Christian Horner and Sebastian Vettel both have “canned” Q&As up at the Formula 1 official site, a sign that Red Bull remains the compelling story heading into Abu Dhabi. (That must chafe Ferrari a bit, right? Fernando Alonso probably is wily enough to be glad the spotlight is off him.)
I know there’s been some comments here questioning all the focus on Red Bull. I think it comes down to the fact that the team still has two drivers in the hunt and — and this may be even more important — two drivers who seem likely to be able to play a role in the drivers’ title outcome. (Felipe Massa and Jenson Button, as good as they are, don’t seem up to playing the role of “spoiler” this weekend.)
So, here are the two men’s comments. Straigh-forward: Your reactions?
Q: Christian, there are four title contenders left and two can rely on support from their team mate. Your two drivers have to rely on themselvesâ€¦
Christian Horner: Yes, there are still four guys that can win this championship and as a team we are very fortunate that both of our drivers are part of the four. Mark is mathematically in a better position than Sebastian, but ultimately they both know that they have to finish. Without finishing they cannot win the title and in certain scenarios both have the potential to win. Both of them will do their best. I am sure they will do everything to achieve the best result – not just for themselves but also for the team.
Q: How much easier would it be if one of them could count on his team mate?
CH: Well, theyâ€™ve raced each other all year, as that is the way we have chosen to go racing in Formula One. They both have the chance this weekend and we will back them equally with the same equipment and the same opportunities. However, if one finds himself in a situation where he canâ€™t win – of course it will be their choice – but I am sure they will do their best for the team.
Q: Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz also said recently that he is banking on the drivers making the right decision. What is the right decision?
CH: They obviously drive for a fantastic team and they have obviously contributed very significantly to this years constructorsâ€™ title success. They both respect not just Red Bull Racing but also the Red Bull brand. Obviously, ultimately, it will always be the driverâ€™s decision, but I am sure they recognise the team that they drive for and will ultimately do the right thing for the team.
Q: So what would happen if Vettel is in the lead of the race, ahead of Webber and a third-placed Alonso?
CH: It is very difficult indeed. On the one hand you are driving for yourself and on the other hand you are driving for a team. You rely on all those members of the team so it is a horrible question to be faced with as a driver. But ultimately you recognise that you are driving for a team and it is important to do the right thing for the team. Both are team players. In the same situation I am convinced that both would do the right and honourable thing.
Q: But if Alonso has a problem at the start or goes out of the race, they will be free to race?
CH: Absolutely. At that point both are racing for the world championship. The risk that Lewis Hamilton has a â€˜free rideâ€™ to the championship is there, but as Dietrich always tells me, if thereâ€™s no risk, thereâ€™s no fun!
Q: Ferrari and McLaren have won so many titles, but either Vettel or Webber could make history by winning the teamâ€™s first-ever driversâ€™ titleâ€¦
CH: It would be the second big thing. The first big thing was achieved in Brazil. That win is hugely significant within the team. With the driversâ€™ championship, we will be able to sleep comfortably at night knowing that weâ€™ve given both an equal chance and a fantastic opportunity. I am sure that both will give their best. It will be fascinating because both our guys have nothing to lose but to go for it. Fernando is in a slightly less comfortable position because he is sitting on a lead, albeit a relatively small lead. Going into the race, the approach of the drivers will be very different, with both our guys firmly believing that they have a chance.
Q: Is there more pressure for Webber as it could be his last chance?
CH: For Mark it has been a fantastic season. He has won four Grands Prix this year and this represents the best opportunity heâ€™s had so far in his career. Such an opportunity doesnâ€™t come along for any driver that often and when you are 34 years-old, you certainly want to grab it.
Q: How much of a relief is it to have clinched the constructorsâ€™ title in Brazil?
CH: Well, it is one element that has been dealt with successfully. That is fantastic and gives us the chance to focus entirely on the driversâ€™ title this weekend. This weekend is all about what the drivers do and we will give them the best possible support that we can. This year we have won eight races – nobody has won more than that. We have had 14 pole positions so far this year and four one-two finishes. So from a team perspective it has been a fantastic year – and the icing on the cake would be to claim the driversâ€™ championship. The constructorsâ€™ is the big one for the team – it is how the different departments measure themselves against their competitors. Whether it is aerodynamics, manufacturing, upgrade ability or pit stops. So the constructorsâ€™ actually is the bigger championship. The driversâ€™ title is the one that carries the prestige and the public remembers most. Ultimately they have a very similar value to the team.
Q: Both your drivers have achieved a lot this year. Both have very different characters. Why does each deserve the title?
CH: Markâ€™s commitment, dedication and sheer hard work over his career. He would be a very worthy champion and I believe a very popular champion. In Sebastianâ€™s case he is a prestigious talent, he is a really exciting driver to watch and he has never given up. Despite all the bad luck that he has had this season, he has never given up. He has a great character and personality and therefore he would be an equally fitting champion. Both would be very deserving.
Q: In Brazil Webber reportedly said that he doesnâ€™t feel he has the full emotional support of the team. Have you talked to him about that?
CH: I think that Mark said a few things in Brazil. When you are fighting for the championship sometimes emotions boil over because Mark knows the amount of support, backing and opportunity the team has provided him with. Sometimes drivers will use whatever is within their means to put pressure on their opponents, and I read nothing more into that situation.
Q: The last driver who said similar things was Alonso at McLaren – and he was firedâ€¦
CH: We have no plans to fire Mark. He and Sebastian will be our drivers in 2011.
Q: Red Bull confirmed they will continue to use Renault engines next year. Did you just give in to the inevitable?
CH: We have a great relationship with Renault. We have a close working partnership. Without their support the results this year would not have been possible. All our 14 victories so far have been with Renault engines and we are delighted to move that partnership forward. We are absolutely sure that the deficits that we have seen this year are addressed through the different working groups. As a partner they are ideal for Red Bull. We would not have committed to them if we hadnâ€™t been sure that they are committed to Formula One and theyâ€™ve made their commitment to being an engine supplier very clear to us. That is why the relationship has grown between the two companies. This is also visible on the car itself.
Q: Mateschitz has said that after the two-year contract with Renault he can imagine building his own engine. How could that work?
CH: With Red Bull anything is possible. For now we have to see what the engine regulations will be. It is important for us to work with an engine manufacturer like Renault over the next couple of years.
Q: Red Bull has to slim down in size next yearâ€¦
CH: We have never been the size of Ferrari or McLaren, so for us it has a much lower impact than for the other two teams. There will be a slight impact but hopefully it will not be significant.
Q: Who do you think will win the race – and the championship?
CH: I donâ€™t care as long as it is a Red Bull car and a Red Bull driver!
Q: Would it be a dream to win the driversâ€™ title?
SV: Yes, as this is my aim, and I would say that it is also legitimate to dream about it. Everything else would be a nightmare. But luckily I have not had any nightmares lately.
Q: How would you rate your own chances?
SV: I think the chance is there, and the odds are maybe even better than they were two races ago. Of course it is rather an outsiderâ€™s chance, as it really matters where my competitors end up. I think the secret lies in not making yourself crazy about it. It is important to drive your own race, and we will see what happens.
Q: Driving your own race could mean that you win but still make your team mate Mark Webber the new world championâ€¦
SV: What is in my head is that I want to win this race, and that is the goal. If this happens, we will find out very soon, but up until then there is still a lot of work ahead of us. We should not underestimate the importance of free practice and qualifying. It would be totally misleading to think about any special scenarios now.
Q: Your family is here to support you, how important is that for you?
SV: They are most probably the only ones who are not asking too many questions, so it is very good that they are here.
Q: How do you feel ahead of such an important weekendâ€¦
SV: I feel very good, especially because this is now an extra challenge. The last races have been quite good for us. Of course the engine failure in Korea was not the best thing to happen, but overall the speed and the car are very good. We have managed to stay in the front through all kinds of circumstances and because of this my hopes are very high for this race that I will be able to use the chance when it presents itself.
Q: You won this race last season. Where do you have the advantage this year?
SV: In every turn. If you look throughout the season we have barely lost time in the turns, instead we have won time. On the straights we were suffering a bit, but during the last races we have made a good step forward on our F-duct system. So we should be well equipped here also.
Q: If you are leading, Webber is second and Alonso is in third, what would you do?
SV: At the end of the day we are employed by the team. And if this situation occurs you do not need to be a genius to decide what to do – you will act accordingly. I am not thinking too much about these kind of situations. I think it is more the people around us that do that – since Brazil Iâ€™ve been asked this question quite often.