Wednesday, 22 May, 2024

Will Red Bull dominate again as their development handicap bites in 2023? · Race fans

Will Red Bull dominate again as their development handicap bites in 2023?  · Race fans

The curse of sport is that unless ye are number one, ye are condemned to live under a cloud of failure. For no matter how many races you win, poles you take or points you score, there can only be one champion. The rest all fall short.

Red Bull know this only too well. After being deposed from F1’s Mount Olympus with the onset of the V6 turbo hybrids, their journey back to the top was as frustrating as it was humbling. But that decade of discontent reached its end over the past two seasons, and Red Bull headed into a new year as undisputedly and unequivocally the best team in their sport.

Emerging bruised, bloodied but victorious from their brutal year-long battle against Mercedes in 2021, Red Bull knew they were vulnerable going into Max Verstappen’s first year sporting the coveted number one on his car. But when Mercedes faltered, Ferrari faced up to Red Bull in their place. However, Ferrari’s implosion as the season progressed allowed Verstappen to cruise to a second title, breaking records and rivals’ hearts along the way, while Red Bull added the constructors’ crown.

Now, after years spent smoldering in frustration watching Mercedes ease to every title while they could do little but watch on, Red Bull feel they are firmly back where they belong. And team principal Christian Horner has every reason to believe they are all the better for those years in the doldrums.

“This is the strongest that Red Bull has ever been,” Horner boldly declared to media including RaceFans at the end of last season.

“I think that the strength and depth that we have – technically, operationally, throughout the business – everybody’s gone that extra yard, which you need to do to achieve the kind of results that we have against opposition that is world class. And nobody ever lost sight of the target, after eight years in the wilderness, effectively, of keeping that momentum going, keeping that focus and determination. And when we got an opportunity, we’ve grabbed it with both hands.”

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Verstappen is the driver to beat in Formula 1Leading the charge, as ever, is the team’s double world champion: Max Verstappen. His paradigm-shifting debut as a 17-year-old prodigy led to the FIA ​​changing its own rules to prevent anyone copying him, has fulfilled all the incredible potential he showed from the moment he left a Formula 1 garage for the first time. What was once a raw-but-rash prospect, just as capable of getting into arguments with his fellow drivers as he was to impress them with his boundless natural talent, has become an almost unstoppable force on the track, shattering dreams of anyone else wishing to stake a claim to his championship crown. Not least of those of his teammate, Sergio Perez.

While Lewis Hamilton has placed himself into the conversation for greatest driver in history for his achievements, Verstappen enjoys the privilege of being the most intimate driver to have in his rivals’ mirrors. No one has ever entered a new Formula 1 season defending their title after tasting victory 15 times the previous year and with Verstappen comfortably having the measure of team mate Perez for the majority of 2022, any suggestion that Verstappen is not the clear favorite for his third championship in succession feels foolish at this stage.

Not that Perez’s year was without its moments. Prior to his second season at Red Bull the veteran insisted he would run Verstappen closer than he had during his first year at the team. He duly delivered, backing up Verstappen when his car let him down during the opening salvos against Ferrari – just as Red Bull needed him to.

Perez also put one over the champion at least twice during the year. The first, at Monaco, involved a suspicious spin in qualifying which prompted a grudge from his team mate, which lingered until Verstappen enacted his vengeance at Interlagos, long after the title was already his. But in Singapore, Perez held no blame for his team mate’s fate and beat Ferrari and Charles Leclerc in a straight fight to take a second and final win of the year, proving that their faith in him was well-placed.

As thrilled as many would be for Perez to inch even closer to Verstappen in year three, history suggests any prospects of Perez suddenly gaining enough speed to become a legitimate threat to Verstappen’s crown are slim at best. There is also the awkward reality that Perez falling into subservience to his team mate once again would be convenient for his team – a single driver leading the championship charge only increases Red Bull’s chances of clinching a third successive drivers’ crown.

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But if Verstappen or Perez are to contend for that title this year, it will be on the back of Red Bull’s impressively well-honed operation. From the factory to the pit wall, the team continue to demonstrate that they enjoy some of the most skilled and professional personnel in the championship.

Will Red Bull dominate again as their development handicap bites in 2023?  · Race fansRed Bull rarely make a wrong call on the pit wallWith Adrian Newey’s influence continuing to be felt in the technical department helping his colleagues to produce championship-winning cars three decades after his first designs earned the ultimate prize, there’s little surprise that so many of Red Bull’s rivals looked to emulate their approach to the radical new rules as the season progressed last year. And as Ferrari’s challenge collapsed into a comedy of strategy errors and botched pit stops, Red Bull’s tactical calls under pressure were a league-leading example of how race-winning decisions should be made. Any team with a car quick enough to keep pressure on Red Bull and Verstappen in 2023 must also demand perfection operationally if they have any hope of prevailing over one of the most efficient and effective operations F1 has seen.

But despite being primed to once again sit at the apex of their sport, Red Bull will head into 2023 with a notable handicap. Following their controversial breaching of F1’s budget cap in 2021, the team were struck with a $7 million and, perhaps more crucially, a 10% reduction in their wind tunnel and aerodynamic testing time over a 12-month period beginning last October.

While rivals and fans alike decried the punishment amounted to little more than a slap on the wrist, the reduction could prove more significant than it initially appeared. As champions, Red Bull already have the lowest level of testing time of any team under the current regulations. Anything beyond that makes the difficult job of trying to stay ahead of their equally well-resourced rivals all the more challenging. Unlikely though it is to have dramatically affected the RB19, Red Bull’s in-season development will be hampered in so small a way by their limitation.

As Red Bull look to launch their new livery in the world’s most famous city tomorrow, it’s fitting that they appear set to announce a new tie-up with one of the most well-known motor manufacturers. Few concrete details have emerged about what kind of partnership Red Bull and Ford may be planning to announce, but all signs indicate that the US giant are indeed looking to return as a player into the highest level of motorsport at some point in the future – and do so with its current best team.

Whatever they may reveal, it will have more impact on the long-term future of Red Bull, rather than impact their 2023 season too much. With the possible resurgence of Mercedes and Ferrari under new leadership, it’s likely that Red Bull will face far greater competition at the front of the field this season. But having fought so hard to get back on top, Red Bull will not give up their position as F1’s champions without putting up one hell of a fight.

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