Horner’s hor­ror

Red Bull leader’s warn­ing over the fu­ture of F1

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Front Page -

Chris­tian Horner is aware that he will be ac­cused of se­lec­tive me­mory at best and rank hypocrisy at worst when he de­clares “the big­gest turn-off in any sport is when you have a se­rial win­ner”. As the ar­chi­tect of four suc­ces­sive dou­ble world cham­pi­onships from 2010 to 2013, it is hard to re­mem­ber Horner com­plain­ing too much about ‘the Red Bull years’.

“Sure, I ac­cept that,” he smiles. “But if you look at the sta­tis­tics, OK, we won 13 races in 2013. That was our most dom­i­nant year. But in 2010 there were four driv­ers on the grid at that fi­nal race in Abu Dhabi – [Mark] Web­ber, [Fer­nando] Alonso, [Se­bas­tian] Vet­tel and [Lewis] Hamilton – all of whom could have come away as world cham­pi­ons.

“And then again in 2012, when we left Europe, Se­bas­tian had only won one grand prix, in Va­len­cia. It went down to Brazil, in the rain, with a prang for Seb on the first lap and ev­ery­one was on ten­ter­hooks. So it’s very easy to say, ‘Oh, Red Bull won four in a row, it was bor­ing.’ But ac­tu­ally, two of those were in­cred­i­bly ex­cit­ing.”

Whether Horner is right or wrong about how thrilling that pe­riod was, he is right when he says that fans would pre­fer to see a closer con­test.

This year has seen an im­prove­ment on that front, with Fer­rari a far bet­ter match for Mercedes. But the cham­pi­onship is still at best a twohorse race and Horner be­lieves the net should be widened still fur­ther.

“It’s great that Se­bas­tian has been in the fight this year,” Horner says. “We have seen an up­turn in in­ter­est as a re­sult. We are six and a half per cent up in view­ing fig­ures. Peo­ple are com­ing to the tracks again… But wouldn’t it be great if we could have Lewis, Se­bas­tian, Max [Ver­stap­pen], Daniel [Ric­cia­rdo], even Fer­nando [Alonso], all box­ing it out for the cham­pi­onship? That’s what F1 needs.”

Sit­ting in Red Bull’s mo­torhome in the Suzuka pad­dock, it is in­ter­est­ing lis­ten­ing to the man who be­came For­mula One’s youngest team prin­ci­pal back in 2004 putting the case for a more egal­i­tar­ian sport.

Horner’s star has fallen some­what in the last four years, par­tic­u­larly since the de­par­ture of his men­tor Bernie Ec­cle­stone, a keen ad­mirer. But he re­mains in­flu­en­tial and he be­lieves F1 is “at a cross­roads” now in terms of which di­rec­tion it takes next, with its very fu­ture as a sport on the line.

Asked about F1’s new owner, Lib­erty Me­dia – which took over from CVC Cap­i­tal Part­ners 12 months ago – Horner sounds equiv­o­cal, say­ing only that the Amer­i­cans are do­ing things “very dif­fer­ently to Bernie”, and “time will tell” whether they will do it any bet­ter. “Bernie’s style was very dic­ta­to­rial,” Horner adds. “It was his train set and he ran it the way he wanted to. When he was op­er­at­ing at his peak, with Max Mosley, he had the whole thing tucked up. Prob­a­bly in re­al­ity he didn’t care too much about the fans. He cared about the num­bers.

“One could ar­gue it’s more re­laxed now. And it’s cer­tainly far more about the fans, which is cer­tainly good.”

One sus­pects Horner’s ultimate ver­dict on Lib­erty will de­pend on what they do next. Horner has been a critic of the cur­rent en­gines, which came into ef­fect in 2014 when 2.4-litre nat­u­rally-as­pi­rated V8s were re­placed by a tur­bocharged 1.6-litre V6. The switch, he says, has done “a lot of dam­age.” Not only in terms of com­pe­ti­tion, with Mercedes go­ing from also-rans to vir­tu­ally un­beat­able cour­tesy of su­pe­rior horse­power. But also in terms of en­ter­tain­ment. “From a cost point of view, from a spec­ta­cle point of view, from a com­pet­i­tive point of view, this en­gine has been a dis­as­ter,” Horner says.

“Tak­ing away the sound was a bit like go­ing to a pop con­cert or a rock con­cert with the vol­ume turned down. That was part of the DNA of the sport.”

Horner says that Ec­cle­stone was “old enough and wise enough” to see what would hap­pen – that the man­u­fac­tur­ers would spend mil­lions on “a tech­nol­ogy war that the guy in the grand­stand can’t un­der­stand or see.” It is not too late, though. The next move, Horner says, is crit­i­cal. The new en­gine, due in 2021, must be “sim­pler, with a smaller bracket of per­for­mance di­ver­gence”, and there should be an in­de­pen­dent en­gine man­u­fac­turer sup­ply­ing teams at a rea­son­able cost.

And in no way, Horner adds, should Lib­erty be swayed by the car in­dus­try’s move to­wards elec­tric.

“This de­ci­sion has to be right,” he says. “You’ve got dif­fer­ent gov­ern­ments and man­u­fac­tur­ers say­ing, ‘Oh, we’ll be elec­tric and au­ton­o­mous by 2030, or what­ever. In my view For­mula One is at a cross­roads. What is its pur­pose? We have For­mula E, and a lot of man­u­fac­tur­ers are mor­ph­ing into that area. But the emo­tion, the en­ter­tain­ment, the ex­cite­ment of those cars just isn’t there.

“F1, ul­ti­mately, is man and ma­chine at its ab­so­lute limit. It is modern-day char­iot rac­ing. Or it should be. Per­son­ally, I would go back to V12s, which make a tremen­dous noise and have open cock­pits and make the driv­ers he­roes again. I ac­cept that the reg­u­la­tor and the com­mer­cial rights holder can’t go quite that far. But they are lean­ing more in that di­rec­tion than a tech­nol­ogy war that the guy in the grand­stand doesn’t un­der­stand.”

And one that might just make Red Bull com­pet­i­tive again? Horner smiles. “I ac­cept that [charge],” he says. “But step out of those shoes for a mo­ment. The changes Lib­erty are go­ing to make will af­fect the next 10 years. It is so im­por­tant to get it right.

“They have got the right peo­ple in the right po­si­tions, with [new man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of mo­tor­sport] Ross Brawn and the peo­ple he has around him. Ross is a strate­gic thinker. We need to trust him and Chase [Carey, F1’s new CEO] to do the right thing.”

Feel the noise: Chris­tian Horner be­lieves switch­ing to tur­bocharged en­gines has been a ‘dis­as­ter’, not least be­cause they are so quiet

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