For a team that has won 47 Grands Prix in the past five Formula One seasons, including four drivers’ and constructors’ championships in succession, Red Bull Racing started the 2014 F1 season very much on the back foot in Australia last weekend.
The enormous regulation change between seasons, which saw the 2.4-litre V8 engines that have powered the sport for the past eight years replaced by 1.6-litre V6 turbos with significantly greater energy recovery capabilities than their predecessors, caught Red Bull out badly in pre-season testing, with world champion Sebastian Vettel and newcomer Daniel Ricciardo barely able to complete any running of note across 12 days in Jerez and Bahrain. With Renault scrabbling to make its temperamental engine more reliable and Red Bull searching frantically to find ways to curb the RB10’s chronic overheating issues, it wasn’t the smooth lead-in to the season we’re so accustomed to seeing from the all-conquering team from Milton Keynes.
While Vettel was an early retirement in Australia with engine problems that brought an end to his nine-race winning streak, Ricciardo performed brilliantly under pressure at home to finish a career-best second, but his efforts would count for nought after the Australian was disqualified for a breach of the fuel flow regulations.
Team principal Christian Horner could have been excused for growing more than a few grey hairs in response to Red Bull’s stuttering start, but he remains confident that the combination of Vettel’s brilliance, the design wizardry of chief technical officer Adrian Newey and the best-resourced team in the paddock can find its way out of an unexpected early-season mess.
At the announcement of the extension of Red Bull Racing’s partnership with Casio, I spoke to Christian ahead of the Australian Grand Prix last weekend about his new driver line-up, his style as a leader of a 620-strong workforce, and whether talk of a cost cap in F1 from next year is little more than paying lip-service to the age-old problem of Formula One teams spending what they earn in the relentless quest for success.
Tell us about your style as a leader, as a manager. Have you had mentors or people you’ve looked up to as your career has progressed?
CH: It’s a pretty individual style, I think. I tend to empower people and try to employ the right people to do the job – I don’t tell them how to do their job. I give them targets and goals of what we’re aiming to achieve and what our expectations are, and then support them. My function is and has always been to get the right people in the right positions performing as one team. There were always people I admired in Grand Prix racing, whether that’s Frank Williams, or Ron Dennis, or Bernie (Ecclestone). There’s always people that you look at and that you learn from, and I’ve learned a lot from certainly Bernie over the last few years.
What do you make of the new sound produced by the V6 turbos this year?
CH: Part of the DNA of Formula One is the sound, that spine-tingling sensation when you first hear a Grand Prix car. Hopefully the V6 will still provide that. It’s a different noise to the V8, but it’s still a great sound.
And what of the new regulations generally?
CH: We mustn’t forget that it’s still a sport. It’s man and machine at the limit, and we mustn’t take away from that. These new regulations are very interesting, but it still needs to be a sprint race, not an economy race. You can’t judge it on the sample of one event, it’s a question on judging at as a season. Let’s see how things pan out.
What about the expense of such a big regulation change at a time where a cost cap is being mooted for next year – aren’t they in complete opposition to one another?
CH: They’re in conflict with each other because on one hand the regulations are the things that drive the cost, and it’s down to a team to decide how much money it spends or has available to it. The biggest cost-driver is through the regulations, and of course a big regulation change like we’ve had this year inflicts a significant amount of cost. I’ve always been sceptical as to how you police what a company spends and how you control that through the different corporate structures of the different companies. Of course, everybody wants to reduce costs in Formula One – I think every team would agree that. What they’re disagreeing on is how to achieve that. For me, if you address the regulations, then the cost control takes care of itself. Otherwise, as is the nature of Formula One, people will look to find ways around whatever cost control rules there are. Fundamentally, the best thing to address from my perspective is to go to the root cause of the problem and address it bottom-up rather than top-down.
How do you address going into the season so far behind compared to recent years?
CH: We go into this season as the underdog, which is remarkable considering the success we’ve enjoyed over the last four or five years, and that we’d won every race since July last year (before the Australian Grand Prix). But it is what it is. We have a great team, we have great strength in depth and we’ll be working hard to get ourselves back into the fight. Both drivers are working very well together. It’s great to have Daniel (Ricciardo) in the team – he’s full of enthusiasm and you can see he’s really relishing the challenge ahead. Of course he’s got a massive challenge being teammate to Sebastian (Vettel), but he seems to be up for that challenge and I’m sure he’ll cope with it very well.
Is it a case of Sebastian needing a mental reset after being in such a dominant position last year? What have you seen in his attitude and approach as he tries to help the team resolve its issues?
CH: He’s pushing as hard as he can and to do the best job he can for the team. We’ve been in this position before, in 2012, where we had a regulation change that affected the performance of our car and we had to fight our way back into the championship. Sebastian grabbed the points where he could in those early races.
Are you happy with the way the relationship is developing with your two drivers?
CH: Very much so. They’re getting on very well and working closely together, and it’s a very healthy relationship. Daniel knows the team pretty well from what he’s done with the team previously, and he sees it as a great opportunity.
THIS STORY APPEARS IN THE MARCH 19 ISSUE OF MOTORSPORT ILLUSTRATED NEWS. FOR MORE, CLICK HERE.