in excess of 80% of the points in 2005 and 2006.
We’ve now got two professional, experienced guys in the car and we’ll be expecting both of them to ratchet up points and competitive finishes as often as possible.
They’re both professional guys, they’ve both been around a while now, they’re both extremely competitive, they have equal status in the team – and we operate as a team so there’s no preferential treatment in any direction.
Q: Are you not slightly concerned that they both have history with the team and they’re both renowned for acting almost as a centrifugal force. Are you worried about having to manage two separate camps and factions developing?
CH: Not in the slightest. From the team’s point of view we will be totally open and transparent.
We work with the drivers to bring the best out of them and hopefully can provide an environment that they will flourish in.
Ultimately on a Sunday afternoon they’re competitors; the rest of the time they’re employees of the team.
So for us I think it’s a very healthy situation where hopefully they’ll both bring the best out of each other.
Q: So what’s your realistic target for the season?
CH: We want to get in amongst the big boys and be fighting for podiums when and where possible.
Q: Is a ‘hit-and-run’ win possible with a car that’s fast enough?
CH: You know, if you’d told me we’d have finished third in Monaco last year I certainly wouldn’t have jumped naked into the pool!
It’s impossible to predict something like that.