Christian Horner has refuted suggestions that the 2009 F1 title chase is all-but over barely halfway into the campaign – insisting that Red Bull Racing will be 'pushing very, very hard' to close the gap on runaway world championship leaders Brawn GP and that 'it's never over until it's mathematically gone'.
Arriving at Silverstone for this weekend's British Grand Prix, home hero Jenson Button has built up a 32-point margin in the drivers' standings over his nearest non-Brawn rival, Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel – who, moreover, has Button's team-mate Rubens Barrichello separating him from the early-season pace-setter.
The German, though, has inarguably been one of the stars of the opening seven races of the year to-date, setting pole position in both Shanghai and Istanbul, notching up three rostrum finishes and storming to RBR's breakthrough victory in the top flight at its 75th attempt when he led team-mate Mark Webber to the chequered flag in a crushing and memorable one-two in the Chinese Grand Prix in April.
“It meant a huge amount,” Horner reflected of the energy drinks-backed squad's maiden triumph, speaking to Crash.net Radio
, “because the amount of effort that has gone in from the whole team – not just over the last six months, but over the last couple of years – has been immense. To see it come good in such a spectacular way with a one-two finish was great for Red Bull and great for Mr. Mateschitz (Red Bull magnate), after all the commitment that he's made to motorsport and to Formula One. Obviously it's great to get the first win out of the way, but we then quickly focussed on trying to win more races – and it's amazing how your goals and expectations move.
“I think we've had a strong start to the year; certainly compared with twelve months ago we've had an excellent run. We've had six podiums in seven races, we've achieved our first win and we've had two pole positions. Obviously we're the only team to have broken the Brawn domination, and there's also a feeling that it could have been better had circumstances worked out in Bahrain and Barcelona with KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems) traffic – we could have really challenged them at those events as well.
“I think it's been a really positive first half of the year, and we've got some exciting developments in the pipeline and we'll keep pushing, because basically we need to score four points more per race than Brawn to catch them in the constructors' championship. That is a big task, but not insurmountable.”
There have already been occasions, indeed, when Red Bull has appeared to have the beating of the ex-Honda F1 outfit, only for the latter to pull something extra out of the bag just when Vettel and Webber have looked to be within striking distance. The Turkish Grand Prix last time out was just such a case in point, after Vettel surrendered his pole position advantage with an opening lap error, and thereafter an audacious three-stop tactic failed to pay off – but Horner is adamant that strategy is not a weak link in RBR's armoury.
“It was obvious in the first few laps in Istanbul that Jenson was quicker,” the Englishman contended, “so you either concede and accept second place from lap 15 onwards or you try something different. We could see in-turn that we were a lot quicker than the rest of the field, so at the point when we decided to adopt the three-stop strategy, it at least put Jenson under some pressure but was obviously dependent on needing Sebastian to pass him. It was equal in pace up to the last pit-stop as the two-stop that would have been available to him.
“It was worth a go; it was absolutely the right thing to have a go at. Who knows, Jenson could have made a mistake under the pressure, there could have been a safety car – and we would have been in a position either way to take advantage of that. Mark drove a superb race on a two-stop and emerged narrowly ahead of Sebastian at Sebastian's final stop, and thereafter with five laps to go it didn't make sense to keep pushing the engines – that have to do a minimum of four races – so with Jenson a long way up the road, we decided to preserve them.”