Christian Horner has claimed that Red Bull Racing's drop-off in performance over the second half of the 2008 Formula 1 World Championship campaign was made to look worse than it actually was by the stunning form of Sebastian Vettel - ironically the man who has joined the squad for 2009.

Red Bull enjoyed its strongest start to an F1 season in its four-year history in the top flight, with points in seven of the first eight races, regular top ten qualifying showings from Mark Webber and fourth position in the constructors' standings heading to its 'home' grand prix at Silverstone in July.

Better yet, Webber went on to achieve the Milton Keynes-based concern's highest qualifying spot from 72 outings to-date with second on the grid around the Northants circuit. And then came race day, a costly spin from the Australian on the opening lap - and just five more points all year...

"I think 2008 was definitely a season of two halves for us," team principal Horner admitted, speaking exclusively to Crash.net Radio. "The first half of the season was very positive for us, and we arrived at Silverstone halfway through the championship on target for fourth in the constructors', having achieved a podium in Canada and points in every race bar Melbourne.

"Mark obviously qualified on the front row for the British Grand Prix, but from the Sunday onwards the season was an uphill struggle. We obviously got involved in too many accidents with David [Coulthard]'s car, and the performance just stagnated, which was very frustrating."

There were, indeed, frustrations for both drivers, but particularly for Coulthard, who troubled the scorers just twice over the course of his valedictory campaign in the uppermost echelon - although one of the two occasions was an extremely popular rostrum finish in Montreal. Elsewhere, however, there were too many indifferent qualifying performances and race day scrapes for the experienced Scot to enable him to make any great impression.

"Canada was certainly a highlight for David," Horner acknowledged. "He had a dreadful season unfortunately in his final year, where we became reliant on one car to score points. That is enormously difficult, especially when your opponents are the likes of Toyota and Renault, who got their act together with both cars certainly during the second half of the season. It was frustrating for David that his final season didn't go better.

"He came to a conclusion actually, ironically in Canada, that it was time to stop at the end of the year, and I think it was absolutely the right time for him. He's now entering a different stage of his life and career, he's recently become a father and we're looking forward to working with him in a different guise as he continues to be associated with the team as a consultant."

Webber, too was luckless in too many races, with Singapore being the most obvious example, when second place at the very least went begging due to gearbox failure just before the mid-distance mark. The sport's inaugural night race was, Horner, contends, one of two grands prix over the past two years that the man from New South Wales could arguably have won - and the Englishman agreed that Webber had in 2008 put criticism that he can qualify but not race well firmly to bed with a string of impressive showings.

"Mark qualified very well and he drove some great races," the 34-year-old underlined, "certainly earlier in the year. Obviously his lap at Silverstone was quite stunning. It was a shame that he couldn't convert that into a decent result on the Sunday.

"In hindsight we should have been on the podium in Monza after qualifying third there, and obviously Singapore was extremely frustrating. Our only mechanically-induced retirement of the year robbed Mark of a podium, and what could even have been a possible win.

"He had a lot of bad luck as well in the second half of the year - being hit by [Heikki] Kovalainen at Spa, the spin at Monza, the spin at Silverstone, the engine penalty in China having qualified sixth - it was just one thing after another."

Webber, though, remains on-board at the energy drinks-backed outfit in 2009, when he will be joined by Vettel, a driver who he accused following the 2007 Japanese Grand Prix of being a 'kid with not enough experience' who had 'f***ed up' his race, but one who marked himself out during his first full season in F1 this year as a potential world champion in-waiting.

Horner knows that in the young German - who spectacularly triumphed in the Italian Grand Prix at Monza back in September for Red Bull 'junior' operation Scuderia Toro Rosso - he has a very special talent on his hands indeed.

"As in all these situations there's never just one thing," the former racer concluded, "but essentially the chassis is identical between ourselves and Toro Rosso, and if you're looking for differences then the obvious areas are the drivers and engines. It's not right to point fingers fully in this direction, because at the end of the day we are a team, but obviously Toro Rosso's second half of the season, with the combination of an identical chassis, Vettel and Ferrari, highlighted what was achievable.

"I think over the second half of the season yes, there were differences in the engines, which has been many times documented in different publications, but we mustn't forget that Sebastian Vettel very much looks like a star of the future. He produced some phenomenal drives, of which Monza was of course the highlight, and we're absolutely delighted to have him in the team for next season."

by Russell Atkins

TO LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW IN FULL: CLICK HERE

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