by Russell Atkins

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Christian Horner has described the 2007 Japanese Grand Prix as 'the one that got away' for Red Bull Racing, after Mark Webber bravely battled for the lead, only to be taken out under the safety car by sister outfit Scuderia Toro Rosso rookie Sebastian Vettel.

Having qualified seventh, a racy-looking Webber was lying in second position in the weather-ravaged encounter and, with Lewis Hamilton just ahead of him understandably keeping one eye in the championship, he clearly fancied his chances. That was, at least, until Vettel ran into the back of him on lap 45...

"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," RBR's team principal reflected at the end of the campaign, speaking to Crash.net Radio.

"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 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."

Despite admitting that the Milton Keynes-based concern gave away too many 'cheap points' to principal rival Williams over the early part of the campaign - what would ultimately prove the difference between fourth position and fifth in the constructors' standings - Horner insisted he was eagerly anticipating a much-improved 2008, though he acknowledged a good deal of hard work would need to take place behind the scenes between now and Melbourne in March if RBR's aspirations are to be met next year.

"The car showed fantastic pace throughout qualifying," the 34-year-old asserted, "but we had far too many issues with the transmission. The whole team worked hard, though, and 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.

"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.

"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. 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. 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."

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