Horner delighted with podium after difficult winter

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Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner was in a jubilant mood following today’s Malaysian Grand Prix after Sebastian Vettel finished the race in third place, bringing an end to the team’s ‘winter of discontent.’

Having put more resources into the successful 2013 campaign, Red Bull found themselves on the back foot during winter testing in Spain and Bahrain. The team’s problems were only compounded by engine supplier Renault’s issues, meaning that heading to the first race in Australia, the defending world champions had not completed an entire race distance.

Following Vettel’s early retirement in Australia and Daniel Ricciardo’s disqualification, the team failed to score any points in the first race of the season. Although Ricciardo failed to finish in Malaysia after a luckless race, Vettel’s third place brought some much needed joy to Horner and the Red Bull team.

“Considering where we were a month ago, to be on the podium with Sebastian in Malaysia in a dry race, is an incredible performance,” he explained. “We knew that we had some ground to catch up to the Mercedes, so to finish as close as Sebastian did today was a really positive performance and, while we know we’ve got a lot of work to do, we can begin to realize the scale of our challenge.”

The team failed to challenge Mercedes during the race as Lewis Hamilton led home Nico Rosberg for a dominant one-two, so there is definitely ground to be made up.

As for Ricciardo, Horner expressed his sympathy for the Australian driver who once again came away with no points.

“It’s a great shame for Daniel who did everything right today: a great start and a great first lap and a really impressive opening part of the race,” Horner said. “It was unlucky that when he came in to a pit stop, the front left didn’t go on properly and the car was released, it was judged to be an unsafe release and we had a drive through penalty.

“Thereafter the wing failed – we don’t know what caused that yet. I think Daniel’s clearly shown his potential and that the Australian GP wasn’t a one off. It’s great to have two guys pushing like they are.”

The team is set to appeal against Ricciardo’s disqualification from the Australian Grand Prix at a hearing in Paris on April 14.

Although the advantage does clearly lie with Mercedes, Red Bull appears to have finally found its feet in 2014, and can now begin to plot its challenge for a fifth straight set of championships.

Here’s who were picking to win the Indy 500 — who are YOU picking?

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Several members of the NBC Sports motorsports staff have made their predictions on who will win Sunday’s 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Of the six voters, two are going with 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series champ Josef Newgarden, while two others are going with Helio Castroneves to win a fourth 500, which would tie him with A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears.

Here’s our picks. Who are YOU picking?

Leigh Diffey: Helio Castroneves — He drives the place better than anyone else. For me (for what its worth) he deserves a fourth 500 ring for the frustration he went through never getting the IndyCar title!

Townsend Bell: Josef Newgarden

Nate Ryan: Simon Pagenaud — All of his 2018 misfortune on the track has disappeared in May, and it culminates in the biggest victory of his career.

Jerry Bonkowski: Helio Castroneves – There’s no pressure as he pursues his fourth Indy 500 win. All Helio has to do, as late NFL owner Al Davis would say, is “Just win, baby!” (But if Helio falls short, watch for Marco Andretti)

Kyle Lavigne: Josef Newgarden — I think he has everything he needs to get it done this year.

Dan Beaver: Robert Wickens – Has driven like anything except a rookie and his second-place finish at Phoenix proves he’s just as good on an oval as the road courses.

Follow: Jerry Bonkowski