There are breakthroughs and then there are breakthroughs, and what Red Bull Racing achieved in F1 2009 was one of the most impressive comings-of-age ever seen in the sport, as the team dramatically transformed itself from a midfield contender capable of battling for the odd podium and almost more famous for its parties, into a genuine, bona fide
world championship protagonist.
They say statistics can lie, but in Red Bull's case they paint a fairly compelling picture. From four previous seasons in the top flight, the Milton Keynes-based squad had tallied a total of 103 points, three rostrum finishes and a best placing of a distant fifth in the constructors' standings. In 2009, those figures were blown out of the water with a staggering 153.5 points, six victories, five pole positions, six fastest laps, 16 podiums – and damn near title glory.
“I think it was a fantastic year for the team and a massive step forward,” affirmed the energy drinks-backed outfit's team principal Christian Horner, speaking exclusively to Crash.net Radio
. “It was a season in which we won our first grand prix and went on to win five others, had four one-two finishes and challenged for the championship until the penultimate round – it's been a great year.
“Ultimately we lost out on the championships, and on reflection perhaps too much ground was lost at the beginning of the year when the Brawn team was making hay whilst the sun shone with the double-diffuser – but as soon as we got that onto our car, we pretty much out-scored every other team thereafter.”
Indeed, conventional wisdom goes that had Red Bull similarly begun proceedings with a double-diffuser fitted to its Renault-powered RB5, Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber would have walked it. As it was, the German pushed Jenson Button all the way to Brazil for the drivers' trophy, and if the final outcome was one of pride tinged with a hint of disappointment at having come so close yet so far, Horner well recognises that there were plenty of highlights to keep the workforce motivated over the winter, most notably the team's maiden triumph in Shanghai and Webber's own 'first' just under three months later at the Nürburgring – a result that the Englishman admits was a long time in coming.
“China was a special event,” the 36-year-old acknowledged. “To win our first grand prix – and not only win it, but also have a one-two – was a great moment for the team, for Red Bull and also of course for Mr. [Dietrich] Mateschitz, who has committed so much to the sport. It was a great landmark result for the team in our young history, and then the five further race wins were each highlights in themselves.
“To win our local race at Silverstone in front of the team – again with a one-two finish – was fantastic, and to see Mark score his first grand prix victory in Germany two weeks later with another one-two was also a highlight. I think it's a big moment for any grand prix driver, but Mark in particular had obviously worked very, very hard for it – and especially after recovering from such a hideous accident over the winter where he had a compound fracture to his left leg, which is a very nasty break, and also a broken shoulder that he forgot to tell us about!
“I think Mark would have to admit that [the injuries] for sure did compromise him slightly early on, certainly in pre-season testing and I think probably also in the first couple of races – but he quickly got on top of it and his recuperation was excellent. By the time we got back to Europe, he drove some excellent races in Barcelona, Istanbul, Monaco and Silverstone. It was testimony to his determination that not only did he manage to get in the car for the start of the season, but he also managed to win his first grand prix in Germany.”
The year ended, of course, with a trio of triumphs – for Vettel in Japan and Abu Dhabi, and for Webber in Brazil – meaning RBR concluded the campaign as very much the team to beat and the form competitor heading into 2010. Interlagos might have been a bittersweet affair as Webber dominated and Vettel raced his heart out to energetically climb up through the order into fourth from a lowly grid position – only to see Button clinch the fifth place he needed to mathematically deprive him of the crown – but Abu Dhabi was a masterclass.
“To be honest, the title wasn't lost in Brazil,” Horner stressed. “Both drivers drove fantastic races. Mark dominated the event from the front, and after a really unlucky qualifying, Sebastian staged a massive comeback drive that never really got fully covered because obviously there was the business of the world championship getting settled. Therefore, going to Abu Dhabi with nothing to lose, effectively as almost a non-championship race, it was very important to finish the season on a high – and we managed just that with a very strong one-two. To finish the season in the manner that we did was fantastic.”
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