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Motor Racing: Bull's eyes on the big prize; New machine could be winner Down Under.

Byline: By Russell Atkins

RED Bull Racing has victory in its sights in Formula 1 in 2009 - that is the conviction of team principal Christian Horner, as the squad eyes its "most competitive season" to date in its five-year history in the top flight.

Over that 71-race period RBR has notched up 103 points and a trio of rostrum finishes, but - Mark Webber's starring performance in the rain-lashed 2007 Japanese Grand Prix at Fuji aside - never has it truly threatened to win a race. In the Adrian Newey-penned RB5, Leamington-born Horner believes, that unflattering statistic could soon be set to change.

The new machine has looked both sharp and reliable from birth, setting consistently strong lap times during testing and seeming to prove that Newey remains one of the sport's very finest design gurus and innovators, particularly in an era of such aerodynamic and technical upheaval.

Amongst a grid of by-andlarge ugly ducklings, if the RB5 goes even half as well as it looks when all 20 cars hit the track together Down Under in Melbourne this weekend, then Red Bull will be in strong form indeed.

"I think things are looking quite encouraging," Horner said. "It's been a massive regulations change, so it's quite difficult to gauge where we sit at the moment compared with our rivals, but we're pretty confident. We've had a good winter, the car has run competitively and reliably and we believe we're in good shape for Australia.

"It's effectively been a clean sheet of paper, with the hugely different aerodynamic regulations, the reintroduction of slick tyres plus the new KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems) technology.

Adrian and his team have done an excellent job; it's been a huge challenge for them, but I think they've quite relished that.

"Certainly Red Bull have produced the prettiest car on the grid, and I think in the RB5 we've got a very promising car with an awful lot of development potential. The whole team has knuckled down and done an excellent job. I think we have made significant steps, so hopefully we can look forward to our most competitive season."

To do that, there can be no repetition of the kind of drop-off in form that afflicted the Milton Keynes-based concern's 2008 campaign, with a gradual but progressive slide down the grid - and the championship table, ultimately winding up just seventh in the constructors' title standings, behind even "junior" Red Bull outfit Scuderia Toro Rosso.

Horner insists that he is confident of a much more consistent 2009, and he is also full of praise for his driver line-up, comprised of the sport's newest wunderkind - its youngest-ever grand prix winner, Sebastian Vettel - and Mark Webber, whose pre-season preparations were disrupted somewhat by a mountain-biking accident towards the end of last year that left him with a broken leg.

Webber has seen off every one of his F1 team-mates to date, but he arguably has his greatest challenge yet awaiting him in Vettel, a driver tipped in many quarters as a future world champion - and one who Horner suggests was almost single-handedly responsible for Toro Rosso surging ahead of its "big brother" in the latter stages of 2008.

"I think the most signifi-cant factor over the second half of last year, and certainly from what we've seen in pre-season testing, was the impact of Sebastian Vettel," the Englishman mused of his new charge. "That just should not be underestimated - in essentially the same car he scored 35 points. He's a very prodigious talent that looks as if he's got a great future ahead of him.

"Obviously he's been a member of the Red Bull family for several years now, so he's reasonably well-known to the team and he had tested for the team even prior to the start of last year. He's an intelligent young guy who has a tremendous amount of ability but a very clear-thinking mind. He's settled in with no issues at all.

"I don't think Mark will be at absolutely 100 per cent fitness for Melbourne, but he'll certainly be 90 per cent. It won't inhibit him within the car at all. He's made a remarkable recovery, he's a dedicated and focussed individual who is hugely competitive and he knows that this year is very much a crucial year in his career.

"His winter has obviously been compromised from a physical preparation point-of-view, but he's done the mileage in the car and I'm sure we'll see him up there in Melbourne.

"We've got a very good balance within the team of youth and experience, and I think they'll bring the best out of each other."

Looking ahead to the curtain-raising Australian Grand Prix in Albert Park this weekend, finally - a race in which RBR has in the past totalled eight points - Horner makes it clear that he has high hopes indeed. And beyond that, he affirms, the goal has to be the top step of the podium.

"I think Saturday afternoon in Melbourne will be the first clear indication," the 35-year-old - a former racer himself - reflected of the likely pecking order in 2009, "but even then it will only be a snapshot, because I'm sure it's going to evolve over the first three or four races.



HIGH HOPES ... Mark Webber's pre-season was disrupted by a cycling accident; DRIVING FORCE... Christian Horner and Sebastian Vettel.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Mar 28, 2009
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