As George Harrison once eloquently sang: ‘it’s been a long, cold, lonely winter’, and while we have all tolerated the deep, dark void that is the off-season over the past two months, last night in London there were signs that F1’s hibernation is over, as Christian, Max and Alex got together for an informal chat about the work of the winter, early expectations for the campaign to come and why, for once in F1, a lack of movement is a good thing.
Of course, at the top of the agenda for the first interview of the year was the inevitable question as to whether the Team can challenge for a title this year and Christian was quick to answer in the affirmative, pointing to stability throughout the Team and in F1 itself this season as a boost to the Team’s chances.
“For the first time in probably five or six years we’ve got stability in the regulations and that gives us a real opportunity to take the fight to our rivals,” he insisted.
“The lessons we learned last year have been carried over from RB15 to RB16. We also have stability in the Team and that, alongside the momentum we built over the second half of last year, means we’re in a very good place to mount a strong challenge this year.”
Central to that stability is the retention of eight-time Grand Prix winner and last year’s closest challenger to Mercedes, Max Verstappen. The superstar Dutch driver inked a new contract that will see him race for the Team until the end of 2023 and he admitted that getting the deal done was crucial to his plans for this season.
“It takes away any doubts. There are no question marks,” Verstappen said. “For me, Aston Martin Red Bull Racing is the right place to be. I feel really good in the Team. There are a lot of good people here and I also see the motivation and hunger to fight for victories and possibly a championship.
The Team is also boosted by stability on the other side of the garage too, with Alex Albon heading into his second season in F1 and his first full campaign with the Team.
“I’m coming into my second year in Formula One, so there’s less of a learning process,” he said. “Now it’s more about fine-tuning things I needed to work on. The winter provided a good time for reflection – to analyse my performance, to be happy with the things I felt worked and to identify the elements I was not happy with, and to begin to work on solutions.”
Christian, meanwhile, added that after a rollercoaster debut year, a more stable full campaign should benefit the Team’s newest recruit.
“It’s easy to forget that 2019 was Alex’s rookie season and it was a tough one. You only have to look at the fact that he drove for two teams, that he had a late call to Formula One in the first place. However, the way he dealt with all that pressure was impressive. We’re expecting Alex to build on his experience from last year.”
The final piece of the puzzle for a competitive start to the campaign lies in the Team’s successful collaboration with power unit partner Honda.
And after a first year with the Japanese manufacturer that yielded three wins and three pole positions, Christian is convinced this year can be even more successful.
“A big factor to enable us to mount a challenge is the power unit and in Honda we have an intensely motivated and competitive partner,” he said. “Honda did a great job in 2019 and each iteration of the power year brought more performance and more power. It feels like we’re getting closer to our main rivals.” And for Max that means hitting the ground running in testing in, starting on February 19, and at the first race in Melbourne, Australia on March 15.
“Everything is very car dependent in Formula One, but when you can put pressure on the guy in front it’s a lot harder for him,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it,” he concluded. “When everything is put together, in pressure situations – such as in Brazil or Germany – then the team really excels compared to the others. So I’m looking forward to when we get that fight and we are really close. If we get that then I’m pretty sure we can win.”