Aston Martin Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner believes maximising their chances starting from this weekend’s season-opening Austrian Grand Prix will be the key to mounting a title challenge in the FIA Formula 1 2020 World Championship.
Following on from four consecutive championship doubles between 2010 and 2013 with Sebastian Vettel in the cockpit, Red Bull has had to witness Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team steal their crown and produce a clean sweep throughout the previous six years.
Now the former world champions are desperate to regain top spot and are eyeing the likelihood of a shortened season – courtesy of COVID-19 – as an opportunity to bring an end to the recent Mercedes dominance.
“It’s going to be crucial to be reliable. There’s going to be a lot of races that come thick and fast and it’s going to be an intense period for everybody involved.
“They’re going from 0 to 100mph from having not raced since November last year, we’re going to be in July so over seven months downtime for these drivers”, Horner said.
“It’s going to be an exciting first few laps, and it’s going to be important to maximise our chances and opportunities.
“It’s an unusual year, but maybe that’s what we need to take the challenge to the all dominant Mercedes who have won everything for the past six years”, he claimed.
Aspirations for a strong start
Red Bull have tended to suffer a slow start in recent seasons and will need to avoid a repeat if they are to take the fight directly to the German outfit.
However, after what appeared a strong pre-season, Horner thinks the team is better positioned than at any stage since their dominant final championship year of 2013.
“I think this is going to be a fantastic season.
“It’s going to be intense and it’s going to be slightly different to what we’re used to and that brings different pressure and dynamics so I’m really looking forward to it and I think we’re well-positioned to hopefully have our strongest year since 2013.”
If Red Bull’s new RB16 machine is capable of competing for the honor of a championship then Max Verstappen is being touted as the potential claimant to the throne that Lewis Hamilton has occupied since 2017.
Asked whether the pressure of a possible first world championship on the cards would affect Verstappen, Horner replied, “Well we all go into the first race with the same amount of points, so I think the pressure on Max is no different to previous years.
“I think he recognises we had a good winter, we came out of pre-season testing well, Mercedes were still the form team to beat but it felt like we had some real potential in our car so that’s going to be crucial as we head into the season.
“For sure they start the season as the favourites, but I sincerely hope and believe in Max and Alex that we have a very strong team and hopefully we can provide them with the equipment and tools to mount a challenge on Mercedes this year.”
Although Verstappen is undeniably the majority of peoples favourite to lead the Red Bull charge, Horner has warned against underestimating his teammate Alexander Albon and thinks the Thai driver could be the surprise of the season.
“For Alex, people do forget it’s his second season in Formula One and he’s missed sort of the first half of that so it’s been a baptism by fire but he coped with that incredibly well last year.
“He seems to deal with pressure very well and I think we’re just looking for him to make progress on where he finished last season.
“I think opportunities will present themselves for him and I really think he could be the surprise of the season in many respects this year”, suggested Horner.
Coronavirus safety measures
Horner has also given an insight into the sort of measures put in place to allow F1 to return amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“There’s been a huge focus on protecting staff and all members in Formula One and the host countries that we’re going to, so teams will essentially work within their own isolated bubbles.
“We won’t be sharing hotels, our hospitality units won’t be at the races, we’ll be wearing face masks during any sessions on the pit wall, there won’t be the usual pre-race build-up with the grid, or maybe even podium ceremonies, so life will be quite different but it’s all focused on creating a safe environment.
“Testing is becoming de rigueur as we are constantly tested throughout the process of going back to racing so it’s all providing a safe and controlled environment.