Christian Horner is hoping that lady luck can smile on Red Bull once again at Silverstone to give the team a chance of pushing Mercedes at the front of the field.
So far this season, Mercedes has been a tour de force in Formula 1, winning seven of the eight races and leading both championships comfortably. The only blot on its scoresheet came in Canada when problems on both cars allowed Daniel Ricciardo to claim his maiden grand prix victory.
Horner knows that under normal circumstances, the Silver Arrows will be impossible to beat, but he is hoping that if the German team does slip up again, Red Bull will be waiting in the wings to take full advantage at Silverstone.
“All things being equal obviously the Mercedes have got such an advantage at the moment it’s going to be tough to beat them, but as we saw in Montreal recently, anything can happen and we’re going to be pushing hard,” the team principal explained.
“Renault are working hard on their side and hopefully we can give them a bit of a run for their money.”
Renault’s engines have been down on power so far this season, and this was particularly harmful in Austria where Red Bull could score just four points. Horner is hoping that the team can bounce back at Silverstone, especially with most of the team being present given that the track is not far from the factory.
“It’s fantastic that we’ve got so many of the factory attending the race, and we have a team grandstand so everyone can sit together and cheer on the guys on track,” he said. “The factory is only about 20 minutes away from the circuit so it’s fantastic to have so many of the team attend the race, to see their cars that they work on tirelessly all year, it is their one opportunity to see them live in action. And it gives an extra element for the race team as well, knowing their colleagues and families are in the crowd supporting them.”
Although a fourth victory in six years may be off the cards, Red Bull should still be looking for a sixth straight podium finish at Silverstone, even if it is trailing the Mercedes cars.
“We’re hoping to give Toronto and Ontario and Canadian sports fans in general something to cheer about over the next season,” Hinchcliffe quipped during a teleconference on Wednesday.
Granted, there are likely to be several challenges to overcome, notably for Wickens, who returns to single-seater competition for the first time since 2011, when he was a champion of the Formula Renault 3.5 series and served as test driver for the now defunct Manor Racing (then known as Marussia Virgin Racing).
Having spent every year since then in DTM, where he won a total of six races and finished as high as fourth in the championship (2016), Wickens knows returning to open wheel competition will be an adjustment. However, he explained that the history of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, specifically its Indy Lights history, speaks to their ability to help a driver adapt, and he rates the program they’re putting together very highly.
“I think Schmidt Peterson Motorsports have a fantastic driver development program. They showed that in their multiple Indy Lights championships along the way. I think we will have a strong program in place. I have a feeling that the simulator will be my new best friend,” Wickens said when asked about getting reacquainted with an open-wheel car.
Of course, having an experienced teammate like Hinchcliffe to lean on will undoubtedly help the transition, something Wickens readily admitted.
“I’m very fortunate that I have James as my teammate because he’s so experienced, I can learn off him. Because we already have such a good off-track relationship, I feel like you can just take his word, trust him, kind of move forward with it,” he revealed.
They’ve been teammates before, both in karting where they first met in 2001, and then in the now-defunct A1 Grand Prix series in 2007-2008, a series that pitted nations against each other in spec open-wheel cars. Funnily, that A1GP type of vibe returns as Schmidt Peterson Motorsports now has that with its “Team Canada” mantra while all four of Andretti Autosport’s full-season drivers are American.
For Hinchcliffe, Wickens’ background, even if it hasn’t been in the single-seater realm since 2011, was a big selling point in adding him to the team.
“In Robby, we have a proven winner at a very high level. The level of technical expertise that he comes with from his time in DTM is very impressive,” he said of Wickens’ technical background.
Hinchcliffe revealed that Wickens’ feedback to the team and his ability to quickly adapt to the chassis took everyone somewhat by surprise.
“We did our ride swap. He had two hours in the car, hardly anything even resembling a test day, and his performance was pretty impressive. No doubt the time in Road America helped because that really gave us a better sense of his technical feedback, integrated with the team a little bit more. Everybody was happy to work with him on that day,” said Hinchcliffe.
Further still, Hinchcliffe is firm in his belief that the 2018 aero kit and its reduction in aerodynamic downforce will fall right into Wickens’ wheelhouse, based on Hinchcliffe’s own take after sampling Wickens’ DTM Mercedes earlier this year.
“In all honesty, I was saying earlier today, the 2018 car is probably better suited for him than the 2017 car because of the experience he’s had the last handful of series,” Hinchcliffe asserted.
“The (aero kit) was such high downforce, it would be a big change coming out of DTM. But with the loss of downforce that we’ve seen, the car is moving around a little bit more, brake zones, things like that, it won’t be as big a transition I think. Just based on the experience that I got in our ride swap, I think he’s going to adapt very quickly, be comfortable very quickly, and as a result be competitive very quickly. So it’s going to be exciting.”
As for expectations heading into next year, team co-owner Schmidt did not mince words and expects the team’s performance to resemble what they did in 2012, 2013, and 2014, when they won a total of four races (with driver Simon Pagenaud) and finished in the top five in the championship each year.
“We had a stint in ’12, ’13, ’14 where we finished fifth in the points (or better. I think we want to get back to that level of competition,” Schmidt added. “We felt like we were missing things in having two cars with equal funding and equal drivers and equal capabilities. We think this gets back there.”