Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner insists that Mark Webber was not hindered by his team in qualifying for the British Grand Prix, after the squad was plunged into a fresh favoritism controversy by its decision to assign new wings only to teammate Sebastian Vettel.
Just three races after Red Bull's handling of the Turkish Grand Prix collision between Webber and Sebastian Vettel prompted suggestions that the outfit was deliberately favoring its German driver, the team has again prompted such speculation. This time, it is because the team opted to take a new front wing design off Webber's car before qualifying and hand it to Vettel because his own had broken in the final free practice session.
After Vettel took pole position, Webber was left visibly annoyed in the post-session press conference – and cheekily suggested that "at least the team would be happy with the result today."
Horner moved quickly, however, to defend the decision, saying that he felt the team had a duty to hand the wing to the driver who was leading the championship. He also suggested that there was no lap time difference between the two designs.
When asked whether the team's move meant Vettel was now officially the favored driver, Horner said: "I don't think so. I think that you could see today that the performance today between the guys was very, very close and very, very tight.
"Unfortunately, we found ourselves in a situation with only one front wing of a certain specification which was slightly different in characteristics. Both drivers tried it yesterday and one had a better preference for it over the other. And it was tried by both again this morning.
"Unfortunately, sometimes I have to make a difficult decision – and with only one wing available and the facts to hand that we had, and based on championship position, which was the criteria that we used – that wing went to Sebastian today."
Horner said that if the team was adopting a policy to favor one driver over the other then it would not even have let Webber have the wing in the first place.
"We don't plan to have a scenario like this," he said. "If we were favouring one driver we would give that driver a spare wing as well. We would not run with having two available to one driver. We will continue to support both drivers in the best and absolute fairest way that we can. But on some occasions you have to make a difficult decision, and today was one of those instances."
Horner denied that the front wing decision had left the team open to fresh accusations of favoritisms, coming so close after Turkey.
"I don't think so," he said. "Our job is to do the best job we can as a team. Sometimes you have to make difficult decisions. It is the first time we have been in a situation where we have only had one component, and I am sure that happens up and down the pit lane.
"Obviously, when you have two drivers running at the front, there is perhaps a bit more emotion attached to it. But if you take away the emotion and you look at the facts, it was an entirely logical thing to do."
When asked if he had some sympathy for Webber who may felt he had been hindered by the decision, Horner said, "I don't think he was stitched up at all. It is a difficult situation where we haven't got two components. If I'd have given it to Mark you've the same situation in reverse."
He added: "Mark knows the way we operate as a team. He knows that with that decision there was no malice behind it. There was no manipulation. It was purely that we found ourselves with a single component and, from a team point of view, some days I have to make difficult decisions."