Red Bull Racing has to begin reducing the gap separating it from 2009 Formula 1 world championship pace-setters Brawn GP in this weekend's Turkish Grand Prix, Christian Horner has asserted – as following a series of questionable strategic calls, the Milton Keynes-based squad's once-strong title prospects look in serious danger of coming off the rails.
Having been the ex-Honda F1 outfit's closest challenger for the opening five races of the campaign – and indeed getting the better of its rival in the rain-lashed Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai for an historic breakthrough one-two finish – Red Bull seemed to take a step backwards in Monaco last time out, trailing both Brawn and a resurgent Ferrari in performance terms despite finally introducing its much vaunted 'double-decker' split-level diffuser in the glamorous Principality.
After being hampered by traffic in his effort to snatch pole position with a light car in qualifying, Sebastian Vettel suffered with tyre graining early on in the race and ultimately crashed out just 16 laps in, meaning the young German has now fallen some 28 points behind championship leader Jenson Button.
Similarly, in the constructors' standings RBR has slipped 43.5 points adrift of Brawn – boasting less than half of the latter's tally – but team principal Horner has always contended that the Adrian Newey-designed, Renault-powered RB5 will be much more at home and at ease around the high-speed corners of circuits such as Istanbul and Silverstone a fortnight later. With the pressure increasingly on, he acknowledges, it will have to be.
“In Istanbul, the RB5 will essentially be in the same specification as in Monaco, with a few minor aero updates,” the Englishman revealed. “Istanbul Park is a fast and flowing track, with the particularly challenging turn eight and a relatively slow final section – it therefore has some similarities to Barcelona.
“The high-speed Turkish track represents a completely different challenge to Monaco, and it should be better suited to the strengths of our car. Mark [Webber] was competitive at this circuit last year, and Sebastian made his F1 debut in Turkey in 2007 as a Friday driver for BMW, topping the timesheet in both sessions.
“Management of the softer tyres in the inevitably high Turkish temperatures will also be a key factor, as indeed it has been at most of the races so far. It will be important not to abuse the tyres in the high-speed turns, and this could play a key role in the final result.
“This is an important race in the championship, and our target is to challenge the Brawns who have had a remarkable run so far. It was also clear at the last two races that Ferrari have made a significant step forward, and I think we can expect them to play a key role this weekend, especially as it's a race they've won for the past three years.
“It will be important for us to achieve a strong result, and our objective has to be to reduce the gap to the championship leaders. We've been competitive at all the circuits so far this season, even though in a couple of races our performance has been compromised by cars equipped with KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems). We look forward to the weekend; it should be a really interesting race.”