Red Bull RB16B, 2021

Red Bull must pick up where they left off to take the fight to Mercedes with new RB16B

2021 F1 season

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It won’t just be Red Bull hoping its new RB16B, which has appeared for the first time this morning, is a championship contender.

After seven years of sustained success by Mercedes, the majority of which has seen dominant title victories, many in Formula 1 will be eager for a true competition for the championship between multiple teams. And what better to keep eyeballs focused throughout F1’s mammoth 23-race 2021 calendar than the prospect of one of the sport’s biggest stars, Max Verstappen, attempting to topple its most successful driver.

Unless Lewis Hamilton’s team mate Valtteri Bottas suddenly proves he has it in him to ‘do a Rosberg’, the prospect of Verstappen wielding a fully-sorted RB16B is surely the most realistic threat to a record-breaking title number eight for the driver in number 44.

For that to happen, Red Bull must avoid a repeat of their sluggish start to recent seasons and carry the obvious momentum they showed at the end of last year. They signed off not only with a win in Abu Dhabi but, significantly, their first pole position of 2020, indicating they might finally be a match for Mercedes on one-lap pace.

Red Bull RB16B, 2021
First pictures: Red Bull reveals its new RB16B for 2021
Red Bull generally give very little away in the initial images of their new, launch-specification cars, even going so far as to obscure key details in early pictures (as McLaren also did with one social media photograph of its MCL35M last week). So it was to no surprise that the first two shots of the RB16B issued today reveal a car which is substantially similar to the one raced in Abu Dhabi two months ago, barring obvious changes to areas such as the rear floor to comply with new rules.

It’s easy to exaggerate Red Bull’s potential to impress this year and succumb to the temptation to hype up the likeliest threat to Mercedes. After all, the world champions had the luxury of being able to ease back on development of their 2020 car and focus on this year’s machine.

Similarly, while much has been said of Honda bringing a ‘2022 engine’ for their final season as Red Bull’s power unit supplier, technical director Toyoharu Tanabe has admitted the power unit was originally slated for 2021, then postponed.

But as F1’s regulations require the 2021 cars to be closely based on last year’s machines, the progress Red Bull made last season does bode well for the competition ahead.

The team’s change in driver line-up also looks like a sensible move. The arrival of Sergio Perez in place of Alexander Albon indicates the team has accepted that throwing a succession of inexperienced talent at their second seat in the hopes of unearthing another Verstappen was not the right way to go.

Red Bull must start 2021 as strongly as they ended 2020
On paper, Perez does not look a likely threat to Verstappen on outright, one-lap pace. But he brings significant experience and a reputation for extracting the best from less competitive machinery. Few drivers outside the ‘big three’ teams scored any podiums in the first three years of the V6 hybrid turbo rules, yet Perez nabbed four. Red Bull hope he will strengthen their presence on Sundays, run closer to Verstappen than Albon did, and thereby reduce Mercedes’ strategic options.

Mercedes have swept the board early doors for the last two seasons in a row. They opened their 2020 account with four straight wins.

To have a shot at the silverware this year, Red Bull must lose no ground over the winter. This is doubly important, for with new technical regulations coming for the 2022 F1 season, this is no year to be wasting precious, tightly-limited development resources correcting problems on the current car.

The first race of the season will take place in Bahrain, where F1 raced just three months ago. Before the Safety Car appeared in the final laps, Verstappen was running over 20 seconds behind Hamilton. If they can get significantly closer than that in five weeks’ time, it will be an encouraging sign we finally have a competitive championship on our hands.

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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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18 comments on “Red Bull must pick up where they left off to take the fight to Mercedes with new RB16B”

  1. Essentially the same story every year since 2016. Red Bull Racing’s winter breaks are lackluster and there is no indicating anything will change.

      1. @robbie

        Based on what?

        Well you could base it on the history of the last few seasons. I understand that RB did seem to have time to test the new floor last year, but it was obvious to most that Merc shifted their focus to 2021/22 earlier than the rest of the field. I think the Mercs will start with a performance advantage, while RB may have made up some time it’s still basically the same car.
        The worry for RB will be Aston Martin, McLaren and Ferrari.
        But we should get a good to very good idea about how the year will pan out in the first five or six races.
        I think I called for Mercedes after race six last year.

    1. No, normaly they try a new concept too beat Mercedes but that needed always time to finetune.
      Now they have the same car of last year so that is a old design finetuned so now it’s the new engine and the 40% downforce reduction floor.
      We will see if this helps.

    2. Given that the change over the winter is limited, Ivaylo, I would say there is a decent thing to be said for RBR investing in development from 2020 carrying over to this season more so than has been the case.

      And Mercedes made a big step with the engine from 2019 to 2020, they are quite unlikely to repeat that, both because of getting to the end of the scope for improvement and the lack of pressure to do so since they were quite a bit ahead already (while in 2019 they were somewhat behind the Ferrari with its built in regulational dodging).

      I think it is still likely that Mercedes is ahead, they probably kept something in hand as well, but rather than putting in too much effort for this season, their focus will already be on 2022.

      1. @bascb Just for conversation, when it comes to Mercedes and RBR particularly, I’m not convinced Merc has some sort of jump on RBR by being able to ‘set aside’ their 2020/21 effort to focus on 2022. Oh I know it has been repeated many times in articles and by posters over the past season, and now, and it does seem to make sense.

        But here’s the thing for me. Even though for sure RBR is having to play catch up along with the others, the others would have had no choice but to keep developing as they were in a Constructors fight for points and money. RBR were not.

        I think that it became immediately apparent to everyone very early on last year, that Mercedes were utterly dominant, but also that RBR were alone in 2nd, unable to touch Mercedes, and nobody else able to come close to RBR in the WCC.

        I suggest that while Mercedes and RBR would have had to be diligent of course and not take their foot completely off the 2020 gas pedal, I also think that these two teams can walk and chew gum at the same time. I don’t envision that RBR were distracted chasing Mercedes last year, and that they would have surely kept learning about last year’s car (it did improve in the end) with this year in mind of course, but I just don’t believe RBR are on their hind foot vs Mercedes with the 2022 car. I think they will have put in all the effort they felt was appropriate for this season, all the while with tons and tons of focus for 2022 as well, and no less than Mercedes.

        1. @Robbie, it could get quite interesting this year as RBR eventually closed the gap significantly at the end of last year.

          Hopefully they’ve not made a mess of what they got right and given there’s been limited development we might finally get a year when the two are far closer at the start of a season instead of RBR having to play catch up from way too far behind as has been their form from 2015 onwards.

          What will be interesting is which of the two will blink first in 2021 and turn off the tap in favour of 2022 if things look like going down to the wire. That being said, with all the development restrictions in place this year plus a budget cap, is there really much scope for “developing” the 2021 car? I sort of got the impression that in most cases what they start with is what they’ll have for the season.

          I’m sooooo hoping that RBR haven’t messed up so we get a proper clash. The fact that they and Ferrari haven’t been able to compete over the last few seasons is testament to how poorly they’ve done in design – there’s a difference in PU sure, but not all that gap has been PU, particularly now party mode is no longer in play.

          I guess I have to hope that Honda’s upgrade isn’t one of their all too common hand grenades too – they were fairly competitive last year and don’t need to try too hard.

      2. I think that unless Red Bull has a real shot at beating Mercedes, both will likely be looking towards putting their efforts mostly into next year @robbie.

        I think that what RB said they were doing – investing into their 2020 car because they expected a lot of that to be of help for 2021 as well – holds true and together with another step forward from Honda will be their hope of having a decent chance at winning this year. It would help them free capacities to focus on 2022 this year. I do think that Mercedes might have been focussed somewhat more on the future already last season. As you mention though, both were clearly ahead of the field and that helps them stay ahead of the midfield.

        1. @bascb Yeah you’re right much will depend on how close RBR is to Mercedes this season, but at the same time that is going on they will have their 2022 projects on the go with at least the minimum appropriate staff necessary, even if some of the ladies and gentlemen that would be additional to the project have to keep their eye on this year’s car too. A race at a time as always, eh? I think either team, presumably as being the likely only two contenders for the titles, and if it becomes close, have no choice but to try to go for the big trophies while they’re right in front of them, so 2021 has to be their main focus as it is the tangible attainable thing of the moment. Next year is for now an intangible.

    3. They can’t get it wrong every year though. At some point they should be able to get the car working from the start of the season at least once in so many years.

      Plus if that new engine works, that would gain them another 2 or 3 tenths.

      1. I think gaining 2 or 3 tenths from an engine in one off season is asking a bit much. Especially as the level of development for these engines is starting plateau as they’ve been around for a while now. This season is again Mercedes to lose but hopefully 2022 will be closer.

  2. Realistically, Mercedes will probably win both WDC and WCC once again, even if Perez succeeds in where his predecessors failed. BTW, 2014-2016 didn’t really have three teams above the rest, but mostly one. 2017-2019 Were like this, but the preceding three not so much. The latest of those to a greater extent than 2014 or 2015, but still not clear-cut.

  3. The car is actually a lot more different than I thought. Subtle, but not insignificant, if you zoom in.

    1. Packaging around the gearbox and coke bottle section of the car is super tight, the Honda logo at the rear the car is a lot more upright than last years car. Hopefully Honda hasn’t gone too far down the size zero path again.

      1. I think this might be a case of RedBull throwing the kitchen sink at this years car design as its the last year of the current regs. If both Mercedes and Red Bull develop at the same rate in the off season then Mercedes will still be comfortably ahead so Red Bull know they have to try everything. If it works then all is good and if doesn’t then its business as usual and put more effort into 2022.

  4. Love the yellow nose with just the Honda logo

  5. The Honda logo on the rear wing looks the business. Can’t wait to see this car on track with Perez attitude to it.

    Hopefully it’s better than the
    Sauber C31
    VJM09
    RP20
    RB16
    🤞

  6. Seeing how Perez barely matched up to Stroll, I doubt he will bring much. He had the third best car at his disposal for last season and he didn’t really impress until the end of the season. Only after he already lost his job did he seem to find some inspiration and after Hulkenberg helped improve the car further.

    Although he is good at taking a gamble on an alternate strategy that sees him take a stop less. Especially starting from P11 that’s been a good gamble.

    At least there will not be much change in the cars and with a new improved engine they should be close to Mercedes, if not faster finally.

    To be honest I wonder more how much improvement Ferrari can make. They should be able to get their engine back up to top level (without suspect tricks) and then get the car design to match the engine.

    If Charles can finally find some maturity and Sainz actually measures, then they could be a lot of fun to watch.

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