Christian Horner has admitted that F1 2010 pace-setter Sebastian Vettel 'never ceases to surprise' him in his mature attitude and 'balanced' approach towards the inevitable peaks and troughs of a world championship challenge – as he revealed his hopes that Red Bull Racing can reprise its dominant Malaysian form and sweep to a second consecutive one-two finish in this weekend's Chinese Grand Prix.
Having set pole position in the opening two races in Bahrain and Australia – only to be denied victory on both occasions through no fault of his own – Vettel demonstrated his mental resilience and ability to bounce back with a vengeance by leapfrogging team-mate Mark Webber when the starting lights went out in Sepang last weekend and going on to notch up his first triumph of the season in imperious fashion, without ever really needing to truly stretch his legs.
That, Horner contends, was no less than the popular young German deserved for his dogged refusal to say die and continued belief in the ability of his team to get its title bid back on-track – and with the early reliability woes having hopefully been successfully resolved, the Englishman is confident that both the Heppenheim native and Webber will grace the top step of the podium many more times over the remaining 16 grands prix.
“Sebastian never ceases to surprise me,” he told Crash.net
. “I think he is evolving extremely well, and he is getting the benefit of experience now that he is into his third full campaign. The lessons he learned last year are most definitely standing him in good stead this year. He is a very balanced guy and he knows the season is long. He was clearly disappointed at losing out in the first two races, but he maintained his focus and Malaysia was his just desserts for his commitment and efforts.
“The overriding positive thing has been the pace of the car; we've had three races and three pole positions – two for Sebastian and one for Mark. We've been in a commanding position to win all three of those races; it was obviously particularly frustrating in Bahrain and Melbourne that small reliability issues resulted in the loss of victory for Sebastian, but it's a matter of maintaining your focus and addressing the issues.
“The team responded extremely well to that in very difficult circumstances at arguably one of the toughest tracks on cars – and thankfully we didn't have to wait too long after Australia. Malaysia was a fantastic team result, and it was great to see the cars finish first and second. Any grand prix victory is very special, but there were a lot more happy faces on the 'plane home from Malaysia than there had been between Australia and Malaysia.”
That much is beyond doubt, and whilst acknowledging that pole-sitter Webber was unhappy with himself for having effectively conceded the race win in Sepang through a slightly tardy getaway, Horner professed his confidence that having not had cause to really push the cars in Malaysia, should extra pace be required to head off Red Bull's adversaries in Shanghai – the scene twelve months ago of the energy drinks-backed outfit's breakthrough success in the top flight, and an unrivalled one-two at that – it will be there ready and waiting in reserve.
“We were managing the race [in Malaysia] against our nearest opposition, so it was difficult to say how much Sebastian and Mark had left up their sleeves,” reflected the 36-year-old, a former racer himself. “Both pushed each other quite hard at different points in the race – it wasn't just formation driving. After the pit-stop and with about 15 laps to go, we started to be mindful of the fact that the engines have to do four races these days – so we asked the drivers to try just to use less revs and look after them a bit more.
“Mark was obviously disappointed not to get the victory, because effectively it was the first corner that dictated the race – both of them gave each other room, and it was just those first 500 metres that determined the outcome – but on the other hand, he was obviously extremely happy to finish up there on the podium in second after a difficult first couple of races.
“[In Shanghai] hopefully we can be as competitive as in the first three races; all three venues so far have been very different to each other, and China has some interesting sequences of corners. Last year the weather was a big factor in the race, which was held in atrociously wet conditions – but hopefully wet or dry this time, we should be racing at the front.”