LONDON, May 19, 2014 (AFP) - Red Bull team chief Christian Horner has made clear he is ready to rebuff any bids by Ferrari to lure design genius and technical director Adrian Newey to join the Italian team.
Horner, who has guided Sebastian Vettel and the team to four successive world titles with Newey-designed and developed cars, has been briefing reporters to see any Ferrari interest as purely "speculative".
But after over-seeing a change of team leadership at Maranello and announcing his disappointment at Ferrari's current form, president Luca di Montezemolo appears to be more keen than ever to recruit F1's most successful designer of all.
"It is almost an annual thing that there is speculation about his future," said Horner.
"But he has always made clear his feeling towards the team, the paternal feeling he has for Red Bull.
"He has been involved since the beginning and he is much more involved in this team than he has been at any other. He enjoys the environment that he is working in so I think the speculation is purely that, but you can understand why Ferrari would be looking."
After a four-year spell of sustained success, it is thought by many that Newey may be ready for a new challenge as his team battle to keep up with pace-setters Mercedes who have won all five races this season.
And as the F1 circus heads to Monte Carlo this week for the glamorous and spectacular Monaco Grand Prix, won by Mercedes' Nico Rosberg last year, another 'Silver Arrows' success looks almost inevitable with Rosberg hoping to end team-mate Lewis Hamilton's run of four victories in succession.
That streak of triumphs has lifted Hamilton to the top of the standings and, given his currently dazzling displays of supremacy in all conditions and his natural flair for street circuits, he looks to be a clear favourite to extend his lead in the title race.
Indeed, given Monaco's reputation as the race weekend for setting up deals and doing business, another Hamilton win could be conducted against a backdrop of Ferrari pursuing a range of targets as they bid to rebuild their flagging fortunes.
After a disappointing start to the season was extended to a year since their last win following the Spanish Grand Prix, new team chief Marco Mattiacci has not ruled out 'going to market' to hire big technical names to boost the team if he believes it is necessary.
His comments are seen to signal a new bid by the scarlet scuderia to lure Newey away from Milton Keynes, but di Montezemolo said in Barcelona that he wanted Mattiacci to focus on the team rather than look outside it for improvement.
"He [Mattiacci] needs to do a full immersion in F1, taking care that Idon't ask him to become a technician or an expert in aerodynamics, engine or suspension," Montezemolo joked.
Few Italians laughed. Like their leading driver two-time champion Fernando Alonso, they know that Ferrari are struggling to keep pace with their rivals.
Alonso said that Mercedes are "racing in a different category" compared to the other teams after he and Kimi Raikkonen came in sixth and seventh at the Spanish race.
"This season has been so-so -- we haven't been quick enough," said Alonso.
"We have been lapped in Spain, we were ninth and 10th in Bahrain. We are not on the first row of the grid, but we are third in the world championship.
"So, apart from Mercedes, who are racing in a different category, we are first or second on any given weekend. There's not any prize for that, it just shows how competitive we are, whatever we have we will fight all the time."