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 Crash.net 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.”