Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, 2018

Red Bull’s best hybrid era season fails to save Renault relationship

2018 F1 season review

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In 2018 Red Bull enjoyed their most successful Formula 1 season in terms of victories since the V6 hybrid turbo era began. Yet despite their four wins (and a fifth narrowly missed in Brazil) the team is embarking on a drastic change for next year, when it will have its first new engine partner for over a decade.

The roots of Red Bull’s dissatisfaction with Renault were sown long ago. Ever since McLaren severed ties with works partner Honda last year it’s been widely expected that Red Bull would take up the supply, having had junior squad Toro Rosso check out the power units during 2018. And so it proved.

Having launched the RB14 in a novel black-and-blue colour scheme, Red Bull made positive noises after testing. It was a marked step forward from the situation 12 months previously, when the team failed to immediately capitalise on a change in aerodynamic regulations which had been widely expected to play into their hands.

Nonetheless in Melbourne they could only look on as Mercedes and Ferrari had the fight at the front to themselves. The team was clearly too quick for the midfield competition but a slip-up by Max Verstappen allowed Fernando Alonso to lead him home.

Despite starting the season on the back foot compared to the front runners Red Bull managed to win the third race of the season in China thanks in part to a fortunately-timed Safety Car. Daniel Ricciardo took full advantage as Verstappen made two significant errors in combat with Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel. Together with his Bahrain qualifying crash, which Verstappen blamed on his power unit (the beginning of a trend), it was a rough start to the season for the team’s younger star.

The sense that Verstappen wasn’t fully on top of things was heightened in Azerbaijan, where he explored the limits of what his team would tolerate by banging wheels with Ricciardo as his team mate tried to pass him. Ricciardo eventually got by cleanly, but that wasn’t the end of it.

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Red Bull team stats 2018

Best race result (number) 1 (4)
Best grid position (number) 1 (2)
Non-classifications (technical/other) 11 (9/2)
Laps completed (% of total) 2,161 (85.35%)
Laps led (% of total) 285 (22.51%)
Championship position (2017) 3 (3)
Championship points (2017) 419 (368)
Pit stop performance ranking 2

Having repeatedly warned the pit wall about the state of his tyres, Verstappen surprised the team by suddenly lowering his sector times after Ricciardo pitted, which helped him jump ahead again. Two laps later the pair collided, putting both out.

Was this the moment Ricciardo realises his future was elsewhere? He won again in Monaco when Verstappen made yet another error, but in Austria he provoked a strange argument with the pits as he lobbied unsuccessfully to have Verstappen give him a tow. As the summer break began, Ricciardo stunned the paddock by throwing his lot in with Renault for 2019.

Team principal Christian Horner called this year’s Red Bull one of the best chassis the team has produced. Ricciardo knows he is leaving a well-sorted machine behind. “The aero this year’s come on really strong,” he reflected. “But even the whole geometry, the suspension of the car, things like this. You look to the onboards of the other cars and see the drivers moving a lot and we’re quite still. I think everything, the whole compliance of the car, I think they’ve really nailed this year.” The Renault RS18 did not look as benign in comparison.

As the season wore on Ricciardo increasingly found himself on the worse end of the team’s poor reliability rate. this provoked predictable conspiracy theories, which were dismissed. However Horner admitted this is a priority area for the team to address.

Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull, Circuit of the Americas, 2018
Ricciardo bore the brunt of Red Bull’s car trouble
“Obviously reliability isn’t something we’ve had,” he acknowledged. “We had 11 or 12 retirements this year. That’s our biggest Achilles heel. If we can achieve the power and the reliability – Lewis Hamilton had one DNF this year, likewise with Sebastian Vettel – that’s the rate we have to be aiming to achieve.” These problems were by no means exclusively caused by the motor.

Meanwhile Verstappen turned his campaign around. While Ricciardo never saw the podium again after Monaco, Verstappen became a fixture. He took the Mexican Grand Prix by the throat – despite Ricciardo fractionally beating him to pole position – romping to victory with such a margin he could afford the luxury of an extra pit stop.

Another win should have come in Brazil, but he tripped over a car he shouldn’t have been fighting. While its driver – Esteban Ocon – was plainly out of line by trying to ‘race’ a rival who was a lap ahead of him, it begged the question why was Verstappen wasting his time trying to ‘defend’ from the Force India. That misjudgement cost Verstappen third in the championship.

Even without their reliability problems, it’s doubtful Red Bull were consistently quick enough to be title contenders. They were, at best, slightly closer to the ultimate pace than they had been in 2016, but this time they had two teams with two different power units ahead of them instead of one. That has to be the root of their decision to go with Honda.

Quotes: Dieter Rencken

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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...
Josh Holland
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15 comments on “Red Bull’s best hybrid era season fails to save Renault relationship”

  1. Nobody knows if RBR will be better off with Honda than with Renault. Whatever their performance us going to be next year we will still not know how much is due to Honda, or even where they would have been with Renault.
    But when constantly lingering behind the top teams it is a wise bet to change something dramatic, and put ask the chips on black. Few will argue that their chassis is lacking, or that they have suboptimal drivers. Therefore, it’s logical to change PU, especially if it comes with exclusive works status.

    And let’s not forget that even when RBR was winning championships -with a somewhat works status Renault engine – the still needed the support of FIA (engine equalisation) to get on top of the table.
    Both RBR and Renault PU’s have their trophies and bragging rights. It’s now time to try something completely different to get there again.

    1. I’d be positively surprised if honda is able to increase their engine supply from one team to two teams and keep their current performance and reliability levels without any additional problems. Anything more than that would be a huge win. Honda has been 4 years now in f1 doing “test beds” and hoping for “potential”. Promising improvement is right around the corner which usually then turns out to be just more problems.

      I think honda makes perfect sense for red bull for all the reasons except one. The engine itself. The honda money for red bull is nice and surely beats paying renault for their crappy engines. Red bull also gets factory team status instead of being the 2nd renault team. It is not like red bull had any choice either. Stick with renault and be third until new engines come or take big risk and try honda and at least have honda pay them for the priviledge if the results don’t come.

      And red bull are so comfortably third in the pecking order that they can probably survive the honda power of dreams and lack of performance and reliability without dropping to the midfield. Plus it gives red bull more freedom with the politics as they don’t need to rely on renault with anything. Plus they get an engine partner that is at least willing to bend over to the red bull’s wishes and probably shares more with red bull than renault was willing once renault had their own team in f1. Plus there is a lot of meme potential when verstappen gets his hand on the new engines.

      1. I think it is wish to point out that Red Bull has some engine talent lurking in the back room that can really help Honda. I suspect there wasnt time to have this talent affect Toro Rosso last year, but I expect it to be quite evident in 2019.

      2. I don’t see why Honda shouldn’t be able to increase the supply and maintain reliability, at least reliability from their perspective. Not all “engine unreliability” is the manufacturer’s fault. For example, every now and then you hear of a driver loosing practice time at one Grand Prix because of a coolant leak. To me a coolant leak is a team problem, not an engine manufacturer problem. Somewhere a circlip is a bit loose. Tighten it up and the problem is solved.

        1. I don’t see why Honda shouldn’t be able to increase the supply and maintain reliability

          Engine components usage per year for honda per team:
          YEAR … ICE … TC … MGU-H … MGU-K … ES … CE
          2016 ….. 14….. 15……. 15………. 13 ……… 13…. 13
          2017 ….. 19….. 23……. 23………. 13 ……… 14…. 13
          2018 ….. 16….. 16……. 16………. 13 ……… 6……. 7
          LIMIT ……6……..6……….6………….4………..4……..4

          Does’t really look promising to me. Did not find numbers for 2015.


          1. @socksolid

            I remember them using more ICE, TCs and MGU-Hs in 2018.. I thought it was around 19. Anyways, Honda have always been ridiculously far off the reliability standards expected of an F1 engine maker. They’ve been a test bed for 4 seasons in a row, and I don’t expect Red Bull to play guinea pig in this eternal science experiment.

            At the end of their 4th season in F1, Honda are still miles off Renault in terms of reliability…. so it’s going to be super interesting to see how long Max will remain cordial despite engine failures. My guess is within the first 5 to 6 races you’ll see Max openly bash Honda on air.

  2. If only the engine failures weren’t constant…

  3. Like in 2017, a solid third-fastest team of the field especially in qualifying-trim except for the likes of Monaco, Singapore, and Mexico. Too early to jump to definite conclusions on whether with Honda it’s going to be any different on that front or not.

  4. It’s like averything in life basically. If you want an outcome to be different, you have to start different. Staying with Renault, means staying third. Pretty sure, that’s not the desired outcome for RBR.

  5. Honda are working for a long time in there 19 engine, and with the input from red bull they have everything to improve there engine. People seem to forget that they made a completely new engine in 17 with no testing and with severe lack of communication between Mac and Honda. It could only lead to a disastrous season. This year they improved but with a team like Toro Rosso, with there limitations it was never going to be a great season on the results side, everybody was even expecting them to be dead last with no points by the end of the season. but they wanted to develop there engine concept, and that they did.
    Red Bull have the data, and they know the strengths and weaknesses of the Honda engine, it’s somewhat competent in qualifying and still a bit lacking in race trim, and that’s different to what they have now, a bad qualifying engine and a competent race engine, that only gets them a comfortable 3 place and an ocasional victory in tracks that don’t require massive engine power.

  6. I keep telling myself Honda have to come good eventually, because there’s too much money behind the operation for it to fail and them not catch Mercedes and Ferrari.

    But before 2015 I thought the same, and before 2016, and 2017, and 2018…

    At least now they’ve had a couple of years to properly develop without the silly token system, so maybe this year I can have a little more confidence.

    1. Sadly money is a requirement for success, not a guarantee of it, just look at toyota, just look at mclaren, almost as bad as williams, isn’t it? Despite the money.

    2. @neilosjames
      Honda have always put a lot of resources behind their F1 activities… so it’s nothing new. Despite that they’ve only been falling backwards over the past 30 years. I really don’t expect anything much from them next season.

  7. @neilosjames I was hoping for the same thing from Renault in 2015, 2016, 7,8 too and have been even more disappointed.

    At least Honda have attempted to address power and reliability deficits whereas Renault just seem to shrug it off. Their atttude in 2015 in particular convinced me that RBR was going to have to change suppliers.

    Ron Dennis was actually correct in saying that no team can win without Manufacturer status. Mclaren just got it wrong, whereas I suspect that RBR will eventually get it right in a year or so.

  8. I disagree that red bull were barely better than 2016, mercedes was on another planet back then, not this time, don’t know how that graph is made (the first is fine, but the 5-races trend one), I mean, red bull wasn’t even on top in monaco while they were the class of the field, nor in mexico, but clearly their strength was race pace and they were up there with the other 2 or better in most races, only exceptionally red bull was lacking anything in race pace, mostly on engine hungry tracks.

    Red bull was a great car, and if honda can deliver a decent engine, an average between renault and ferrari, expect to see them really challenge for the title.

Comments are closed.