Red Bull Racing team boss Christian Horner has admitted that having to play catch-up on the double diffuser situation effectively stymied an effective championship challenge to Brawn GP, but insisted that the Milton Keynes still had much to be satisfied with in 2009.
Looking back over the year as Red Bull prepared for the final grand prix of 2009 at the Yas Marina circuit in Abu Dhabi, Horner applauded Brawn for having done 'a stronger job', both off the track and on it, having run the former Honda squad close in both championships. Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello had won eight races between them heading to the finale, with Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel racking up four once equipped with RBR's own double diffuser.
"I think you have to reflect on the year, and you have to reflect where the team has come from as well," Horner commented, "This year has presented a significant step for the team. We have emerged as race winners and we were title contenders with both drivers throughout the bulk of the championship.
"A championship is, obviously this year, over 17 races and hats off to Jenson and the Brawn team. They quite simply did a stronger job over the duration. They stole a march on us earlier in the year, and had great reliability. They dropped three point scores to our twelve but, when you reflect on the second half of the season, I don't think there is anybody that has scored more points [than us].
"For the team, it has been a huge step and I am extremely proud of what all the guys in Milton Keynes have managed to achieve. We have got good foundations, and we have been well supported by Renault - you don't win races and achieve the kind of results we have had without great support from your engine supplier. There are a lot of lessons that have been learnt for this year, and a lot we will take forward into 2010. With continuity and reasonable stability in the regulations we think we can really build on what we have achieved this year - and, hopefully, take the next step."
While RBR has secured continuity on the driver front - despite the rumour mill repeatedly suggesting that there are threats to the Vettel-Webber partnership - the vaunted relationship with Renault remains fluid, according to Horner.
"We've had, as I said earlier, tremendous support from Renault," he repeated, "We have a great working relationship, and it hasn't just been this year, it's been for the last three years, but we're reaching a critical path now, where we're going to have to make a commitment, taking everything into account. We believe we have all the facts in front of us now and we will be looking to make a decision pretty much imminently – immediately following this race, I think."
Despite the uncertainty - with RBR known to be courting Mercedes for 2010 - Horner paid further tribute to his current supplier following Vettel's prolonged championship challenge, which only ended at the penultimate in Brazil.
"We got critical [on engine numbers] after a failure in Valencia, which put us under quite a bit of pressure, but I have to say Renault have supported us brilliantly," he revealed, "They managed the mileage and exceeded the mileage with their target kilometres significantly.
"I think we were one of the highest mileage teams [on the opening day in Abu Dhabi], and Sebastian has a race engine that I think he last used in Japan for the race, so there is absolutely no risk in terms of us using a ninth engine. Even if that engine failed, we have another engine we could utilise. With the help of Renault we have managed to manage the situation."