Christian Horner has dismissed notions that by 'doing a Red Bull', McLaren-Mercedes stands to steal an early march on its adversaries in the battle for the F1 2011 World Championship crown – assuring that the defending double world champions are concentrating on themselves rather than on any of their rivals.
Over the past two years, Red Bull Racing has benefitted from leaving the debut of its new challenger later than its immediate competitors in order to maximise development time and extract every last ounce of pace – albeit arguably at the expense of early-season reliability.
This time around, whilst the energy drinks-backed outfit has revealed its intention to launch its Adrian Newey-designed RB7 in time to run at next week's opening Valencia test, McLaren's MP4-26 will conversely not appear until Jerez a week-and-a-half later. Not a cause for concern, RBR team principal Horner insists.
“We are more focussed on ourselves, to be honest,” the Englishman told Crash.net
. “We've adhered to a programme that has worked for us. Over the last two years that meant missing the first test, but this year Adrian has had just as long in the wind tunnel and decided that because of the regulation changes and particularly the tyres, it suited our programme to be at the first test. That's not to say one way is right and one way is wrong; it's just the way we have elected to approach 2011.
“The factory is working flat-out at the moment, just getting everything prepared to run the car for the first time on 1 February. The whole group has worked tremendously hard – particularly over the Christmas holidays – to get us into a position where we are effectively a week ahead of where we were this time twelve months ago.”
Remaining coy on the key differences between the RB7 and its RB6 predecessor – conceding only that 'there were a lot of lessons learned obviously during 2009 which were deployed for the 2010 car, and now there are new regulations and challenges for 2011' – Horner downplayed suggestions that the greatest area for improvement for Red Bull this year is on the reliability front, and claimed that with so many rule changes for the forthcoming campaign, the true pecking order will not be revealed until the Bahrain Grand Prix curtain-raiser.
“I think you can always improve in all areas,” reflected the 37-year-old, a former racer himself. “I think our reliability in 2010 was good, [although] obviously we had a couple of engine issues that I know Renault has worked hard to resolve. I think we were one of the most reliable teams on the chassis side last year, but it's always important to try to achieve 100 per cent reliability, which is I'm sure the target of every team.
“I think the changes will certainly have an impact. We had KERS in 2009 and it's making a comeback for 2011. The double-diffuser has disappeared. It's an interesting challenge, and it will be interesting, too, to see what the new regulations do to improve the racing, which in any case was very good in 2010 – I think it was the best year we've had for a long time, and all the ingredients are currently there to make 2011 every bit as exciting a season.
“Sitting here at this time of year, you can expect Ferrari and McLaren to be strong, Mercedes I'm sure will be looking for a better season and Renault finished 2010 pretty strongly. It's impossible to predict [the order] until we get to the first grand prix.”