Horner responds to Russell claims Red Bull are sandbagging

By Sports Desk April 12, 2023

Christian Horner has responded to George Russell saying Red Bull are "embarrassed to show their full potential" and enjoy a bigger pace gap than has so far appeared to be the case. 

Reigning champions Red Bull have dominated the 2023 Formula One season after claiming both pole and the race win in each of the opening three races, including one-twos in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. 

Red Bull have almost double the points of Aston Martin in second in the constructors' championship.

However, at the Australian Grand Prix, Max Verstappen dropped from first to third on lap one, allowing Russell to briefly lead before the Dutchman went on to win the race, while his team-mate Sergio Perez rose to fifth following a pit-lane start.

It prompted Mercedes driver Russell to tell the BBC's Chequered Flag podcast: "For sure, they're holding back.

"I think they almost are embarrassed to show their full potential. I think realistically they probably have seven-tenths [of a second] advantage over the rest of the field.

"I don’t know what the pace difference looks like at the moment, but Max has got no reason to be pushing it, nor [have] Red Bull.

"They've done a really great job, to be fair to them. We can't take that away, and we clearly have to up our game."

When Horner was told about the remarks, he made reference to Mercedes' past dominance of winning eight consecutive constructors' titles before Red Bull ended that run in 2022.

"Okay, that's very generous of him," Horner replied. "His team of all people would know too well about those kind of advantages."

Asked if Russell's comments were true, Horner explained both of his drivers were managing their pace in Melbourne given the intended one-stop strategy before the safety car and red flag dramas.

"There's always an element of managing what goes on in any race," he said. "Because it was a one-stop race and a very early one-stop race, of course there was an element of tyre management which was going on, which was what they were doing.

"[But] Checo wasn't hanging about; he wasn’t cruising around, holding back seven-tenths per lap because he didn't want to show it – the grid was certainly a little bit closer at this venue."

Back-to-back world champion Verstappen leads the drivers' standings by 15 points ahead of Perez, with the season's fourth round on April 30 in Azerbaijan.

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