Despite its tag amongst some observers as the early pre-season favourite, Red Bull Racing is underestimating nobody in F1 2010, Christian Horner has underlined - but off the back of the energy drinks-backed outfit's inarguable breakthrough campaign in the top flight in 2009, he acknowledges, 'inevitably expectations rise'.

Last year, Red Bull finished as runner-up in the constructors' title standings to Brawn GP, with Sebastian Vettel similarly chasing Jenson Button home in the drivers' world championship battle as the Milton Keynes-based squad ended proceedings with incontrovertibly the fastest car in the field.

Along the way, there were no fewer than six victories for Vettel and team-mate Mark Webber - including a memorable one-two in the rains of Shanghai as RBR broke its duck at its 74th grand prix start in spectacular style - five pole positions, six fastest laps and 16 rostrum finishes.

It was, admits Horner, a superb haul - but one that has at the same time ramped up the pressure to do even better still in 2010, with only one way to really improve from being runner-up. The Englishman is confident that the target is an achievable one.

"I think the whole team worked tremendously well as a group last year," he told Radio. "The momentum that we had during the second half of the season demonstrated the team's ability to continue to develop the car - and that development will continue into RB6.

"We mustn't underestimate our opponents - there are some massive teams that we beat last year, in particular McLaren and Ferrari - and they're going to be back and strong this year, but we believe we've got the people, the drivers and the equipment to get the job done and really compete at the highest level, as we did in 2009.

"I think [the pecking order] probably will settle down. You can never underestimate McLaren and Ferrari - they will be pushing very hard - whilst Brawn (Mercedes Grand Prix) as the reigning world champions are going to have a different pressure on their hands, and they haven't stolen a march on development on the car perhaps as they did in their previous guise as Honda last year.

"Hopefully the controversial regulations are now clarified. There are some big changes coming up with the ban on refuelling; that will lead to much faster pit-stops, and will change the strategy of the races slightly. The rest of the regulations are relatively stable, so the lessons that we learned in 2009 we will carry through into 2010, and I'm confident that we'll move forward and progress from what we achieved last year.

"I think Formula 1 is set for a really exciting period, and I think we're set for a really exciting season in 2010. It's difficult to predict who will be at the front, but we'll be pushing really hard to build on the success we achieved last year, benefit from the lessons that we learned and come back stronger. It's good to have new race-winners at the front - it's not great for Ferrari and McLaren to win all the races - and I think we're about to embark on a new era. Obviously, we're hopeful that Red Bull can be a key player in that moving forward."

That much looks to be as good as a given, with the Adrian Newey-penned RB6 widely expected to be one of the pace-setters right from the word 'go' in the Bahrain Grand Prix curtain-raiser in Sakhir in mid-March - regardless of its late testing debut. With a healthy haul of silverware the clear objective, Horner is convinced that the remaining links in the package - the unchanged driver line-up and somewhat reluctant retention of Renault engines following a failed bid to secure Mercedes power - will similarly be more than up to the task.

"We're very happy with our driver line-up," stressed the 36-year-old, a former racer himself. "Sebastian is an outstanding talent - he's developed brilliantly well, he's a key part of the team here and he's just continued to grow stronger and stronger as a driver. The four grand prix wins and the kind of season that he had [in 2009] have marked him out as a potential champion of the future. He's a product of the Red Bull Young Driver Programme, and we're delighted that he's with us for the foreseeable future. With Mark [alongside him], we've got a blend of youth and experience; he was in the form of his life in 2009, and it was therefore entirely logical to continue that successful pairing into 2010.

"We've had tremendous support from Renault over the past three years - particularly in 2009 - and you don't achieve the kind of success that we've achieved without a very strong engine partner. Whilst we managed to get ourselves into a situation with Sebastian through engine failures where he was very tight on engine units and looked very likely to have to take a penalty, Renault managed that superbly well and exceeded all their target kilometres without compromising the performance in the latter part of the season, as we saw.

"There is a power difference between engines - that's the downside of a freeze - and hopefully that can be addressed going into the season. It's something at which the FOTA Engine Working Group and the FIA are looking hard at the moment.

"If anybody had told us last January that we'd have the kind of season that we did, I think any team member would have found that difficult to believe - but we achieved it, we exceeded expectations and then inevitably expectations rise. We are still an independent team up against some big opponents, but the only trophies missing from our cabinet are the big two - the drivers' and the constructors'. They're the ultimate goals, what we're striving to achieve and pushing for - and we'll be doing our very best to do that."



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