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Christian Horner: Red Bull chief reflects on historic 2023 Formula 1 season and looks ahead to 2024 challenges

Sky Sports News reporter Craig Slater joined Red Bull team principal Christian Horner at his home to discuss a historic 2023 Formula 1 season and the prospect of Mercedes, Ferrari and McLaren launching title challenges in 2024

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Sky Sports' Craig Slater joins Christian Horner at his home in England to chat about the challenges facing Red Bull next season and to get his own lesson on horse riding!

What a difference a change of paddock makes.  At the season's end, Christian Horner swaps a paddock of vendettas, politics, cranky media, pampered celebrities and frenzied fans, for a grassy one with a few horses.

At his Oxfordshire home, complete with "another kind of paddock" for his horses, he resists any notion Red Bull have been winning at a canter. "We're still recovering from 2021, I didn't have any grey hairs before then," he responds, when asked about Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton potentially fighting for a world championship again.

Is he more conscious of the toll his as team principal job takes? Horner turned 50 in November. He's still F1's second youngest team boss, but if his stables offer "recharge time", there must be precious little of it.

"You've got to be accessible," he says. "I see my role as team principal and CEO. For 52 weeks of the year, I am CEO of a high performing technology business with Red Bull Racing, Red Bull Power Trains and Red Bull Advanced Technology. If I am not at the racetrack, I am in the factory from Monday to Friday. As team principal, I attend every single race. I have attended every Grand Prix Red Bull have competed in since 2005. People need to see the boss. (Not attending a race) would be like Alex Ferguson not going to a football match."

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Max Verstappen wins yet another Grand Prix to close the curtain on the 2023 F1 season

Sir Alex enjoys his horses, and Horner refers to his (kissing one on the muzzle) as "part of the family". Is football kinder to family life? Premier League teams are full of young dads. F1 almost feels like a form of birth control. Only three drivers (Sergio Perez, Nico Hulkenberg and Kevin Magnussen) are parents. Williams boss James Vowles recently welcomed his first child at 44. Is a work-life balance possible?

"Leaving home and leaving family is always tough for anyone that travels a lot," Horner says. "2023 was a tough calendar - 2024 looks even more so, with even more races. The most important time is when you are at home with the family. You leave the phone on the sideboard. I've got a young family and that time is very precious. I try to make (the school-run) a bit of a thing, if I can get back on a Sunday evening. If I can take the children to school on a Monday morning, it is a bit of normality."

Being 'dad' to the Red Bull family is his other normality. After 18 years in the hotseat, is he now adept at dealing with drivers' egos and sibling rivalries? How Horner manages the return of 'prodiga'" Red Bull son Daniel Ricciardo at Alpha Tauri with Sergio Perez still incumbent at the senior team, over the coming months, will be interesting.

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"Checo is a very capable racer and being Max's team-mate is a very tough gig," he says. "I think he has shown real mental strength to be able to cope with that. The area he needs to focus on is Saturday; making sure that his average qualifying is a lot closer to Max. We need him starting further up the grid, particularly if the grid is going to converge. We can't afford to have a lot of cars between him and Max.

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Red Bull team principal Christian Horner says 'everything is open' for the team's second seat in 2025 with incumbent Sergio Perez and AlphaTauri's Daniel Ricciardo set to be among their options

"2024 is a big year. A lot of drivers' contracts are coming to a close. We've got great talent in our own stable. Of course the car is very attractive for other drivers to want to be in." When asked if there have been echoes of Ayrton Senna offering to drive the Williams for nothing, Horner says: "There's been a little bit of that, but there's no guarantees of anything. Checo is our driver. If he does well, we'll want to keep him for 2025, but it's all about how he performs in relation to his team-mate."

There are older members of the Red Bull clan to think about too. Helmut Marko has been the team's advisor from the outset, but at 80, for how much longer will he carry on? Nonpareil designer Adrian Newey turned 65 on Boxing Day. Has keeping Newey in the fold (and out of Ferrari's clutches) been Horner's greatest managerial achievement?

"Adrian has played a key role in the team over the years and that role has evolved over the last 18 years," Horner says. "What is great, as well, is that we have such great strength in depth in our technical team. Adrian with his wealth of experience is able to mentor and develop that team - as well as designing the RB17 our first ever track sportscar which will be unveiled in 2024."

Red Bull have lost Rob Marshall who packaged the car's essentials within Newey's 'size zero' designs. January 1 sees him start at McLaren, who many think could be Red Bull's biggest rivals in 2024.

"I think McLaren had a great second half of the year," Horner says. "There were times when they were our closest competitor. They have strengthened their team and Rob will be an asset, but it's not just about one person. There are seven or eight hundred people in an F1 team and it needs the whole team to come together. With Lando (Norris) and Oscar (Piastri) - who was really impressive as a debutant - they could well be a factor next year."

If McLaren finished last year the form horse among the chasing pack, what about the prancing horse, Ferrari?

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Christian Horner explains the story behind a photo with rival Toto Wolff in the paddock which went viral

"Ferrari is a different type of team, a national team," Horner adds. "There is a pressure which comes with that and the Italian media is absolutely brutal and scrutinise every move. There is just huge expectation. Fred (Vasseur) is a capable guy and a racer and Ferrari are a big animal in F1. Expectation will be very high for them next year." Have the mind games already started…

What about horsepower? Newey admitted questioning his F1 future during Mercedes' post 2014 hegemony when Red Bull's Renault engine lacked competitiveness. Red Bull will build its own engine for 2026, with its new partner Ford perhaps playing a fuller technical role over time. I put it to Horner that 2026 might provide an opportunity for Mercedes and therefore Hamilton, F1's engine equalisation protocols notwithstanding.

"There is an equalisation mechanism in the rules, but it always has a latency around it, usually a 12-month delay," Horner says. "We've invested in the UK along with our partners, together with Ford, to have the engine facility on campus. Now we've got a factory, state-of-the-art facilities and close to 500 people working on the 2026 engine. But going from nothing to taking on Mercedes, Ferrari, Honda, Renault and Audi, we're looking forward to it but it's a bold move, even though it's one we think will pay off in the long term."

"With stable regulations we'll get into diminishing returns anyway. We're probably closer to the top of the development curve already. We're fully expecting Ferrari or Mercedes or even Aston Martin to be contenders next year."

24 races in 2024! Watch every round of next season live on Sky Sports F1, starting with the Bahrain Grand Prix from February 29-March 2. Stream every F1 race and more with a NOW membership.

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