Holder of both championship titles, Christian Horner says Red Bull are motivated by the transition from ‘hunter to hunted’.
Losing the championship double to Mercedes at the start of the turbo hybrid era, Red Bull spent seven seasons chasing Mercedes until catching up with them in 2021.
That year Max Verstappen beat Lewis Hamilton in the Drivers’ Championship in a head-to-head race which was decided on the last lap of the season.
Verstappen followed that up with a second in 2022 to take the title, while Red Bull also won the Constructors’ trophy.
It was the team’s first double since 2013 and one that put a target firmly on their back.
“It’s a different situation for us,” he said at the launch of Red Bull’s 2023 season. “Defending those titles we go from being the hunter to the hunted and I think everyone in the team is so motivated and fully ready for this challenge.
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“I think we tasted that success last year, some subtle rule changes for this year, everyone at the factory is pushing hard and we are excited to see the car for the race for the first time.
“Only three days of testing before going racing. And then they’ll be spending nine months traveling around the world, racing at these different venues and I think this year is going to be an incredibly competitive year.
The team leader minimizes the “favorite” tag.
Red Bull enter the new season as favorites to once again secure the titles.
Although the team has to prepare for 2023 with a budget cap penalty, Red Bull has limited R&D time as punishment for exceeding its spending cap in 2021, such was the team’s lead last season that few believe he will make a major impact this season.
Horner disagreed with that sentiment and called the penalty a “significant handicap that we carry most of the year.”
He also refutes suggestions that Red Bull are the favourites, adamant that it is whoever has the fastest car at the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix.
“Because of what we achieved last year, we will start the season with that title,” he admitted to Auto Motor und Sport, “but it means nothing to me.
“I think the favorite is whoever has the best car in Bahrain.”
Verstappen also wants the best start
But while Horner fears the penalty could hurt Red Bull, Verstappen says the team is just getting on with the job at hand.
One of those jobs involves a better start than last season when the Dutchman suffered two retirements in the first three races.
Behind Charles Leclerc by 46 points after Australia, Verstappen battled to win the title with 146 points.
“I mean, for sure, I don’t think it hangs over us because we never really talk about it,” Verstappen said in response to a question from PlanetF1.com about Red Bull’s penalty.
“We’re just very focused on what we’re doing right now, obviously we try to put everything into the car, into what we’ve developed and we try to get off to a very good start.
“We will definitely start the year better than we had last year and then from there, we’ll see.
“I mean, it’s hard to predict what’s going to happen. Are we good enough? Will we be fast enough? I do not know.”