Regulation changes for next year mean cars are expected to be heavier and faster and while it’s still unclear how drastic the changes will be, Horner sees it as a chance to try and up the pressure on Mercedes, who have won the last three drivers’ and constructors’ championships.
The Silver Arrows won 19 out of 21 races in 2016, with Red Bull being the only other team able to grab victories, as Max Verstappen triumphed in Spain and Daniel Ricciardo topped the podium in Malaysia.
The Austrian marque finished second in the constructors’ championship but they were almost 300 points behind Mercedes.
“It’s been an amazing season. Our expectations at the beginning of the year were to get in the top-five so to emerge as the nearest challenger to Mercedes, second in the Constructors’, won two grands prix, in Barcelona, Max the youngest ever winner in F1, Daniel achieving a one-two finish in Malaysia plus 14 other podiums, it’s been an incredible year for us,” said Horner.
“(For next year, with the regulation changes) I think yes, absolutely, we see it as an opportunity. There’s no guarantees, Mercedes will be firmly the favourites next year but we’re hoping to close that gap down and hopefully during the course of next year take the challenge to them.”
Mercedes’ dominance, which was preceded by a similar stretch by Red Bull, has left F1 in an uncompetitive state, which has contributed to the fact that less and less people are interested in the sport. Official figures claim that F1 has lost 200 million TV viewers since 2008 and little is being done to stop the bleeding.
The rain-hit race in Brazil two weeks ago saw a spike in TV viewership and F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone believes the multiple interruptions made it more compelling for fans. It prompted him to suggest that a grand prix weekend should feature two shorter races, instead of one long one.
“I’m not a big fan of that,” says Horner.
“I think there’s only one Wimbledon final or one grand slam final. Two races, I don’t think is the way to go, you just need to make the one race a good one.”
On what he believes can make the sport more attractive, Horner added: “I think competition between teams, we saw already in Brazil a spike in TV audiences is significantly up just because of the quality of the race. I think we just need more strong racing.”
Red Bull driver, Ricciardo, is not as sure as his boss when it comes to the idea of having two shorter races.
“If we could race twice on a weekend it could be more fun, I don’t know, I mean the more racing the better I guess,” said the Aussie.
“But now I’m probably going to contradict myself because Jenson (Button) made a comment saying maybe shorter races are better and I kind of think it could work in some places as well.
“It depends, I mean Mexico we had some action towards the end of the race but then some races you feel they drag on a lot. I don’t know. Two shorter races could be ideal, but I don’t know. It’s a tough one. I’d like to race on Saturday and then have Sunday off.”
Hear all this and more in The Inside Line below.
It was a stellar race in Abu Dhabi Sunday night and a stellar cast showed up to witness it.
Tennis superstar Roger Federer, along with his wife Mirka, his father Robert and mother Lynette, were hosted by Mercedes AMG and he witnessed Nico Rosberg claim the championship from the best seat in the house – inside the German team’s garage.
British singer Rita Ora was also there, supporting Lewis Hamilton while Paris Hilton made an appearance.
Before the race started, Federer was escorted into the garage by Mercedes chairman and F1 legend Niki Lauda, before he paid a visit to Bernie Ecclestone’s hospitality villa that has a sign outside that simply say: ‘Mr. E’.
Roger and Mirka also stopped for a chat with Sir Jackie Stewart and even had a few quick words with me, joking that tennis probably provided better surroundings than F1 because it is “less noisy”.
Other athletes roaming the paddock included Italian ex-footballer Paolo Maldini, who is in town to give a seminar dubbed “Great Football Experiences” in the UAE capital. Cycling ace Mark Cavendish was also at the grand prix, so was Qatar’s high jump Olympic silver medallist Mutaz Barshim.
AGE NOT JUST A NUMBER
A generation gap keeps getting more and more obvious in Formula One with one part of the grid highlighted by the 35-and-over group like Fernando Alonso, Felipe Massa, Jenson Button and Kimi Raikkonen, and the other featuring a teenager in Max Verstappen, and several 22-and-under drivers like Esteban Ocon, Carlos Sainz Jr and Daniil Kvyat.
Just six years ago, Sebastian Vettel was crowned the youngest-ever F1 champion when he won the first of his four world titles at 23. Today the 29-year-old feels part of the veteran crew and he made a slight reference to that when he was asked about the talk he had with Verstappen following their trouble in Mexico.
Verstappen had told reporters in Abu Dhabi that Vettel got in touch with him for a conversation and revealed part of what they discussed.
“I think, I don’t know maybe people nowadays are different, but whatever I spoke about with Max is between Max and myself so I’m not really willing to share much,” said Vettel.
When told that Verstappen had shared some of the details of their chat, Vettel responded with a laugh: “Well maybe you should talk more to him, since he’s more open than me. He’s a different generation so…”
Age is also separating the drivers when it comes to their physical training. Next year’s new regulations are expected to make the cars physically tougher to drive as they’ll have increased downforce levels and wider tyres.
While some drivers said they were going to readjust their winter training to add more muscle in order to be able to handle the new cars, others feel it’s too late to try and change their bodies right now.
The 27-year-old Daniel Ricciardo of Red Bull sounded excited about the prospect of bulking up.
“I think for me it’s going to be more fun personally because we’ll do a bit more strength training. I kind of enjoy it,” said Ricciardo.
“The last couple of years you’re doing a lot of training just to keep you weight down so a lot of longer endurance but not very high intensity to not put muscle on. In a way the training we’ve done was a little bit more boring where I think now we can actually push harder in training and we can afford to put on some muscle and things like this. It will be more challenging but I think more rewarding.”
Alonso, 35, does not plan on doing much differently when it comes to his physical preparations for the new season.
“I’m okay. I think if you’re maybe arriving to Formula One, a teenager or something, maybe you need, as I needed when I arrived at 19 or 20. Your body is not ready sometimes for some air force that you need to deal with in Formula One, but my body right now at 35, I think it’s already done, I cannot change anything now, what I am is what I will be probably,” said the Spanish two-time world champion.