"I'm sure he's got something they're working on," says Christian Horner of Toto Wolff's Mercedes, who want fightback against Red Bull in 2024; Max Verstappen set to clinch F1 drivers' title in Qatar, with first chance in the Sprint this Saturday at 6.30pm on Sky Sports F1
Monday 2 October 2023 11:14, UK
Red Bull boss Christian Horner envisages his Mercedes counterpart and rival Toto Wolff "plotting" how to get his team back to the front of Formula 1.
Speaking about Wolff in an interview with Sky Sports News, Horner said: "For me sport is about rivalry. It's great to have rivalry.
"There has to be a respect, but sport isn't sport without rivalry.
"Obviously we haven't seen much of him the last couple of years but I'm sure he's plotting. I'm sure he's got something that they're working on.
"They're a great team. They are a big team. They have got great drivers. They'll be looking to fight back."
Red Bull have supplanted Mercedes over the past two seasons as F1's dominant force.
Fresh from clinching the Constructors' Championship last time out in Japan, Max Verstappen is poised to wrap up his third successive drivers' crown at this weekend's Qatar GP - most likely as early as Saturday's Sprint, which starts at 6.30pm live on Sky Sports F1.
Before last year and F1's big rules reset, Mercedes had won eight successive constructors' titles in an unprecedented run of success.
They currently find themselves in a fight with Ferrari for second in the Constructors' Championship with both giants having scored less than half of Red Bull's points this year. Mercedes have however promised major changes for their 2024 car and Wolff, who will return to the paddock this weekend after not traveling to Japan due to knee surgery, said in Singapore they were "really looking at the results with an encouraging perspective" from the wind tunnel.
Horner saw Red Bull's first wave of title success in 2010-13 brought to a shuddering halt by Mercedes nine years ago at the dawn of F1's new hybrid turbo engines and, having taken time to recover to title success, he said: "It hurts when you're losing and if it doesn't hurt then you shouldn't be doing it.
"We had a long period, six to seven seasons, of hurt, of being the bridesmaid. But we never lost sight of where we wanted to be. We were the team to break that [Mercedes] domination, and everything goes in cycles.
"At some point somebody will beat us.
"Now, whether it's Mercedes, or Ferrari, or McLaren, or Aston Martin, or whoever, we don't know. But all we can control is what we're doing. So that's what we're focused on, is ourselves."
For now, there appears no stopping the Red Bull juggernaut.
They followed up their sudden slump in form and first Sunday defeat of 2023 in Singapore with one of their most impressive showings a week later at Suzuka, where Verstappen swept to his 13th victory of the season and the team's 15th.
Verstappen is set to be crowned 2023's champion in Qatar with the Dutchman requiring just a sixth-place finish in Saturday's 19-lap Sprint to be sure of wrapping things up even before Sunday's Grand Prix.
Asked how he felt about the unusual prospect of winning a title on a Saturday, Horner said: "We don't care when we win it - as long as we win it.
"It's about getting that trophy, getting that third title to his name. The fact that it's done in Qatar on a Saturday evening would make Sunday even more enjoyable to go into that grand prix, if he achieves it, as a three-time world champion. So I don't think it really matters."
Asked if Verstappen, who turned 26 on Saturday, had the potential to eventually set a new record for F1 title wins, Horner stressed that "eight is a huge amount of distance away".
He said that while Verstappen is proud of what he achieving, he is always focused forward and on the short term.
"There are not many drivers with more than three [titles]. You've got Sebastian [Vettel], Alain Prost, [Juan-Manuel] Fangio, Michael Schumacher and Lewis Hamilton," said Horner.
"It's a pretty select club he'll enter when he wins his third world title.
"For him, he's just an out-and-out racer. I know he's proud of what he's doing and achieving, but he's forward-looking. He's not rearward looking and I think that for him it's about the next race.
"There is still six races to go this year and I know he's motivated to try and win all of them."
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Will Max Verstappen wrap up his third world championship at the first attempt at the Qatar GP? Watch every session of the Sprint weekend live on Sky Sports F1 from October 6-8. Stream every F1 race and more with NOW for £21 a month for six months