The team’s first chassis produced with the input of design wizard Adrian Newey proved troublesome at first.
But once the outfit got its myriad reliability problems under control it became a regular top ten contender.
Knowing glances were exchanged when the wraps came off the RB3, Red Bull’s third world championship contender. Whereas its two predecessors looked like evolutions of the designs used by Jaguar, number three bore the distinctive hallmarks of new designer Adrian Newey.
Given the row that erupted over McLaren alleged theft of Ferrari intellectual property this year, it is ironic that both Red Bull and sister outfit Toro Rosso ran cars that visually owed a lot to Newey’s recent McLarens.
And, rather like the 2006 McLaren, the car was dogged by teething troubles. Unreliability persisted throughout the season, and despite having left Williams, Mark Webber had the dubious distinction of being the driver who suffered the most DNFs due to technical failure for the second year in succession.
Happily, the car also showed great promise. David Coulthard demonstrated it with his rapid progress through the field in Bahrain, until he was halted by the inevitable technical glitch. In the same race Webber’s progress was hindered by a fuel filler flap that refused to close – for the second time in three events.
The number one culprit of the car’s problems was the transmission – a flaw that must be addressed before next year’s four-race gearboxes are introduced.
Coulthard’s race into the points in Catalunya was achieved despite his car missing several gears. And the result was later tainted by accusations that the car’s rear wing was flexing excessively (a charge made incontrovertible by video evidence), and the team replaced the component before the next race.
Going out on a high
It was at the final major test of the year at Jerez that the team made a major step forward in performance. From that point on, wet or dry, the team were contenders for points.
After a decent haul in Shanghai Red Bull went into the season finale eyeing Williams’ fourth place in the constructors’ championship.
But once again the dreaded unreliability struck, and although both drivers had qualified in the top ten neither scored points.
Coulthard vs Webber
The driver line-up might not have featured any of Red Bull’s vast squad of young driver talent, but it was surely the most capable in the team’s short life.
It was no surprise to see qualifying specialist Webber lead the way on Saturdays – Coulthard has never looked comfortable with one-lap qualifying since it was first introduced in 2003.
But such was the pace of the Red Bull that the Australian driver often found himself qualifying in the awkward back end of the top ten. Ahead of him would be the untouchable McLarens, Ferraris and BMWs, and behind him the cars from 11th and higher could carry much more fuel from the start of the race.
The inequities of the ill-thought out ‘race fuel’ qualifying system proved a burden for qualifying stars in middling teams like Webber, Nico Rosberg and Jarno Trulli.
Nevertheless Webber persevered and was usually poised to score points on the days the car would let him. He gave the team its second podium at the European Grand Prix, capitalising on the mixed conditions while the likes of the BMW drivers took each other off.
And he was poised to take second or even better until his hapless half-team mate Sebastian Vettel ran into the back of him under safety car conditions at Fuji.
Coulthard’s season had fewer of the dramatic highs and lows, but his solid pace and undimmed appetite for the cut and thrust of racing proved he is not ready to hang up his helmet just yet.