It’s been an untidy few weeks for Formula One, but the power struggles and politics that have dominated the news cycle haven’t affected the work going on in the pitlane or design offices. And so, once attention turned back to racing, everyone seemed to remember the hard-fought and incredibly thrilling grands prix of Barcelona and Monaco.
Red Bull picked up more trophies and drank more champagne, but with McLaren right on the pace and Ferrari seeing a resurgence it’s proving to be the most exciting season for years - and the last few have been exciting enough.
Against that backdrop and in front of the Olympic rowing basin at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, Christian Horner was in relaxed mood as he sat down for a chat...
On paper, this might be your weakest circuit of the year - if Red Bull win here, is that effectively game over for everybody else?
CH: I think if you look at the characteristics of the circuit it’s one that theoretically should flatter some of our competitors, though we were pretty competitive here last year. Hopefully, we can be competitive again this year, though for sure on paper it's one of our weaker circuits. It’s going to be interesting with the tyres, and with the double DRS zone overtaking is going to be certainly more straightforward than it was in Monte Carlo. I think the weather will also be a factor, depending on which forecast you look at, there’s a high probability of rain on Sunday. But qualifying may not be as of paramount importance as perhaps, for example, it was in Monte Carlo. It’s going to be fascinating.
Is the target a victory at all costs, or are you aiming to bring back a good haul of points?
CH: As with every grand prix, you look to maximise the best from the package you have. That’s the approach we will take here; it’s an approach that has worked well for us in the previous six grands prix this year, and obviously the past few years. We’ll simply do our very best and see how that measures against our opponents on Sunday afternoon.
Sebastian Vettel seems to have gone up a gear. What’s changed, if anything, from last year to this?
CH: I think we’ve seen him evolve as a person and as a driver; I think he just has more experience now - he’s done 68 grand prixs. He’s a very mature 23-year old, he has the confidence of having won a World Championship, he’s carried that confidence into this season, and also the tremendous form he demonstrated to win that championship last year. He’s understanding the demands of the Pirelli tyres very well, and I think the drives to win the last two grands prix have been the best of his career to date. His performances in Barcelona and Monte Carlo were exemplary and he’s definitely made another step this year. He’s evolved as a person and as a driver, as you would expect of a someone his age: it’s clear to see for everybody in the way he’s delivering and driving.
Is the record of the car this year actually detracting from how well he’s driving?
I think the thing about this year is that all of the races, without fail, have been fantastic. If you look at the viewing figures and the popularity of Formula One, even though Sebastian is seven points off a maximum score, we’ve had bigger viewing figures than the sport has seen for many, many years because the races are fantastic. He’s had to fight for each one of those victories, as we saw in Monaco - so it’s not been a procession, or a foregone conclusion that Sebastian was going to win. He’s had to come from behind in Barcelona, adapt his strategy in Monte Carlo and each of those grand prix victories has been hard-earned, but in a way that’s been entertaining for the fans - and that’s the way I think the races will continue. Whether we can maintain our current strike rate remains to be seen.
'Mark’s made it clear that he wants to drive next year.'
And what of the situation with Mark Webber, where is he at the moment and what is in store for his future with the team?
Mark, on points, has had the best start to a Formula One campaign in his career to date. I think he has obviously struggled with the Pirellis, more so than Sebastian and he’s working hard to get to grips with that - but he’s a fierce competitor and he’s pushing very, very hard, as we saw in Barcelona only a few weeks ago where he achieved his first pole position of the year. As far as the future is concerned, at this stage of his career we agreed to take things one step at a time. And at the appropriate time we’ll sit down and talk about the future. We’ve only completed six grands prix out of - probably - 19, so a little bit later in the summer we’ll sit down and discuss next year. Mark’s made it clear that he wants to drive next year and conversations with Mark tend to be pretty straightforward.
And what of the competition? Is the Championship still open, even for guys trailing by a wide margin like Fernando Alonso is?
Yes, absolutely, it’s still wide open. The points are deceptive!
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