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Parc Ferme: An F1 engine epiphany

Horner: Domenicali has been asking us to make racing closer

Parc Ferme: An F1 engine epiphany

Christian Horner joked after the 2024 Emilia Grand Prix when he said Formula 1 CEO Stefano Domenicali has asked Red Bull to come off the gas and keep racing closer.

There is no hiding that Red Bull’s dominance of the sport since that start of the current era of regulations in 2022 has reduced the excitement of racing, but since the start of the 2024 F1 season, the reigning Champions have not been as dominant as before.

Carlos Sainz won in Melbourne after Max Verstappen’s brakes failed on the first lap, while Lando Norris won in Miami as the Dutchman struggled for pace.

The story was the same at Imola last weekend, as Red Bull could not get their RB20 in the right window from the start but did well to make modifications before qualifying as Verstappen took pole but by the slightest of margins, while during the race, he could not pull out a big gap and came under pressure from Norris towards the end, the latter though failing to catch and pass the reigning F1 Champion.

Verstappen delivered despite pressure

Verstappen celebrates a double win at Imola on Sunday

Facing the media at Imola on Sunday afternoon after the race, Horner was cheekily asked whether they deliberately slowed down to make things exciting.

The Briton played along responding in a classic Horner tongue-in-cheek moment: “Stefano [Domenicali] has been asking us for weeks to try to make it closer at the end…

“But no, in all seriousness in the first stint on the Medium [tyre] it felt like we got everything under control and Max was able to build up to an eight-second gap around the pitstop.

“The car was performing very well on the Medium and particularly some of the areas that we had been weak on Friday in sector two, he was very much setting the pace.

“After we changed on to the Hard tyre, the first half of the stint was absolutely fine but as the gauge wears down on the tyre temperature becomes crucial and we started to lose temperature in the tyre and with that performance.

“We didn’t get as much out of the tyre as Lando who, at one point, very much looked like was under pressure from Leclerc and then suddenly their [McLaren] car turned on and he started to come hard at the end of the race.

“I think the other thing that made is particularly stressful at the end of the race was that Max had already had three strikes on track limits so we couldn’t afford, or Max couldn’t afford, to make a single mistake on the limits.

“He delivered brilliantly so despite significant pressure he was able to manage it and keep Lando just out of DRS,” Horner pointed out.

Red Bull should’ve focused on the Hard tyre

Verstappen: I was counting down the laps until the end

Norris said after the race that he needed a couple of laps more to catch Verstappen, but Horner said his driver would’ve been in trouble on fuel when asked how the output would’ve been had the race actually been longer.

He responded: “We’d have been vulnerable on fuel… so it worked out. Probably with hindsight we maybe would’ve been better running the Hard long on Friday just because we opted to take two new hard tyres into the race and maybe I would’ve been better to get the information on the tyre.

“But when you look at the turnaround that we had from Friday into Saturday to get the pole and to them get the victory again today it has been a phenomenal performance by the team but also Max has been incredible again this weekend. He has had to work very hard for both pole position and the victory,” he explained.

While McLaren and Ferrari have been hard at work bringing major upgrades to their cars, Red Bull have only brought some bits and pieces, and Horner reckons that played a factor in his team’s recent struggles.

Asked whether McLaren’s form was genuine or down to the track, he said: “I think it is a bit of both, over a five or six race period, they introduced an upgrade at the last race and they were quick.

“We brought a modest upgrade here and it delivered what we expected,” he revealed. “And I think the recovery from Friday to Saturday was very strong and what we managed to achieve on the medium tyre was very strong.

“I think we need to look at why were we weak in the second half of the stint because it was only the second half of the stint on the Hard tyre compared to Lando,” Horner maintained.

(Reporting by Agnes Carlier from Imola)