Max Verstappen and Red Bull team celebrate, 2021

Now Red Bull will find out if Verstappen’s title came at a cost to their 2022 chances

2022 season preview

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Casting an eye beyond the insular European sports-sphere and over the Atlantic to the world of American Football, the concept of the ‘Super Bowl hangover’ is a curious yet powerful phenomenon.

Simply put, whenever one of the 32 NFL teams reaches the all-important championship-deciding Super Bowl game at the end of a season – no matter if they win or lose – the fates often doom them to be unable to repeat that feat the following season.

Many reasons can lead to this: From how the game itself works, to how teams acquire new players to replace retiring veterans and how the player salary cap restricts how much money can be spent on a team’s roster. But it’s in how that phenomenon determines how a team approaches each season that is the most interesting aspect.

If a franchise believes they have any realistic chance of being a genuine title contender that year, then team management know that they need to go all out. Nothing less. Take whatever risks they need to make it happen. Because if they don’t, there is no guarantee that window of opportunity will remain open next year.

There appear to be parallels between that go-for-broke attitude and Red Bull’s approach to the 2021 Formula 1 world championship. Ultimately, it was one that led to them securing the coveted number one on Max Verstappen’s car for the upcoming season.

After seven consecutive years of Mercedes dominance resulted in seven drivers’ titles and seven constructors’ championships, 2021 was always going to be a different kind of season. With the shadow of the dramatic rules changes of 2022 looming over all 10 teams, the balancing act between working on upgrades for your current car and prioritising development time on 2022 would be critical.

From the moment Verstappen took pole in Bahrain in March, Red Bull knew this was their best opportunity in the V6 turbo era to finally lay down a realistic challenge for the championship. And recent Formula 1 history had taught them how critical it is to take your title chances when they present themselves.

BMW Sauber’s gamble for 2009 did not pay off
Back in 2008, BMW Sauber learned this lesson the hard way. Facing a similarly significant overhaul of F1’s technical rules for the following year, the Hinwil-based team unexpectedly found themselves as contenders in the first half of the 2008 season. In early June, they left Montreal three points off the lead of the constructors’ championship, Robert Kubica having delivered the team’s first victory and taken a four-point lead in the drivers’ standings.

Yes, circumstances had played in BMW’s favour, but with McLaren and Ferrari tripping over each other on an almost race-by-race basis, there was no reason why they could not remain a major factor in the championship battle over the remainder of the season – if only they kept up development. However, the team continued to play the long game, prioritising their car for the new 2009 regulations. It did not work out: BMW never got as close to the front of the field again and by the end of 2009 they had announced their departure from F1.

For Red Bull, the memory of being left behind on the two occasions the technical regulations changed so severely – when the V6 formula was introduced in 2014 and the downforce levels increased in 2017 – remains as clear as it is painful. And with Honda stepping back from providing engines at the end of 2021 – in an official capacity, at least – assembling their new Red Bull Powertrains division would become a major preoccupation. Especially when F1 teams’ gardening leave requirements meant that some of Red Bull’s key power unit hires won’t join the team until after the opening races of this season.

Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen, Yas Marina circuit, 2021
Verstappen and Hamilton fought until the final race of the season
With all this to consider as they looked to the future, it became imperative for Red Bull to seize their opportunity to beat Mercedes while it was there, and keep the developments coming. “I don’t know what’s going on with other teams but I know that from our side we improve our car almost every race,” Verstappen said in June, “which I think is very important because we have a good opportunity to have a good season.”

By bringing regular upgrades to their RB16B throughout the season the team were able to ensure Verstappen’s car remained competitive. He managed to rebuild the points advantage over Lewis Hamilton which he had lost after Silverstone and Hungary, before the seven-time champion then began to chip away at the difference in the final third of the year, finally drawing level by Abu Dhabi.

While the circumstances around that final race will forever leave a sour taste for many, Verstappen’s crowning as champion vindicated Red Bull’s all-out commitment to the 2021 campaign. His efforts through the season also earned him the respect of Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff, who sportingly praised the Red Bull driver as a “worthy champion.”

Although Red Bull failed to secure the constructors’ title, claiming the drivers’ championship was always the main mission. Having accomplished that, the question now is ‘but at what cost to 2022’?

Red Bull factory, Milton Keynes, 2021
Red Bull Powertrains form a new part of the factory in 2022
With the deep pockets of the Red Bull media empire, its wealth of resources and creative minds in Milton Keynes, an entire junior team in AlphaTauri and an all-new power unit wing, Red Bull Racing are by no means lacking in finances, facilities or formidable thinkers. To expect their performance to plummet off the precipice is foolish.

But given how the team have fallen back in the constructors’ championship the last two seasons where significant rules changes were ushered in, it’s wise to be a little cautious about Red Bull’s prospects for the year ahead. Particularly when their approach is contrasted with that of a team such as Ferrari, which hardly touched its 2021 car after it was launch, ploughing resources into its 2022 contenders.

However Red Bull hold one small advantage over Mercedes heading into 2022. By virtue of finishing behind their rivals in the constructors’ championship for the last two years, they receive more wind tunnel testing time than their Mercedes rivals under the sliding scale outlined by the regulations. It’s not a lot – only 5% more than Brackley – but in a year where in-season development is expected to be extraordinarily high, it could lead to a vital gain in lap time later in the season – and even more so for 2023.

Defending any world championship title in Formula 1 is a tall order, but doing it either side of a major rules overhaul is an especially tough challenge. Verstappen’s championship triumph will therefore taste sweeter for Red Bull if they are competitive out of the box. We’ll get our first indication what shape they’re in when we glimpse the new RB18 tomorrow.

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Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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26 comments on “Now Red Bull will find out if Verstappen’s title came at a cost to their 2022 chances”

  1. For me it’s actually Mercedes that developed their car more towards the end became much faster than Red Bull by the last few races.

    1. A lot of that performance gain came from the PU – one of the bits that actually will carry over into this year.

    2. According to Wolff, most of the performance gains came from understanding the new aero imposed by the floor changes. The Brazil “beast” was simply an engine that was intended to run 3 races, not 7, and therefore allowed to run closer to the performance limit.

      Bottas took the beating on that– his engine had to be sacrificed twice so that Mercedes could understand the reliability problems.

      1. According to Wolff,

        Nothing believable or fair can come after after those words

        1. How old are you?

  2. Really good article. They did what it was needed, which was to take advantage from that window of opportunity to try to get the title. The team who lost more is Mercedes, as they were kept honest by Red Bull early last year, and they had then to refocus and split resources on their efforts for keeping 2021 title vs developing new car for 2022. For sure the way the championship intensity fight between Red Bull and Mercedes went until last race will help McLaren and Ferrari in 2022; let’s hope that no team find a loophole advantage for 2022 in order to have a great season!

    1. Especially not mercedes, tired that they always have the best car since 2014 (with more or less margin).

    2. Not sure if Mercedes lost out, they had a hard first part of the season figuring out the right setup but aero wise they didn’t had major update after Silverstone the only thing they focus on was the engine and how to krank it up for 2-3 races.

    3. @mmertens

      Mercedes still won the constructor’s. It’s not like they didn’t win anything…

      1. Fair comments, not bad for them being constructors champions. The downside is that normally they would be focusing much earlier in next gen cars than without diverging resources like this year. Considering the impact of these changes, there might be a risk of them have to play catch up for 2 or 3 years depending on the performance of the cars from McLaren and Ferrari for example. (And they will have the least allowed time on wind tunnel too). That’s the greater risk I was referring too. Under normal Mercedes domination year, they would be much easily on top of the new regs car. Having said that, it doesn’t mean that we end up seeing they blowing away all competition when the season starts. They are a bunch of really clever people for sure!

  3. The main issue with RB in 2017 was the windtunnel conversion to 60%, which meant that they didn’t calibrate the car correctly, which had knock-on effects until way later. 2021 was the first car of the 2017 formula that was entirely dialled in and had a truly competitive engine. RB has as much capacity as any team and without calibration issues, I trust Newey to deliver a car which wins consistently. The fact that the rules are highly prescriptive and do not leave huge discretionary margins adds to this. I doubt that their perceived lack of time spent in the new car’s development will be a thing.

  4. This is a classic case of correlation not cause. RedBull, Mercedes or any team for that matter might have produced a car that doesn’t translate well from CFD & windtunnel to the track or gone with the suboptimal philosophy.

    The fact that e.g. RedBull doesn’t have a WCC contender in 2022 doesn’t mean they focussed too much on 2021. We just don’t have the info about their CFD-runs and windtunnel-usage.

    Slippery slope to pull conclusions without the data, although fun to speculate.Teamboss remarks will not make much clearer (it’s their job to put morale/PR over truth) anyways :D

    1. @TheLazyLama

      Indeed, but people like simple narratives.

  5. McLaren and Ferrari as 2008 championship contenders battled till the end and consequently dropped the ball in 2009, while teams like Honda and Red Bull sacrificed their 2008 campaign to hit the ground running in 2009. It is very realistic that this will be the case for 2022, but it could just as well be a miss for Mercedes as it is for Red Bull. Although this article is a good read, I am not sure why it is only about Red Bull.

  6. The argument that Red Bull have a 5% aero testing advantage over Red Bull can be expanded further down the field. I would argue the teams to look out for are Ferrari, McLaren, and AlphaTauri. If however you believe that aero time alone is an indicator of the 2022 cars’ performance place your bets on Haas. Obviously it is not just a question of how much time they can use for aero testing but what they do with that time and more importantly how their simulations correlate to real world. Any teams who have taken the opportunity to “invest” (read dump a lot of money prior to the cost cap) in their wind tunnels had better hope they ironed out any wrinkles in their new systems lest their testing time was spent in vain.

    Here is a table of the 2021 Constructor Standings combined with the Percentage of current aero testing allowed for 2022-25:
    1 Mercedes 70%
    2 Red Bull 75%
    3 Ferrari 80%
    4 McLaren 85%
    5 Alpine 90%
    6 AlphaTauri 95%
    7 Aston Martin 100%
    8 Williams 105%
    9 Alfa Romeo 110%
    10 Haas 115%

    1. The Dolphins, what isn’t pointed out in the article though is that the cap on the aerodynamic allocation is reset every six months based on where the teams are in the World Constructors Championship.

      Therefore, although Red Bull might now have an advantage with wind tunnel development hours, from the 30th June 2021 until the start of this year, they would have had a smaller allocation in the latter part of 2021 because they were leading the World Constructors Championship at the time.

      In terms of what it means for how many hours a day they can run, because you are limited both in terms of the total number of runs you can carry out and the total number of hours you can spend per day in the wind tunnel, Red Bull is only allowed to run their cars in the wind tunnel for a maximum amount of 19 minutes per day more than Mercedes is theoretically allowed to.

  7. The one thing I hope for out of tomorrow is a new colour scheme. As nice as the recent matte blue/yellow/red has been, and it is an iconic livery by now, it’s been the same since 2016 and starting to get a bit boring now, and the new cars are a good opportunity to change it up. They’ve got a cracking design team (the 2018/2019 teaser liveries and 2021 Turkey livery if you want evidence), can they do something a bit different this year?

    (Finally managed to post this on the right thread. Third time lucky I guess)

    1. I’m afraid they’ll only change the colours when they start selling drinks in different colour cans

  8. The biggest change from ’21 to ’22 is in the aero rules. Wheel changes are related to this. If I could pick anyone to design a car in those circumstances, it would be Adrian Newey. Let’s see if he still has his magic.

    1. I wonder if his work on the CART cars back in the day will help him with these tunnel cars. However, my gut is that spending 5 years or more working on a high-rake philosophy may not be particularly favorable for a design based on keeping the car flat at ride height X at all times. It seems more of a “brute force” aero approach–jack up the rear wing by jacking up the back of the car and like wise creating a bigger void under the back of the car and presenting more body work to the wind in general. Whereas Mercedes were trying to get the rear down, seal it off with vortices (and brake ducts), and lower drag as much as possible. In that sense Mercedes have always been trying to produce a “tunnel” car with the means available. But you can’t count him out. He’s earned the belt of best auto racing designer in history. He’s made fast cars in a wide range of formulae for along time.

  9. “Now Red Bull will find out if Verstappen’s title came at a cost to their 2022 chances“

    Massi finally sent them his bill has he?

    Haha sorry not sorry!

  10. “To expect their performance to plummet off the precipice is foolish.” Not likely but not out of the realms of possibility either. That’s essentially what we saw from BMW, McLaren and Ferrari in 2009 relative to their 2008 performance. I guess we’ll know soon enough!

  11. Curiously, only Max and Christian weren’t wearing facial masks, although I cannot be 100% sure about that one guy in the back.

  12. Will we *really* get any indication of what shape Red Bull are in, or any other team for that matter, just from our first glimpse of the car? Won’t we have to wait for testing for any indication?… and sometimes even testing doesn’t tell much these days.

    1. Won’t we have to wait for testing for any indication?

      Even then we may see who has reliability on their side, the real test will be Bahrain Qualifying

  13. It is a silly argument. Why would somebody on earth try to be a champion? Obviously you get better drafts in the NFL but it doesn’t mean you’ll be champion next year. Same happens in basketball. What RB should do is to hire people from Mercedes / McLaren. They are the real players. Hamilton was not WDC by just driving. I know some taxi drivers with way more talent than some professional drivers but life wasn’t nice to them.

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