by Russell Atkins

Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner insists now is the time for the squad to start bringing home the results to match its early-season pace, after largely flattering to deceive in the first half of 2007.

Although - Magny-Cours aside - the team has got one of its cars into the final top ten qualifying shoot-out on every occasion this year, all-too often drivers David Coulthard and Mark Webber have seen their points-scoring hopes go up in smoke due to the RB3's fragile reliability. The upshot is the Scot has amassed just four points and his Australian team-mate two, but a good many more have gone begging over the opening eight races, a fact of which Horner is only too aware.

"I would say it's a season that's shown a lot of promise," he told Crash.net at Silverstone ahead of this weekend's British Grand Prix, "but one that has been lacking on delivery of results, mainly as a result of reliability. We've got a fast but fragile car - the lows have definitely been the amount of gearbox-related issues we've had - but it's far better to be in a position to make a fast car reliable than a reliable car fast. I would say we haven't delivered on our promise but the basics look very encouraging.

"France was a one-off I certainly hope. It was the only race where we haven't qualified in the top ten this year, and the only race where we haven't looked like a genuine points-scorer. Bahrain in particular was good, in Australia we should have scored points, and in both Monaco and Montreal we should have been right up there with both drivers.

"David's performances in Barcelona and Bahrain - where he came from the back of the grid and overtook I think 14 cars during the course of the race, including Renaults, Williams' and Toyotas - were excellent. Mark's qualifying lap in Montreal was exceptional too, putting it on the third row with a very healthy fuel load; it's just a shame we weren't able to capitalise on it. There have been some frustrating races, but fundamentally the pace of the car has been strong."

Indeed, Webber's sixth spot on the grid in Canada marks Red Bull's highest starting position of the year so far, in a campaign during which the front three rows have invariably been locked out by McLaren, Ferrari and BMW. Horner acknowledges the strength of the midfield pack has made things doubly difficult to rise above the ordinary.

"It's an extremely close midfield this year," he agreed, "and the group we are currently fighting in with the Renaults, Toyotas, Williams' and potentially the Hondas now joining that is intensely competitive. If you get it right one weekend you're at the front of that pack; if you get it wrong the following one you're at the back. We've got to really haul ourselves above that.

"The big three are a good step ahead, but when you consider Renault are the reigning world champions and have the same engine as we do, they are our benchmark. We've been able to get near them on pace this year, and ahead on occasion, but reliability has let us down and that's obviously something we're focussed on very hard. Our target is to get as close to BMW as we can by the end of the year.

"I think it's clear for all to see the car has obvious potential. It's a completely new package this year, with its design led by Adrian (Newey) which is radically different from anything the company has ever seen previously. We've introduced a new engine partner in Renault which is working extremely well, a new electronics package and a new driver. I don't think there's any other team in the pit-lane which has had that much change over the close-season."

Indeed, much of the credit for the increased level of competitiveness of the RB3 over last year's unloved RB2 can be attributed to design genius Newey, whose cars have won a staggering twelve world titles since 1992. Horner stresses the role of the former McLaren and Williams guru in Red Bull's upturn in performance cannot be underestimated.

"Adrian has had a massive impact on the team," the 33-year-old stated. "He leads from the front and is very much the Michael Schumacher of the design world. He's won more world championships and races than any other designer, brings a wealth of knowledge and experience which he is putting into practice here and has really contributed a huge amount to how we work."

Another area in which Horner has few complaints is the Milton Keynes-based outfit's driver line-up. Despite their combined age of 66 being the oldest in the pit-lane and somewhat at odds with Red Bull's traditional policy of promoting youth, it is clear from both Coulthard and Webber's grit and determination age is little more than just a number.

"Our drivers are very evenly-matched," he underlined. "They're both very similar characters, highly intelligent, very focussed, incredibly fit and quick. They work very well together - we are totally open and we work as a team rather than two sub-sets within a garage. They get on well and share a healthy rivalry, but that drives the team forwards. They have a very similar driving style too, which helps in the development of the car.

"Unfortunately we haven't yet had a weekend where both have had a problem-free time, but we're certainly very pleased with the driver line-up we have - it brings a lot of experience into the team and both are highly-motivated, so it's a very healthy situation."

As to what he hopes the squad can achieve this weekend in its home race, Horner is adamant now is the time to turn performance into points, to set RBR on-track for a far more productive second half to the season and, ultimately, a successful 2008.

"The aim for this weekend is quite clear," he asserted. "The team as it was as Jaguar and Stewart Grand Prix beyond that has never been competitive at Silverstone. It's a very aero-dependent circuit, and it's no accident that Adrian's cars have dominated here over the past 15 years. We've got nearly all the factory here over the weekend and our goal is to have a really solid British Grand Prix weekend, qualify in the top ten and score some points.

"Reliability is fundamental. We've got to be finishing races and converting performance into points. We're not going to win the constructors' championship this year, so the key thing for us is to keep driving forwards the performance of the car and at the same time try to address the reliability.

"We've got an aggressive development programme throughout the rest of the season, which will evolve RB3 into RB4, so every race we're looking to make a step forwards. At the end of the day we're taking on massive corporations like Toyota, Honda, BMW and Renault and we're still a privateer team. It's important not to forget that, but we can make significant headway and with continuity over the winter as this car evolves into RB4 - our 2008 challenger - I think we'll be looking very good."

 

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