We’ve already heard Max and Alex’s thoughts on the 2019 season, but now that everyone is back home and resting – who are we kidding? Everyone is fully focused and working hard on next year’s car – it’s time to hear from our Team Principal Christian Horner.
For Christian, 2019 was his 15th season at the helm of the Team. It was a season of unknowns with a new driver line-up and for the first time in 13 years, a new engine supplier, but one where strong partnerships and outstanding teamwork paid dividends.
No year is simple but 2019 saw the Team make some difficult choices, the most notable being the mid-season driver swap from Pierre Gasly to Alex Albon. But looking back on the swap, Christian believes it was the right decision for both drivers. “The good thing for Pierre was that he embraced the move to Toro Rosso in a positive light. He still had a drive in Formula One, he hadn’t been released from the Red Bull programme and he responded very well to that. It was the right thing to do as both drivers adapted very well.”
With Alex signed up for the 2020 season, Christian knows he has two strong and resilient Bulls in his stable. “You’ve seen that at every race Alex has got better and better. He was unlucky in Brazil, but I think he’s doing brilliantly well considering it’s his first year,” said Christian. “He’s been in two teams, plus halfway through the season he had the pressure of coming here and having Max as his teammate. I think he’s handled that really well, grabbed the opportunity with both hands and impressed the entire Team with his approach, attitude, race craft and feedback.”
So, after impressing in the last nine races of the season, what are Alex’s goals for next year? “There are no specific goals, he’s just got to continue his development,” said Christian. "For Alex, it’ll be the first time since his karting career that he’s had a stable set up from one year to the next and full pre-season preparation, and I think he’ll benefit from that. He’s had a lot of adversity to deal with during his career but you see people’s true colours in those situations and Alex has dealt with it all and taken the positives from every situation.”
Max’s season was an overall success with three race wins as well as his first, second and arguably third career pole positions. (Read Max’s thoughts on the season here): but what does Christian think of how he’s done? “I think he took on the responsibility of being the team leader and is now very much the rounded package. He has driven some phenomenal races this season and has completed over 100 races at just 22 years of age, which gives him an incredible knowledge bank of data and experience.”
Looking at 2019 overall, Christian feels the Team were not the fastest out of the blocks but responded well in the development race in such a transitional year. “The front wing and tyre regulation changes seemed to affect us more than our opponents but we were catching up on a power perspective. From Austria onwards we really got on top of the regulations and the second half of the year has been very competitive ensuring third place finishes in both the Drivers’ and Teams’ championships. We have also been sharp strategically, taken brave decisions and have been able to rely on our pit crew to turn the car around in record time which meant we were able to capitalise when others couldn’t” he said.
Honeymoon with Honda
It’s been 13 years since the Team changed its engine supplier which, along with other regulation changes must’ve added pressure. However due to the season coming together for the Team and the relationship with Honda developing so positively, Christian and the Team were delighted to extend the partnership with Honda. “We’ve had a really good car at a lot of circuits this year and the progression with Honda, along with developments from our fuel partner Exxon Mobil, has been a real collaboration and yielded positive results. Honda’s first victory at our home race in Austria brought a phenomenal amount of emotion for everyone involved. Honda worked so hard to achieve this, they had a tough time coming back into Formula 1 in the hybrid era and the dedication we have seen from them was rewarded with that first victory.”
It’s no secret that in recent seasons the relationship between Renault and Red Bull deteriorated, so it’s vindicating that Honda have made good on their promises. “This is the first year for a long time where what was promised has been delivered. It’s a different type of partnership, it’s a true partnership and you can see what it means to Honda when they get a result: the emotion, the pride, the satisfaction throughout the whole business” added Christian.
With green shoots of progress showing throughout the 2019 season, a settled Team, and ending the year positively, Christian is optimistic about charging into 2020 “We’ve got continuity across all aspects for next year, with aerodynamic, engine and tyre regulations plus a stable driver line-up which enables us to take all the learnings from this year and apply them into next year. It’s less than 100 days until the Australian Grand Prix and the factory is working flat out to get the car prepared.”
The big question on everyone’s lips though is: Can Max become World Champion next year? “He’s in a position now where he’s more than capable of challenging for the World Championship and we need to give him a car that he can do that with. If we can do that I’ve got every confidence that he can take the fight to Lewis, Mercedes and Ferrari. He’s right there; his form has been fantastic and I believe he’s the most in form F1 driver at the moment.”
Christian is positive that the Team can continue on an upward trajectory in 2020. The Bulls will be on a charge and it’s going to be a thrilling season. He concluded, “I think we’re in the best position we’ve been in since the change in regulations at the end of 2013. Red Bull’s philosophy to invest in youth means we have emerging young talent in all areas of the business which is really starting to pay dividends and the Team is on a charge. We need to come out of the blocks competitively next year, Mercedes are still the benchmark going into next year so we need to try and push them from the first race in order to take the challenge to them. There is a real buzz and anticipation in the factory at the moment, so we need to capitalise on that and build on the positive momentum from 2019.”