Christian Horner has admitted he expects the 2022 Formula 1 title battle between Red Bull and Ferrari to stay close beyond the summer break, but was less courteous about Mercedes taking a step forward over the summer break.
The two teams have been evenly matched on pace but a series of errors from Ferrari has enabled Max Verstappen to take an ominous 63-point over Charles Leclerc in the Drivers’ Championship after Leclerc crashed out of the lead of the 2022 French Grand Prix.
“I think the second half of the season is going to be very competitive, we’ve got different circuits, different challenges coming up and there’s some interesting venues coming up,” Red Bull boss Horner said.
“Hungary next weekend I suspect will probably play more to Ferrari‘s strengths than ours, then we’ve got some circuits after the break that maybe come back towards us a little bit, so it’s going to be fascinating to see how it moves around over the next few races.”
However, he said he didn’t expect Mercedes to join the fight at the front immediately after the break.
“They’re chipping away at it, getting closer,” Horner said. “I think Toto [Wolff] said they’re going to work on it throughout the summer break to improve the car, which would of course be illegal. But you can see they’re getting closer and closer.”
Article 21.8 of F1’s sporting regulations states: “All Competitors must observe a shutdown period of fourteen (14) consecutive days during the months of July and / or August.”
French GP battle would’ve been close
Horner added he thought Red Bull might’ve had the edge at Paul Ricard even without Leclerc’s premature retirement.
“It’s a shame we didn’t get to see how it would’ve played out,” Horner said. “Again you can see it’s very very tight between the two teams, we were very quick in Sector 2, similar in 1 and a bit slower in 3.”
Leclerc led from pole in the early stages of the race but Verstappen stayed close to his rival and was able to put pressure on Leclerc.
However, he pitted on Lap 17, one lap before Leclerc lost control of his Ferrari and span into the barrier at Turn 11.
“It was interesting because Max was able to stay much closer to Charles for a long period of time without the tyres getting stratospherically hot,” Horner added.
“The race was running ok, we couldn’t get close enough in Turn 6 onto the straight to really capitalise on the DRS, so therefore that’s why we banked the track position and I think we’d have been able to defend reasonably comfortably with the speed we had in Sector 2.”
However, he had a very definitive answer on the difference between the two teams in the championship. Aside from the edge in the Driver Standings, Red Bull also lead their rivals in the Constructors’ Championship by 82 points.
Despite a pointless opening round in Bahrain and another non-finish for Verstappen in round three in Australia, Ferrari have suffered seven retirements this season.
“You’ve got to grab your opportunities and that’s very important for the championships,” Horner said.