It’s been an up and down season for the Team – but with three races to go in 2018 and change most definitely in the air, team principal Christian Horner sat down to reflect on, Daniel's departure, Pierre’s arrival, the switch from Renault to Honda power and our aims for the rest of the season and beyond…
Christian, a year of highs and lows – how would you characterise it?
CH: I think you’ve described it perfectly: many highs but yes, also some lows. We’ve had some spectacular moments: winning in China was a fantastic feeling; winning Monaco – against the odds – was unbelievable, with the issues Daniel had to manage that day. And then, of course, victory with Max at our home grand prix in Austria. Winning at the Red Bull Ring was fairy tale stuff. So, they’ve been the high-points. The lows obviously would be Azerbaijan with both cars out of the race; too many retirements – that’s been a bit painful as well. There’s also been some great recoveries though. Just thinking back to Sochi, the recovery of both drivers from the back of the grid and through the field was phenomenal and also Max’s drive from 18th to the podium last week shows just how strong our car can be in race trim.
Pick a highlight…
I think a few stand out. If you wind the clock back to China, Daniel lost an engine on Saturday morning, and the job the mechanics did to get that car turned around and a fresh engine installed for quali – he just made it in at the last moment – and that was the difference between winning and losing that race. Then, the day after, they completed a double pitstop in perfect harmony – not once but twice, under the Safety Car and the stressful conditions that come with that. That was the epitome of teamwork. Also, managing the issues that we had in Monaco. Again, it needed real collaboration across all engineering areas.
The Red Bull Ring hasn’t been particularly kind to the team in the past. How does it feel to finally win on home soil?
It’s a dream result. One, it’s a track that doesn’t suit our strengths, so it’s a win against the odds. Two, it’s one that happened at our home race, our home crowd, with Dietrich [Mateschitz] there. He doesn’t attend all the races but he was there to share the moment that weekend. It was a very special race to win and it doesn’t get much better than that.
Looking forward, there’s three races remaining in the season. Are there still gains to be made in 2018? How much of the focus is on the RB15?
The primary focus has now shifted towards RB15. We’re in a Championship no-man’s land at the moment: out of touch with Mercedes and Ferrari but out of reach for the competitors behind us. So, the majority of our time at Milton Keynes is now focussed on RB15 but that doesn’t mean to say that we aren’t still chasing results this season. We want to finish 2018 as strong as possible with both drivers. There’s huge anticipation and excitement about the new partnership with Honda, and integrating a new power unit into the car for the first time in a long time. 2006 was the last time we had an engine supplier that wasn’t Renault, which takes time and dedication from both parties.
Max is now a 21 year-old F1 veteran. How much has he grown this year?
Up to Monaco he had a tough season but really since then he’s driven brilliantly. There’s been some outstanding drives: Austria, of course, but also Silverstone, when he re-passed Kimi Räikkönen, his French Grand Prix was very, very strong. Singapore, Sochi, last weekend in Austin, all fantastic performances. He’s really put in some big drives since the Monaco Grand Prix.
Daniel has been part of the fabric of the team for a long time. What’s the feeling around the team with his departure looming?
Daniel has been a huge part of our team for five seasons. We want to see out this final part of his time with us in the best possible manner. Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to see him win another race before signing off as a Red Bull driver. He’s been a key part of what we’ve achieved both on and off track over the last few years and we’ll definitely miss him. We’ll miss some of the antics he gets up to, some of the fun that he brings to the sport and in the garage – but we’re looking forward to a new chapter with Pierre Gasly, who’s got stronger and stronger through the season and brings with him a great deal of youth and energy.
Next year’s driver line-up is very young and very talented. That must be exciting?
Very much so. It’s a very dynamic driver pairing. Pierre has come along really well this year and deserves his opportunity here. Put the age of the two drivers together and they’re still younger than me – which is a first! That doesn’t mean they don’t have relevant racing experience though. They’ve both got a lot of miles under their belts in both junior formulae and on the Red Bull Young Driver Programme. Graduating from Toro Rosso is a great opportunity for Pierre and although he will need time to adapt, he has a strong and supportive teammate in Max. The combination of Max and Pierre’s youth and experience should make them a solid driver pairing going into 2019.
Before that, is there a strong finish in store for this season?
Absolutely. The spirit of this Team is second-to-none. The energy that it exudes: you feel it when you walk in the garage and there’s an absolute determination to finish the season on a high. We’re also determined to make sure Daniel signs off his Red Bull career in the best possible fashion. And obviously with Renault as well. We’ve done a lot of winning with Renault over the years, had a lot of success together and it would be great to sign off the last three races with somemore podiums and victories. There’s definite podium possibilities in the remaining races and if the whole package performs at our optimum and lady luck is on our side too, then perhaps there’s a race win out there as well.