by Russell Atkins

Red Bull Racing was without doubt an improved team in 2007, but given the talent and resources at their disposal, many expected them to have improved rather more.

Team principal Christian Horner, though, is keen to take the positives away from a campaign that could so easily have seen the Milton Keynes-based outfit seal its maiden victory in the top flight. As he looks forwards to 2008, he told Crash.net Radio, he does so with a good deal of well-founded optimism...

Q:
Christian, if we first take a look back over the 2007 campaign for Red Bull Racing, what are your overall thoughts on the year?

Christian Horner:
I think it was a year in which we made significant progress as a team. We started the year with an all-new concept of a car, a new engine partner and obviously the design being led for the first time by Adrian Newey. At the beginning of the year we saw a significant change to the way we operated and, despite some teething problems with the new car, the potential was very clear for all to see. Certainly during the latter part of the season we managed to get on top of the reliability issues and become a top three or four team contender.

Q:
You mentioned those teething troubles back in the first few races of the year. There were a number of times - Bahrain in particular, for example when both David Coulthard and Mark Webber were flying - when reliability problems prevented the team from scoring points. How much do you think that cost Red Bull at the end of the year?

CH:
It cost us exactly 24 points. We had far too many issues with the transmission, but the whole team worked hard to get on top of and address those issues. They certainly improved over the second half of the season, but the problem is we're up against some formidable opponents, and with the lateness of the engine decision at the end of 2006, the knock-on effect was unfortunately some design-related issues that caused us too many early-season gearbox retirements.

Q:
What would you say was the turning-point for the team during the year?

CH:
The car showed fantastic pace throughout qualifying, and I think there were several turning-points really, the first coming probably in Barcelona when David scored his first points of the year with a very competitive fifth place. Then really from the N?rburgring onwards we established ourselves as regular points-scorers, knocking on the door of BMW and bigger opponents ahead of us. They were some of the defining moments, that's for certain.

Q:
You talked about the N?rburgring, when Mark scored his first podium finish for Red Bull. Were there any other particular highlights you would single out from the year?

CH:
There were several highlights. Mark's performance in the wet in Japan, when we came close to winning our first grand prix had it not been for our sister team unfortunately being involved in a collision with us behind the pace car - that was a high point and a low point all in one go. David's performance there to finish fourth was also very strong, and his qualifying performance in China to start fifth was very impressive, as was Mark's in Brazil. The two cars in Bahrain battling their way through the field was another high point; it was very encouraging to see the pace that they demonstrated.

Q:
Just how disappointing was that moment in Fuji when Mark got taken out? Like you said, he looked like he may even have been able to challenge for the win - how frustrating was that for the team?

CH:
It was obviously immensely frustrating. Mark had been ill due to food poisoning earlier in the day, and was really struggling quite badly in the car in the early part of the race behind the pace car. He didn't even know whether he'd be able to continue, but he just got his head down and got on with the job. He was performing incredibly well, and having got into second position he was closing at about three tenths of a second a lap on Lewis (Hamilton) prior to the final safety car period. With Lewis defending and competing for the championship, he probably wouldn't have fought too hard to keep the lead. Obviously it was immensely frustrating to retire from the race in the manner that we did, but at the same time it was encouraging to see that we were up there and had made progress with the car. David further endorsed that by coming home a very competitive fourth, but I think everybody in the team left Japan feeling that was the one that got away.

Q:
Towards the end of the season - certainly in the last three or four races - it began to look like Red Bull might be able to challenge Williams for fourth place in the constructors' championship. How much of a realistic possibility did you think that was, and how disappointing was it not to manage to do so in the end?

CH:
I think we gave away too many cheap points to Williams earlier in the year, so we always had our backs to the wall a little bit, but we clearly demonstrated in the last quarter of the season that the car's performance had moved ahead of Williams and also Renault. I think we ended the season with probably the fourth-fastest car, but unfortunately that wasn't reflected in the amount of points we scored because to finish first, first you've got to finish. That's one area we need to focus very hard on, and one the whole team has been working very hard on to rectify for next year's car.

Q:
In Mark and David you've got two of the most experienced drivers on the grid - how pleased were you with their overall performance this year?

CH:
They're both highly intelligent, professional drivers, and still extremely motivated and very quick. Their strengths and weaknesses are in different parts of the grand prix weekend, but as a driver pairing it's a very strong line-up for us. Therefore it was a relatively straightforward decision to extend that partnership into 2008, and I think for what is still a relatively young team to have two drivers with that much experience has been extremely beneficial.

Q:
You say in the end it was a fairly straightforward decision to keep the same two drivers on for next year. Since November there was obviously a lot of speculation swirling round about the future of Fernando Alonso, and Red Bull was one of the teams he was most prominently linked to. Was there ever anything in that or not?

CH:
We were flattered to be linked to the discussions about Fernando. I think he could quite clearly see the progress the team has made over the last 18 months and see that the team is one that's emerging for the future, but Renault is the logical place for him to be. We announced our drivers some way back in the summer and have never had any intention of changing that, so whilst it was as I say flattering to be associated with the Alonso speculation, there in reality was never a space with ourselves being committed to our existing drivers.

Q:
Another driver, who has been testing with the team recently, is Karun Chandhok from GP2. What are the chances of him working further with Red Bull in the future?

CH:
Karun is a driver who has been involved with Red Bull for a few years now, as we've supported his career in some of the lower formulae. He's a very talented Indian driver who's fully focussed on another year of GP2. He had a good test with us in Barcelona last month, and we retain a close involvement and a keen interest in following how his career develops. As with so many young drivers, though, there's still an awful lot they have to prove before getting themselves full-time into a Formula 1 cockpit.

Q:
You've tested at Barcelona and Jerez so far over the winter months - how has progress been as you look ahead to 2008?

CH:
We've rounded off our campaign pretty happily. We're content with the progress we've made, with the understanding we've got of the car and of the areas we need to improve in the new car. They are all areas the team has been extremely focussed on, and collectively we've been working hard to evolve RB4 out of RB3. I think with the benefit of continuity for the first time in the design department, in terms of engine partner and in our driver pairing, we can look forward with optimism towards 2008.

Q:
What are the main areas on the car that you're concentrating on for next year?

CH:
Everything; everything gets reviewed. As we saw from how we finished the season, we took a development path that was yielding results and we will continue down that path. That includes aerodynamic and mechanical changes, so basically the whole car is reviewed, but it's very much the evolution of a theme. The basis we had last year was pretty respectable, and we expect to be able to exploit that more so in 2008.

Q:
As you say, you've got the same drivers for next year, Adrian Newey on the design front, Renault engines... David said recently that Red Bull needs to finish at least fourth in the constructors' championship in 2008. Is that a view you share? What are the aims for next year?

CH:
It's always dangerous quoting numbers and expectations. Obviously the aim is to win, but we're realistic enough to know that at the moment we've got to go through a learning and growing phase, which we're some way down the road on now. Our aim is to compete as close to the front of the grid as we possibly can, but we're up against some formidable opponents with the manufacturer-owned teams we're competing against. Everybody has to have a goal and a target though, and to be in the top four firmly figures within our plans for 2008.

Q:
Finally, on a more general note Formula 1 this year has been dogged by a number of controversies. Do you think the sport can now put all that behind it for 2008 and move on with a clean sheet as such?

CH:
Yes I do. 2007 I think has been one of the most classic years of Formula 1 racing, with three competitors all going into the last race [fighting for the championship], and the underdog stealing it at the final whistle. It's been a classic year on-track, and off-track it's obviously been highly politically-charged, with a lot of things that haven't been so positive for Formula 1 going on. It's a competitive business and obviously a lot of money is involved in the sport and the regulators sometimes have difficult decisions to make, but hopefully for the benefit of Formula 1 and all the fans across the world, we can move forwards into 2008 with all the focus on the race track rather than in the courtroom.

 

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