Christian Horner thinks Red Bull are throwing down a challenge Toto Wolff has never experienced in F1 before – a real threat to Mercedes’ dominance.
Team principals Wolff and Horner have become arch-rivals in the style of football managers, their relationship full of tit-for-tat jibes not unlike those between Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger in their pomp, a decade or two ago.
It is all part of Red Bull going toe-to-toe with the seven-time consecutive World Champions now they have a car, a Honda engine and a driver in Max Verstappen all capable of unsettling Mercedes and potentially wresting the titles away from them.
Although he had four years with Williams before joining Mercedes, Wolff’s profile has soared on the same trajectory as his team’s success – but Horner thinks the current situation has put the 49-year-old Austrian under a different intensity of pressure.
“He came into the sport with Mercedes in 2013 and the structure was already in place,” Horner told The Guardian. “Ross Brawn had built that team. Lewis [Hamilton] had already been signed.
“Toto’s done a tremendous job operating the team and maintaining their performance. But of course he’s never experienced anything other than winning. So it’s a different type of pressure now. It’s tough.”
Horner knows full well what it is like when a cycle of success comes to an end – something he hopes Mercedes also have to go through. It happened to Red Bull after they had dominated with Sebastian Vettel from 2010-13.
“It was frustrating,” admitted the 47-year-old Briton. “It’s very easy to lose motivation but there was an inner determination to get back into a winning position.
“We’ve retained tremendous continuity during that period. You look around the engineering office now and many of the people still here were with us from 2010 to 2013. So we’ve had great continuity but we’ve also brought along another generation of talent, youth and capability.
“I think the biggest single factor was the big engine regulation change for 2014. All engine manufacturers other than Mercedes, with Ross, had underestimated the impact.
“So when we turned up in 2014, we were two years behind Mercedes. It’s taken us pretty much to this year to get to a point where we’ve got a power unit capable of going toe-to-toe with them.”
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