Mercedes domination worse than a jail sentence, says Horner


As Toto Wolff and his drivers bemoan Red Bull's current domination of the sport, Christian Horner says those eight seasons when Mercedes ruled the roost were worse than a jail sentence.

Whatever one might think of the end result in 2021, the fact is that Red Bull and Mercedes were pretty evenly matched, the Austrian team claiming 11 wins to its rival's 9, though the Silvers Arrows edged the Constructors' Championship by 28 points.

However, the 2022 regulation overhaul appeared to catch a number of teams on the back foot, none more so than the three-pointed star, and unfortunately its difficulties have carried over into the current season.

Despite dominating for eight seasons, facing the prospect of Max Verstappen claiming his third title with Red Bull, Toto Wolff and his drivers never miss an opportunity to bemoan Red Bull's dominance, along with none too subtle calls to the powers that be to end it... if only for the sake of the fans. Won't somebody think about the fans!

However, recalling those eight seasons of Mercedes domination, Christian Horner has hit back, insisting that the German team "had it easy".

"Seven long years, that's a long time," he tells ESPN's Unlapped podcast. "You get less for crimes!" he laughed.

"We had to wait to get back into a competitive position," he continues. "We had to do a lot of watching of a lot of Mercedes winning and so on. But we never lost sight of our target, we were still winning races every single year at circuits we could excel at.

"We never lost that target, it was just about putting the missing pieces into place. Then when we got a competitive power unit, bang, we were able to go toe to toe with Mercedes.

"They were lucky to have it so easy when we were running one-legged," he adds.

Now the situation is reversed, and it is Red Bull that sets the benchmark and continually raises it. However, Horner claims that he is as surprised as anyone by his team's dominance thus far this season.

"We could never have imagined in our wildest dreams that we're heading into summer break unbeaten in both grand prix and sprint races," he says. "In February we knew we had a good car but we expected Ferrari to build on last year and we expected Mercedes to be there also. It completely took us by surprise how competitive we were compared to our opponents."

Red Bull's previous period of dominance covered four seasons ending in 2013, however it was the introduction of the hybrid formula in 2014 that saw Mercedes become the sport's driving force.

"We came off a winning streak and suddenly we had no chance," says Horner. "We were turning up at races and had no chance of success. I think that tested the team in many respects, it would have been very easy for a lot of people to have left the team at that point.

"The races we won we had to scrap hard for, we had to be super, super sharp because we were running with a handicap, effectively. If you look at the races we won in those years many of them were opportunistic wins or wins at circuits where power didn't play a pivotal focus.

"I think that just made us match fit for when... I think 2021 was probably the most epic season in the history of the sport. But we were ready for that challenge, we were battle hardened from those intervening years."

Asked how the current season compares to 2021, Horner is in no doubt. "I sleep better at the moment than I did in 2021," he says. "I'd rather have 250 points in the pocket than two. I didn't have a single grey hair before (2021), it aged me.

"We're only about 19 months on from 2021 and it's amazing how things change," he continues. "In '21 we were the challenger, we were the David, Mercedes the Goliath. They'd steamrollered the previous seven years in the sport. We were the challenger, we had nothing to lose, we were throwing everything at it, and we pulled it off.

"2023... suddenly we've produced a great car and we've started winning and serial winning and then you very much become a target and people are trying to take your staff, or your sponsors, or try and cause issues elsewhere with whatever politics they can play.

"It's a lonely place when you're at the top but I think the way the team has responded has been fantastic and the results we achieved in '22 were insane... the fact we might match that or even beat that in '23 is beyond crazy."

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Published: 08/08/2023
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