Horner: 'Red Bull's year was insane… and we started early on our 2024 car'


Christian Horner says this year's Red Bull is the most successful car in F1 history, but tells Chris Medland in a Motor Sport exclusive that he can't dwell on the past. There's a title to retain in 2024; an engine to build for 2026; but firstly, a pile of appraisals on his desk

Christian Horner Red Bull 2023

Can any season best Red Bull's last?

Red Bull

“The fact that we got to Singapore unbeaten, holy moly, it’s unbelievable.

“When you think back over, not just the last 10 months or 11 months, but if you think back over the last 24 months… Two years ago here in Abu Dhabi, we were fighting, going into the final round of the championship level on points. What we’ve achieved since then, is mind boggling.”

It really does feel like a long time since that infamous night at the Yas Marina Circuit when Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen started the final race of the season locked together. It was one of the great seasons up to that point, as Christian Horner’s Red Bull team brought an end to Mercedes’ dominance, and kicked off a period of its own.

Since then, there have been 44 grands prix held, and Red Bull has won 38 of them. Of the six times Red Bull has been beaten, four came in the first 11 races of 2022 as the team fought to get its extremely quick car down to a weight that would let it exploit the performance it had.

Or put more simply: 31 wins from the past 33 races.

Abu Dhabi 2023 GP Max Verstappen

A season for the ages: Verstappen and Red Bull were dominant in 2023

Red Bull

I thought that sitting down with Horner in Abu Dhabi would see him keen to reflect on those achievements, taking stock of just what an immense position Red Bull is in. But it’s hard to get him to look backwards, because there’s so much ahead that seems to be taking his attention.

“Christmas will be off, but between now and Christmas is flat out,” he says. “There’s always a lot to do in the factory this time of year. You have a lot of appraisals and reviews and other commitments as well — sponsor commitments. But by the time everybody breaks up, I think I finish on the 21st or 22nd, I think everybody will be ready for a well-deserved shutdown, which will be official this year.

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“We’ve had so much going on behind the scenes, particularly in Red Bull Powertrains. And they’ve been achieving some milestones throughout this year. And let’s not forget 2026 is not that far away, and the size of the challenge that we have ahead of us is massive. So of course that consumes an awful lot of time when I’m back in the factory.

“The Ford partnership is working brilliantly. And we had Bill Ford with us last weekend [in Las Vegas], Jim Farley is a massive supporter of the project, and he was in the factory checking on progress earlier in the week. And it’s great to see that commitment and that enthusiasm. To have a brand and an OEM like Ford involved is another string to our bow.”

Horner’s mind is already on 2026 and the challenges that will provide, and rightly so seeing as Mercedes hit the ground running so strongly when the last significant power unit changes were introduced in 2014.

Mercedes 2014 Lewis Hamilton Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

16 wins in 19 rounds of racing in 2014 marked a commanding season for Mercedes. In hindsight, no one actually knew what real dominance looked like…

Getty Images

But it’s not to the detriment of the shorter-term, with Red Bull able to take full advantage of its dominance this year to focus on the 2024 car at an early stage. It’s something that Horner believes was particularly important given the cost cap penalty it received a year ago that reduced how much time it could spend in the wind tunnel this year.

“Thankfully, we had a good base to start because if we’d have been consumed with the very limited amount of wind tunnel we had in terms of developing RB19, it would really compromise us very badly on to RB20. But because we had a great starting block with ’19 enabled us to apply the limited amount of resource that we had available to RB20 reasonably early for us, while spinning both plates. That’s why development has been very frugal on this car really since the middle of the year.”

“Next year’s car is an evolution. Obviously you start to get into diminishing returns. But you know, the team have done an outstanding job this year. It’s the most successful car ever in F1’s history. And they can all be very, very proud of that.”

But the dominance was largely down to one of the two drivers. Sure, Sergio Perez finishing second in the drivers’ championship confirmed the team’s first ever one-two in the standings, but with only two wins of his own — and perhaps more surprisingly just four second-place finishes — he ended up 290 points adrift of Verstappen with under half the Dutchman’s total.

Sergio Perez Red Bull 2023

Sergio Perez only managed two race wins in 2023 — his team-mate scored 19

Red Bull

Although Horner acknowledges Perez has “the hardest job in the pit lane”, unsurprisingly it’s Verstappen who continues to draw the plaudits from his team boss after a year in which he won 19 of the 22 races and set more records than you can count on both hands.

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“He’s just grown and grown as a driver and as a human being. And I think the speed and skill has always been there. He’s just rounded it with experience now. And the capacity that he has within the car to be taking on and thinking about other things is outstanding.

“To be able to read the race, to be able to nurse tyres the way he does, to understand what he needs to deliver strategically to make something work, is extraordinary and I think he’s just very much the complete driver.

“We knew he was a very special talent, but only time would tell what that talent would yield, and it needed us to give him the tools to deliver as well. And thankfully, we’ve been able to do that, and he’s used them in the best possible way. And so what he’s done the last three years, it’s just been sensational.

“I think Max, where he is at the moment is the best driver currently in Formula 1. He’s the world champion, and he is — without a shadow of a doubt — the very best driver Formula 1 currently has.”

Max Verstappen poses with championship-themed helmet after 2023 F1 season

Verstappen took over the front of the F1 field in 2021 and hasn’t looked back since

Red Bull

But in getting him to reflect on what has been achieved, Horner says it would be wrong to solely focus on Verstappen or the RB19, with other departments needing recognition. “I think the team has just been operating at an incredible level. If you look across all aspects, whether it’s the car we’ve produced, whether it’s the reliability, the strategy, the way we’ve executed races, the way the drivers have performed, I mean, this car statistically will go back down in history I’m sure as the most successful car ever.

“To have won 21 out of 22 grands prix is insane. And something that the whole team can feel rightly proud of, that they’ve built and delivered and executed this weapon of a car. Max has been out of this world. Checo’s done a great job as well, the first time we’ve ever been first a second in a championship. It’s been an unbelievable year for us.”

It might not have been thrilling to watch for everyone at all times, but it’s tough to argue against him. Like McLaren in 1988, in future years Red Bull’s 2023 will be one of those seasons that is regularly referenced as a benchmark for excellence in F1.