by Russell Atkins

TO HEAR THE INTERVIEW IN FULL: CLICK HERE

On the basis of winter testing appearances, Red Bull Racing seems to have made the leap up the Formula 1 pecking order from an underachieving midfield runner to a potential podium challenger in 2008.

Team principal Christian Horner contends that the Milton Keynes-based outfit is 'quietly confident' and in 'buoyant' spirits heading into the opening grand prix Down Under in just over two weeks' time, as he told Crash.net Radio...

Q:
First of all Christian, what's the atmosphere like at Red Bull Racing ahead of the start of the 2008 Formula 1 season?

Christian Horner:
I'd say it's pretty buoyant at the moment. We've had probably our best preparation prior to any season in our short history, so we're certainly going to Melbourne better-prepared than we've been previously. We've enjoyed a good build-up to the season.

Reliability - touchwood - seems to be vastly improved from last year and the performance has obviously been encouraging, but it's impossible to know where we are until we get to Australia.

Q:
Testing obviously has been a little bit hampered by the weather, which is not what you normally expect in Spain. Has that made things more difficult at all?

CH:
It's not been too bad. Last week and the first day of this week were interrupted by the weather, but we had a very good run at Jerez the day before and a very good two-and-a-half days' testing in Barcelona this week, so it's not really affected us too badly.

Q:
One of the key points of testing for you was when the RB4 appeared with a kind of 'shark fin' engine cover. What's that all about?

CH:
That's part of the aerodynamic development programme we have for the car this year. The more dramatic shapes attract the most attention, but sometimes aren't as big as the more detailed changes that go unnoticed beneath the covers. Obviously the 'shark fin' as it has been labelled has drawn a lot of attention, but we're pleased with the progress we've been making during recent weeks.

Q:
On the subject of progress, the RB4 didn't display out-and-out lightning pace to begin with in the first few tests following its launch, but it seems to have been getting closer and closer to the front-runners as testing has gone on. On the final day in Barcelona David Coulthard was second-quickest and Mark Webber was fifth - that must have been very encouraging for you..?

CH:
It's always very difficult to gauge where you are, even if we do tend to do all the testing with other teams in public now. We've been working through our own programme, we're confident we've made a good step from where RB3 was and we'll see in Melbourne where we're at.

It's inevitably - from what we've seen so far - going to be very close between Ferrari and McLaren, and then the chasing pack consists of three or four teams at the moment which includes ourselves. It's going to be a very, very tight season by the looks of things.

Q:
What would you say are the major differences and improvements from the RB4 compared to its RB3 predecessor?

CH:
I think we've seen evolution in all areas. One of the biggest factors we've had is that it's been the first time in our short history that we've enjoyed continuity in terms of engine partner into a second season, so that obviously has been a massive benefit. This is the second car the technical group has worked together on now too, with the design team led by Adrian Newey. The whole group is working very well together collectively and we're making steady progress.

Q:
The general perception within the sport at this stage is that come Melbourne McLaren and Ferrari are going to be ahead, and behind them there will be a group comprised of teams like BMW-Sauber, Renault, Williams and yourselves. Is that how you see things playing out too?

CH:
I think so. Obviously it's our intention to be at the head of that chasing pack, because ultimately Ferrari and McLaren are the target. What we wanted to do was to make a step from where we were last year. We've got some formidable opponents that we're up against, but I think we can go to Melbourne quietly confident.

Q:
This time last year you said the objective was to establish RBR's credibility and respectability over the course of the campaign; what are the aims for both Melbourne and then later on in the season in 2008?

CH:
It's always dangerous setting too many targets, but obviously we're going to Melbourne with the target of qualifying both cars in the top ten and ideally bringing both cars home in the points. That would offer us a solid platform from which to build thereafter, but there are ten other teams going there with the same intention.

Q:
And do you feel that over the course of the season, Red Bull may be able to win a race?

CH:
I think - if you look at it - the front four positions are pretty locked-out between Ferrari and McLaren at the moment, but we came very, very close in extraordinary circumstances like in Fuji last year to Mark Webber winning his first race. You can never say never, and certainly we turn up at every grand prix with the intention of competing to win, but one has to be realistic. We're in part of a development phase, and the plan is obviously to close the gap to the leading teams.

TO HEAR THE INTERVIEW IN FULL: CLICK HERE

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