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Horner rates Alonso, not counting Button out yet
1 September 2012
With all the talk swirling around the F1 paddock that Jenson Button's season is all-but-over bar the supporting role he may be called upon to play to Lewis Hamilton, the McLaren driver has received a vote of confidence from an unlikely corner at Spa.
"The points can change around pretty quickly," said Red Bull team boss Christian Horner. "I know Jenson's some way behind at the moment but if he puts a run together I think it would be premature to discount him."
Horner may well be wary of the risk of McLaren uniting behind one driver and playing the remaining nine races of the season tactically, since Horner himself has pledged that Red Bull won't be invoking team orders in 2012.
"We gave both drivers the opportunity to go for the title [in 2011], and it came down to that final race in Abu Dhabi and it will be very much the same this year," said Horner.
Mark Webber is currently only 2pts ahead of reigning champion Sebastian Vettel, making it impossible to choose between them in terms of who might have the better chance of challenging Ferrari's Fernando Alonso who is a worrying 40pts ahead of Webber.
"Both drivers are fully in the race for the championship," Horner told
. "They both know they need each other to take points off Fernando as well."
As for Alonso, Horner was sceptical of the Spaniard's assertions that the Ferrari wasn't currently as fast as others on the grid.
"I'm not sure he's right there," said Horner. "He's won more races than any other driver this year, scored more points and finished all the races," he said, adding that as far as he was concerned that was the definition of a car and driver being the "quickest combination," whatever Alonso might want others to believe.
"I think he's driven fantastically well," said Horner of Alonso's 2012 season so far. "He's grasped his opportunities with both hands and he's really punched above his weight on occasion."
That left Alonso with a big lead going into the August break, and Horner admits that Red Bull and its drivers urgently need to make in-roads into this if they're to be in with a chance of the title of the end of the season.
"We need to beat him more," Horner said simply. "Obviously the main objective is to get both drivers right up there with Fernando.
But with Ferrari currently a one-man show with Alonso, things are looking much better for Red Bull as a whole with a big lead over McLaren in the constructors' battle.
"We're unlucky not to be sitting here with four race wins after the disappointment of Valencia, but to have won in Monaco, Silverstone and Bahrain we've got a more than 50-point lead in the constructors' championship," said Horner. "The first half of the year has been an interesting half for us. The way that the regulations evolved over the winter and the way that we've managed to deal with that I think we've got a better understanding of the car."
That need to develop understanding seems to have held Vettel back more than his team mate, suggested Horner.
"In qualifying, Sebastian hasn't been as comfortable with the car on the Saturday as he has on the Sunday - or certainly as comfortable as he was last year when his one-lap performances were quite remarkable," he said.
"But I think he's getting there, I think he's getting to a point where he's happier with the car; it's getting more to his liking and hopefully both he and Mark can put a strong run of qualifying performances together in the remaining races."
Unfortunately Webber will have to overcome a five place starting grid penalty for Sunday's race, after needing another out-of-sequence gearbox change following the final race before the August break at the Hungaroring in July.
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