Christian Horner likens Mercedes' dominant years to a jail sentence

Christian Horner likens Mercedes' dominant years to a jail sentence (0:48)

Christian Horner says Red Bull "never lost sight" of their target during Mercedes' seven-year reign as F1 champions. (0:48)

Christian Horner says Red Bull's current dominant position in Formula One is doubly satisfying as it comes after years of watching Mercedes crush all opposition, a period of time he likened to a jail sentence.

Red Bull is currently undefeated in 2023 and is on course to comfortably retain both the constructors' championship and Max Verstappen's drivers' title.

Verstappen ended Mercedes' run of seven straight drivers' titles when he beat Lewis Hamilton in 2021.

Speaking on ESPN's Unlapped podcast this week, Horner said the Mercedes years seemed to go on forever.

"Seven long years... that's a long time," Horner said of the Mercedes era. "You get less for crimes!

"We had to wait to get back into a competitive position. We had to do a lot of watching of a lot of Mercedes winning and so on. But we never lost sight of our target, we were still winning races every single year at circuits we could excel at.

"We never lost that target, it was just about putting the missing pieces into place. Then when we got a competitive power unit, bang, we were able to go toe to toe with Mercedes."

Horner then quipped: "They were lucky to have it so easy when we were running one-legged!"

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While there had been hopes of a close title fight coming into the season, the reality of Red Bull's advantage quickly became apparent in the opening rounds.

Horner said Red Bull has been as surprised as anyone at their advantage.

"We could never have imagined in our wildest dreams that we're heading into summer break unbeaten in both grand prix and sprint races. In February we knew we had a good car but we expected Ferrari to build on last year and we expected Mercedes to be there also.

"Yeah, completely took us by surprise how competitive we were compared to our opponents."

Red Bull won four straight titles between 2010 and 2013, before Mercedes rose to the top of the order with the introduction of V6 turbo engines in 2014.

Horner felt that spell was crucial to setting up this current Red Bull era. "They were hugely important, because they galvanized the team," Horner said. "We came off a winning streak and suddenly we had no chance.

"We were turning up at races and had no chance of success. I think that tested the team in many respects, it would have been very easy for a lot of people to have left the team at that point.

"The races we won we had to scrap hard for, we had to be super, super sharp because we were running with a handicap, effectively. If you look at the races we won in those years many of them were opportunistic wins or wins at circuits where power didn't play a pivotal focus.

"I think that just made us match fit for when... I think 2021 was probably the most epic season in the history of the sport. But we were ready for that challenge, we were battle hardened from those intervening years."

On how 2023 compares to a season as close as 2021, Horner replied: "I sleep better at the moment than I did in 2021! I'd rather have 250 points in the pocket than two. I didn't have a single grey hair before [2021], it aged me."

Horner suggested his team is already very aware of being the team with a target on its back.

He added: "We're only about 19 months on from 2021 and it's amazing how things change. In '21 we were the challenger, we were the David, Mercedes the Goliath. They'd steamrollered the previous seven years in the sport.

"We were the challenger, we had nothing to lose, we were throwing everything at it, and we pulled it off.

"2023, suddenly we've produced a great car and we've started winning and serial winning and then you very much become a target and people are trying to take your staff, or your sponsors, or try and cause issues elsewhere with whatever politics they can play.

"It's a lonely place when you're at the top but I think the way the team has responded has been fantastic and the results we achieved in '22 were insane... the fact we might match that or even beat that in '23 is beyond crazy."

Verstappen is one win away from equaling Sebastian Vettel's record of nine consecutive victories, set in 2013.

Red Bull is still on for an undefeated season, something no team has ever achieved in Formula One.