Interview: Christian Horner reflects on an incredible 2023 F1 season
It proved to be the most astonishing season for Max Verstappen and Red Bull Racing, littered with record-breaking feats, making it a year that is unlikely to be repeated, accordingto team principal Christian Horner.
Horner suggested it would be some time over Christmas that the enormity of what had been achieved would finally sink in when he would “take a moment to reflect with family and loved ones”.
Verstappen set the record for most wins in a season, 19 from 22 grands prix; for consecutive number of victories, 10; and the highest percentage of wins in a season, 86.36 percent, beating the previous best of 75 percent by Alberto Ascari in 1952, an era when there were only eight races, whilst he also became the first driver to lead for more than 1,000 laps in a season with 1,003.
As a constructor, Red Bull won 21 grands prix, overhauling Mercedes' record of 2016 when it won 19 of 21 races. With a 95.5 percent success rate, it also beat the 93.8 percent of McLaren in 1988 when it won 16 of 17 grands prix.
Horner has long maintained there will be a convergence under the ground-effect, aerodynamic rules that were introduced at the start of last year, and that his rivals will close the gap.
There were glimmers of his suggestion at times over the course of the past campaign, notably from McLaren following the introduction of its upgrade packages in Austria and Singapore. At this stage, if McLaren can resolve the slow-corner issues with its evolutionary successor to the MCL60 next year, Red Bull could finally be challenged.
As for Mercedes and Ferrari, they sputtered into life on occasion in 2023, but rarely threatened. Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said “every component” would be changed for the W15 as his organisation is fundamentally overhauling its car, with Ferrari adopting a similar policy with the architecture of its machinery.
Unless one or the other hit the ground running next season, they may be unable to pose the kind of threat Horner anticipates, even over a record-breaking 24-race campaign.
Worse still for Red Bull’s rivals is that the team has had full wind tunnel and CFD capacity since October after a year of inactivity as a result of its punishment for exceeding the budget cap rules in 2021. The team will have wasted no time in applying its knowledge to the development of the RB20, building on the back of the most successful car in F1’s history.
Horner concedes to possessing “tremendous pride” with the way his team operated over the year, which was virtually faultlessly, certainly on Verstappen’s side of the garage. And Horner insists there will be no let up from Verstappen, with his desire for race wins and titles far from satiated, and even though he now feels the 26-year-old can be classed as one of the greats.
“He’s just at a level where his competitiveness, determination, skill, ability, this hunger that he has, you can see he just wants to get out and get on with his journey,” said Horner, in an interview.
“Since he won the championship (with five races to spare), he's not eased up one ounce, and he's driving with the same gusto and determination as we saw when we first put him in the car, and that's always marked him out as a driver.”
With a word of caution, Horner added: “The fire still burns brightly within him, and we don't see that diminishing at the moment.
“Inevitably it will at some point, but hopefully it's several years down the road.”
If that is the case, Lewis Hamilton’s record of race wins of 103, and his joint-record haul alongside Michael Schumacher of seven titles could be in danger.
“Who knows what he can go on to achieve,” assessed Horner “It's down to us to give him the right product.
“You know he now sits amongst the greats. He is the third most-winning driver of all time, grand prix wise, he's a three-time world champion, which means you can talk about him in the same sentence as some of the greats in the sport."
As for Horner, with Franz Tost’s retirement at the end of the season, he is now the longest-serving team principal in the paddock. Horner also recently turned 50, and following such a remarkable year, it raises the question as to what drives him.
“If you're a competitive person, you're always looking forward, not backward,” said Horner.
“What we've done goes in the history books, and now it’s about 2024 and ‘25.
“And, of course, the biggest challenge we have is producing our own power unit for 2026, which is a Herculean task, the biggest challenge we’ve taken on in Formula 1, but one we’re fully committed to.”
For the next two years, with the current rules in place before a major overhaul for 2026 with the arrival of a new engine, it is hard to see Red Bull and Verstappen not adding to their wins and titles tally. If their stranglehold can be broken, that, like this past year for the team, will be some achievement.