Red Bull team principal Christian Horner says that the “uncontroversial” battle with Ferrari this season is “less of a distraction” than the infamous scrap with Mercedes last year.
The Red Bull team currently possess an 80-point lead over second-placed Ferrari in what is a remarkably large swing across only the first eight rounds of the season. Ferrari’s results have dropped off greatly since the Emilia Romagna GP, with the possible exception of Miami, as Red Bull’s early season reliability concerns have been well-and-truly left in the past.
Instead it’s Ferrari who have inherited worrying reliability concerns that have trickled down to their customer teams too, with multiple MGU-H failures reported by Alfa Romeo and Haas across the Miami and Monaco weekends in particular.
Ferrari endured a disastrous time in Azerbaijan GP with an early retirement for Carlos Sainz due to a hydraulic failure which sent him down the Turn 4 escape road after only 9 laps closely followed by an even more costly power unit failure for leader Charles Leclerc. Their wretched weekend was only compounded by Red Bull’s ability to capitalise and deliver a 1-2 in the face of Ferrari’s failure to score.
Mercedes are now closer to Ferrari than Ferrari is to Red Bull, with the German marque now only 38 points adrift of the team in red. Red Bull’s Horner believes that his team has been “equal” to Ferrari on race day, but are actually trailing Ferrari on fast qualifying laps.
“They have a very fast car, certainly on a Saturday,” Horner said on Ferrari. “I think on a Sunday, we’ve been equal to them in pretty much every race that we’ve been to this year. And I think that was the case again [in Azerbaijan] from what we can see in the early laps. Certainly with Max versus Charles.
“They’ll sort their problems out, I’ve got no doubts about that. But inevitably, I guess it means that there’ll be penalties further down the year in the back end of the year. And of course, there is a long, long way for this championship to play out. We’ve seen big swings in points, you know, over the last four or five races, and it just shows how quickly things can turn around,” summed up Horner.
At present, Red Bull have three-times as many race victories to their name this year than Ferrari, with Bahrain and Australia Ferrari’s only wins. Horner insists it was “a shame” for Ferrari to suffer the woes that they did in Baku, suggesting that the racer element is still very much a part of his job.
“Pace-wise, Ferrari have been quick, and certainly on Saturdays, they’ve dominated,” Horner said. “But you know, we’ve capitalised on their misfortune. It’s a shame in many respects that the race didn’t pan out, because I do think we had a good race car. I think we would have beaten Charles strategically with the route that we picked as well, but we won’t know that.
“The important thing was with their misfortune that we capitalise on that. And we banked the points because obviously, the championships look healthy at the moment. But we can see how quickly that can change,” summed up Horner.
The former Stewart and Jaguar team, which has had Horner at the helm since 2005, has won plenty of titles in its relatively short time in F1 but has most recently never been too far away from the forefront of controversy. Last season’s title decider in Abu Dhabi, when Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton’s fierce bid for the driver’s title was severely impacted by the notorius late-race decision making from then-race director Michael Masi, is an all too fresh moment in the mind.
Red Bull are up against another brutally strong rival this season, in Ferrari, but Horner noted how the dynamic is seemingly different. “It’s less of a distraction,” he conceded. “It’s been a competitive season so far and the racing has been good, touch wood, so far and relatively uncontroversial.”
Here’s Christian Horner on Red Bull team orders