Christian Horner could hardly be more blunt. “After testing we quite clearly have a car which doesn’t have the ultimate pace, and doesn’t have the reliability. So they are fairly two fundamental factors that we need to get on top of,” he says, with a rueful smile.
Horner is not a man who is accustomed to failure. The new Formula One season, which begins in Melbourne next weekend, will be his 10th in charge of Red Bull: under his stewardship, the team has won eight championships in the last four years and he has not tasted defeat in any race since last July.
But this pre-season has been his most turbulent by far. His champion driver, Sebastian Vettel, has completed just 155 laps this winter, and ended last weekend’s final practice in Bahrain helping to push his troubled car back into the pits.
It was enough to prompt Red Bull’s senior adviser, Dr Helmut Marko, to suggest the team could struggle to catch up on lost ground all season and, while Horner refuses to countenance that scenario, he cannot disguise his frustrations at seeing his team transformed from indomitable force to embarrassment in the space of just a few months.
“Pre-season hasn’t gone anywhere near as well as we would have liked or hoped, but it doesn’t in any way defer our challenge, and make a dent in our drive and our ambition — if anything it only fuels it further,” Horner says.
But will Red Bull, with their struggling Renault power unit, even manage to make it out of the first round of qualifying, usually reserved for the minnows of Formula One?
“To be honest with you, we have no real idea. We know we don’t have the pace to challenge the Mercedes teams at the moment, but it’s very much a case of see where we are in Melbourne. Then we know the scale and magnitude of what we have to climb.
“We don’t even know our starting point at the moment, so it’s impossible to make predictions sitting here in Milton Keynes a week prior to the first race. But I have every confidence in the team, and in Renault, that we can make it. Our target is (to catch up) as soon as possible.”
The relish with which Red Bull’s woes have been greeted in some quarters, and the rapidity with which they have been written off, is perhaps a partly understandable response to their dominance in 2013, but given the size of their burgeoning trophy cabinet, and the quality of their 500-strong workforce, it would seem premature.
As the 40 year-old points out: “We have enjoyed great success in the last five years, and we’ve got a very talented group of people. It’s exactly the same group of people designing the current car. I don’t think we’re paying too much attention to what people are saying.