Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Circuit de Catalunya, 2018

Big decisions loom at Red Bull in 2018

2018 F1 season preview: Red Bull

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The 2017 rules overhaul was supposed to be the opportunity Red Bull had been waiting for since the V6 hybrid turbo rules arrived.

The team’s dominance of Formula 1 ended when the V6 hybrid turbo rules arrived in 2014. The loosening of restrictions on aerodynamic development 12 months ago wound, so the theory went, hand at least some of the initiative back to the team which has so consistently excelled in this area.

Red Bull exclusive
Red Bull exclusive: Horner on Honda, Liberty and more
It didn’t quite work out that way. Had the big talking of 12 months ago not been how shockingly poor Honda’s start to 2017 was, more question might have been raised about how Red Bull managed to find themselves further from the pace than they had been at the end of 2016.

What is undeniable, however, is that the team turned its season around brilliantly. Having averaged 1.4% off the pace in qualifying over the opening four races, by the final four that deficit had been slashed to 0.5%. They ended the year back at the same level of competitiveness they ended 2016 at, perhaps slightly better.

While the team made strides with its chassis, its Renault power unit remained another weak link. Persistent reliability problems cost the team dearly: without these they would have stood a realistic chance of beating Ferrari to second place in the constructors’ championship.

But this is certainly not a team which would be content to finish second. Starved of the championships it grew accustomed to collecting in the early 2010s, the team remains the only non-works outfit to have won races in the hybrid era, and is clearly the most likely candidate to make a tilt at the title.

Although neither of its drivers have a title to their names yet, many would class Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo as the strongest pairing on the grid (including the majority of RaceFans readers). They are two largely complementary talents: both are superb in combat, both excel in single-lap pace. There was regularly little to choose between them last year.

Max Verstappen, Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull, Sepang, 2017
F1’s best driver line-up according to RaceFans readers
Yet it’s telling that, of the pair, Verstappen was first to get his name on a new contract last year. Though Ricciardo is undoubtedly one of F1’s to talents, Verstappen is younger and arguably already at the same level. It leaves Ricciardo desperately trying to avoid looking like Mark Webber to his team mate’s Sebastian Vettel.

Whether Ricciardo pledges his continued future to the team or jumps to potential berths at Mercedes or Ferrari will be a move to watch closely for. The team has the luxury of having Carlos Sainz Jnr on standby, currently loaned out to Renault.

If Red Bull can make the fighting start to this season which was conspicuously absent last year, Ricciardo’s decision will be much easier. But the other factor is going to be the future of their engine deal – a subject Christian Horner discussed at length when he spoke to RaceFans recently.

Switching engine partners is a high-stakes decision. But if Red Bull truly believe Honda can build a competitive power unit, the temptation to take on a works engine deal will be strong. In the meantime the team looks like it could have its most competitive season since the current engine rules came in.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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21 comments on “Big decisions loom at Red Bull in 2018”

  1. Vettel fan 17 (@)
    14th March 2018, 20:54

    Is it true Renault said they aren’t going to supply Red Bul after 2018?

    1. sytem error of the forum.. reply lower in this thread.

  2. I thought the weak 2017 start for red bull was caused by their wind tunnel (or was it cfd) giving them bad data. Once they figured it out and got it sorted they improved.

    1. My recollection was one of the commentors on this forum (sorry, I’ve forgotten who) said something along the lines of the poor starts shouldn’t be taken as a sign of how RBR would perform for the whole season, but they would improve throughout the entire season relative to their competitors. This is exactly what has happened.
      As I think about the possibility of Honda’s Power Unit being used at RBR in 2019, it will be good to finally get the season underway so we can see the true nature of Honda’s engine and how big the improvement is.

    2. @socksolid Along with Mercedes, Red Bull were also caught by the late FIA ruling on suspensions, coupled with their last-minute winter development their start to the 2017 season was compromised. A remarkable turn-round overall!

      1. The suspension thing affected all top teams. Maybe mercedes’ cars was so difficult to setup because it was designed to work with that system. Red bull didn’t really have much chassis issues with suspension. The way I remembered was that it was aerodynamics. Even last season in the pre season testing many noticed how the red bull lacked sophistication compared to other top teams. People assumed red bull would bring massive update to australia which they did not do.

  3. No it’s not true. They did ask RB to chose the engine for 2019 before may. But even that is a wish and not a demend so far.

    1. Vettel fan 17 (@)
      14th March 2018, 22:56

      Thanks for the clarification, never heard the news officially, only on

  4. Nissan Skyline.
    15th March 2018, 0:48

    Red Bull’s excuse is always renault. They weren’t complaining when renault won them the 4 championships. Stop with the newey nonsense ffs, spare me your gutter mouth. Best chassis last year, oh really…that’s a trumpish comment. Playball RBR, play ball…stop yapping.

    1. Oh they complained, yes they did. Horner loves to run his mouth

    2. Obviously if the Renault engine is so good we will see team Renault and Mclaren fighting at the front then… Not likely…

      Reality is that RBR won Renault 4 titles, not the other way around.

    3. Oh come one, engine development was frozen in that era and all engines (probably except Cosworth) were practically equal. And Renault did have the most problems again, read about the exemptions they were getting in 2008 (or 2009, I forgot), and then try and remember how their engines were blowing up in 2009 when the number of units per season was reduced. Bottom line, Red Bull would have won with any engine back then.
      And look back to the Renault factory team’s performance – in 2010, or since their return. Absolutely hopeless if chances for the title are concerned.
      Also, Abiteboul has clearly admitted Renault did mess up with the V6 Hybrid era, and that’s very hard to forgive, since Renault was lobbying the most for this change. Ironically, one reason for their poor performance was the trouble they had restaffing their development team after people were let go when the regulations froze engine development.
      So Red Bull does have a lot of reasons to be unhappy, and also a lot of reasons to be so prideful.
      That doesn’t mean I support Marko’s undiplomatic approach, but there is a lot of truth to it all.
      And one last thing – it’s not very clear if Newey is as involved with the team post-2015 as he was back when they were unstoppable.

    4. They WERE complaining about Renault when they were winning championships, what are you talking about?

  5. Could they’ve challenged Ferrari for 2nd? Really, no, of course no, their chassis wasn’t good enough, their aero wasn’t good enough and their engine wasn’t good enough, but the drivers and the race team made sure they got the best they could and even without unreliability, they wouldn’t have challenged Ferrari. Only possibility would be to take advantage of ferrari’s many operational flaws.
    With RB it’s simple, if the car is good enough, if the design team does their job and the engine is close enough, it’s a sure win, because the strategy, the drivers and the fia lobbying is always done to perfection. A lot of credit to RB as a team, I think they trump Mercedes on that department.

    1. A lot of credit to RB as a team, I think they trump Mercedes on that department.

      Trump Mercedes in the lobbying department? I think Ferrari trumps all in that department. It’s just that Ferrari still get thrashed after getting what they want, so no one brings it up.

  6. If Renault improve considerably in 2018, could there be a swap between Ricciardo and Sainz and between Renault and Red Bull?

    1. I very much doubt Ricciardo would go to Renault. He wants to win championships and soon, so it has to be a move to Ferrari or Mercedes, or stay at Red Bull. He knows that you can be the best driver in the world but you’re not going to win without the right car underneath you. Even if Renault improved considerably this year, they are not a proven entity yet. I don’t think Ricciardo would take the risk.

      1. Yeah I can see that, but firstly it is not just up to DR as to where he goes for 2019 and beyond, and secondly if indeed Renault improved considerably he might be tempted to go there if they’d be interested, and make it ‘his’ team ala what many opine is happening for Max at RBR, SV at Ferrari, and LH at Mercedes.

  7. I think the bulk of the decisions are already made by Red Bull, but of course not shared with us. I suppose Max has had his reasons to extend his contract.

  8. I think it is most likely that Red Bull will have Honda engines in 2019, and the same drivers.

    Ricciardo is likely to be outshone by Verstappen by the end of the season in my opinion, and whilst he’ll likely be desperate behind the scenes to get a drive at Mercedes or Ferrari both of these are unlikely, at least for next season. For Ricciardo to drive for Ferrari, Vettel needs to perform poorly in 2018 and likely be on the same level as Raikkonen. Only then would Marchionne risk unsettling the team by bringing in Ricciardo, a driver as proven in 2014, who can outperform Vettel with the same machinery. It would be a fascinating dynamic and would likely lead to one of Vettel and Ricciardo leaving Ferrari at 2019’s end. Furthermore, Mercedes are pretty conservative with driver choices in general. They’ve had 3 drivers since they re-entered the sport. Given Bottas is quick but not quick enough to cause Hamilton problems in an era where Mercedes face a challenge, and not the abrasive personality of Rosberg to create a tense rivalry, Mercedes are quite likely to want to keep him. Only if Mercedes feel under threat and in need of a more competitive driver would Ricciardo be brought in. If testing’s anywhere to go by, that’s unlikely.

    Renault are in a position where they’re supplying 3 of the top 5 teams in the sport, including themselves. Given this heightened level of competition, and given Sainz and Hulkenberg are top drivers capable of getting their first podiums this year and maybe a win in the right conditions, Renault have extra motivation to be stingy to their customers with parts and updates. Based on testing, Honda appear to have made significant reliability progress and their engine is actually quite powerful based on some of Alonso’s speed traps. Toro Rosso are a midfield team and it took them a few months to establish a beneficial operating relationship with Honda. Red Bull may run into McLaren’s style of relationship issues with Honda, especially given their track record with Renault, and so an extensive planning may be needed. I therefore suggest it could in fact become clear well before the summer break that Red Bull will have Honda engines in 2019.

  9. Nissan Skyline.
    15th March 2018, 21:52

    Renaults engine in the Vettel years was on par with todays Merc.

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