Horner has reiterated his suspicions that Mercedes may have gained straightline performance through the use of a trick rear wing.
In a tense FIA press conference that featured Horner sitting alongside his Mercedes opposite number Toto Wolff, Horner also referenced “score marks” that Red Bull has observed on the rear wing endplate of the W12, implying that it moved illegally.
Horner suggested over the recent Sao Paulo GP weekend that Mercedes had an unusually large straightline speed advantage, one that had helped Lewis Hamilton to recover from his grid penalties to win the race.
He also suggested that Red Bull is more concerned about the two final races of the season in Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi, where low drag and outright straightline performance are more significant.
“Would I protest?,” said Horner. “Yeah, absolutely. If we believe the car is not in compliance, we will protest. The straight line speeds that we’ve seen in Mexico and in Brazil, I mean, I think everybody could see Brazil was not a normal situation.
“And yes, a new engine we know with Mercedes comes with increased performance. But when you have a 27 kilometre [per hour] difference, and you see marks on rear end plates that have been marking up from wings that have been flexing…
“It’s very clear to us what has been going on. So, of course, that’s why I refer it’s down the FIA to make sure that the cars are in compliance. If they’re not, you protest if you believe that a competitor isn’t complying with the rules.”
Horner told Sky F1 that “if we see [the wing] on the car here, it will be protested.”
Later Horner added: “We’ll follow the situation. It will depend on really what happens this weekend.
“So what we see and the analysis that we’ve conducted, it really depends what we see. It’s not just applied to here, because I think in many respects it’s even more pertinent to the two circuits that are coming up.
“I’m sure Mercedes [have] paid a huge amount of attention to our car through the season, and we are obviously doing the same. And obviously, it’s high stakes, there’s an awful lot to play for. And as I said, we just want to make sure it’s an equal playing field.”
Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes W12
Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images
Asked about the legality of the W12, Wolff insisted that he was not concerned.
“I think I’ve always said that,” said the Austrian. “That is how you fight, you’re trying to avoid that a competitor has an advantage. If you’re led by scepticism, because someone told you something, and you expect that to be the root cause, you should go for it.
“I think we’ve been controlled 14 times on this very particular wing, the FIA has all drawings about it. There is no such thing as Red Bull expects there to be. So we are happy to send it, cut it, we can send you one to Milton Keynes.”
Horner then spoke directly to Wolff, saying: “So how do you explain the score marks on the rear wing endplate?”
“I think it’s within what is allowed,” Wolff replied. “And, therefore, that’s okay.”
The discussion had already become heated as the subject of potentially illegality came up.
“I think that nobody would show up at the track with an illegal engine or an illegal rear wing,” said Wolff. “The world is too transparent for that. And you would be mad if you take decisions in a team with such a high visibility that are illegal, 100%.”
“Does our car comply with the rules?,” said Horner. “Absolutely. Do we have concerns over the gains in straight line speed [at Mercedes] that we’ve seen since Budapest? But really, they’ve been exponential in the last couple of races, absolutely.
“Do we expect the FIA as the scrutineer and the policeman of the sport to ensure that all the cars are compliant? The rules are a complex set of regulations. So we rely very, very heavily on the FIA to ensure that it’s absolutely scrupulously fair.
“Because what we absolutely want going into these last few races is a fair fight, whoever comes out at the end of this on top, it shouldn’t be in a stewards room, it shouldn’t be in a court of appeal, it needs to be done on track.
Christian Horner, Team Principal, Red Bull Racing spaks to the media
Photo by: Jerry Andre / Motorsport Images
“And we just want to ensure that going into these last few races, that these cars are being scrupulously policed and are in full compliance, because there’s too much at stake.
“Quite simply you’ve got two teams and two drivers that are fighting for the biggest prize in sport, the stakes are incredibly high. And you just want to make sure that the playing field is level.”
Wolff also confirmed that the contentious rear wing that led to Lewis Hamilton’s disqualification from qualifying at Interlagos had been returned to Mercedes and examined.
“We got the rear wing back,” he said. “And as we thought it was broken, it broke in qualifying, we didn’t pass the 85mm slot gap test on the far right side, we passed it on the left, in the middle, but not on the right, by a fraction of a millimetre. And that’s fine.
“We weren’t allowed to inspect it, nor to make the argument that the part is being broken. And consequently, we found out that two screws became undone in qualifying. And that caused that right side to be irregular.
“And you know, probably it was even detrimental to the lap time, but it is what it is. It was reported to the stewards, that is very different to how these things were handled in the past, but you will be able to patch up things that got broken during parc ferme.
“But now we’ve moved on, it’s race, gone, we obviously were able to turn it around. I wish that Lewis could have taken more points from the sprint qualifying. But that is the past.”