Will Red Bull dominate again as their development handicap bites in 2023?

2023 F1 team preview

Posted on

| Written by

The curse of sport is that unless you are number one, you are condemned to live under a cloud of failure. For no matter how many races you win, poles you take or points you score, there can only be one champion. The rest all fall short.

Red Bull know this only too well. After being deposed from F1’s Mount Olympus with the onset of the V6 turbo hybrids, their journey back to the top was as frustrating as it was humbling. But that decade of discontent reached its end over the past two seasons, and Red Bull head into a new year as undisputedly and unequivocally the best team in their sport.

Emerging bruised, bloodied but victorious from their brutal year-long battle against Mercedes in 2021, Red Bull knew they were vulnerable going into Max Verstappen’s first year sporting the coveted number one on his car. But when Mercedes faltered, Ferrari faced up to Red Bull in their place. However, Ferrari’s implosion as the season progressed allowed Verstappen to cruise to a second title, breaking records and rivals’ hearts along the way, while Red Bull added the constructors’ crown.

Now, after years spent smouldering in frustration watching Mercedes ease to every title while they could do little but watch on, Red Bull feel they are firmly back where they belong. And team principal Christian Horner has every reason to believe they are all the better for those years in the doldrums.

“This is the strongest that Red Bull has ever been,” Horner boldly declared to media including RaceFans at the end of last season.

“I think that the strength and depth that we have – technically, operationally, throughout the business – everybody’s gone that extra yard, which you need to do to achieve the kind of results that we have against opposition that is world class. And nobody ever lost sight of the target, after eight years in the wilderness, effectively, of keeping that momentum going, keeping that focus and determination. And when we got an opportunity, we’ve grabbed it with both hands.”

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Yas Marina, 2022
Verstappen is the driver to beat in Formula 1
Leading the charge, as ever, is the team’s double world champion: Max Verstappen. His paradigm-shifting debut as a 17-year-old prodigy led to the FIA changing its own rules to prevent anyone copying him, has fulfilled all the incredible potential he showed from the moment he left a Formula 1 garage for the first time. What was once a raw-but-rash prospect, just as capable of getting into arguments with his fellow drivers as he was to impress them with his boundless natural talent, has become an almost unstoppable force on the track, shattering dreams of anyone else wishing to stake a claim to his championship crown. Not least of those of his team mate, Sergio Perez.

While Lewis Hamilton has placed himself into the conversation for greatest driver in history for his achievements, Verstappen enjoys the privilege of being the most intimidating driver to have in his rivals’ mirrors. No one has ever entered a new Formula 1 season defending their title after tasting victory 15 times the previous year and with Verstappen comfortably having the measure of team mate Perez for the majority of 2022, any suggestion that Verstappen is not the clear favourite for his third championship in succession feels foolish at this stage.

Not that Perez’s year was without its moments. Prior to his second season at Red Bull the veteran insisted he would run Verstappen closer than he had during his first year at the team. He duly delivered, backing up Verstappen when his car let him down during the opening salvos against Ferrari – just as Red Bull needed him to.

Perez also put one over the champion at least twice during the year. The first, at Monaco, involved a suspicious spin in qualifying which prompted a grudge from his team mate, which lingered until Verstappen enacted his vengeance at Interlagos, long after the title was already his. But in Singapore, Perez held no blame for his team mate’s fate and beat Ferrari and Charles Leclerc in a straight fight to take a second and final win of the year, proving that their faith in him was well-placed.

As thrilled as many would be for Perez to inch even closer to Verstappen in year three, history suggests any prospects of Perez suddenly gaining enough speed to become a legitimate threat to Verstappen’s crown are slim at best. There is also the awkward reality that Perez falling into subservience to his team mate once again would be convenient for his team – a single driver leading the championship charge only increases Red Bull’s chances of clinching a third successive drivers’ crown.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

But if Verstappen or Perez are to contend for that title this year, it will be on the back of Red Bull’s impressively well-honed operation. From the factory to the pit wall, the team continue to demonstrate that they enjoy some of the most skilled and professional personnel in the championship.

Red Bull rarely make a wrong call on the pit wall
With Adrian Newey’s influence continuing to be felt in the technical department helping his colleagues to produce championship-winning cars three decades after his first designs earned the ultimate prize, there’s little surprise that so many of Red Bull’s rivals looked to emulate their approach to the radical new rules as the season progressed last year. And as Ferrari’s challenge collapsed in a comedy of strategy errors and botched pit stops, Red Bull’s tactical calls under pressure were a league-leading example of how race-winning decisions should be made. Any team with a car quick enough to keep pressure on Red Bull and Verstappen in 2023 must also demand perfection operationally if they have any hope of prevailing over one of the most efficient and effective operations F1 has seen.

But despite being primed to once again sit at the apex of their sport, Red Bull will head into 2023 with a notable handicap. Following their controversial breaching of F1’s budget cap in 2021, the team were struck with a $7 million and, perhaps more crucially, a 10% reduction of their wind tunnel and aerodynamic testing time over a 12-month period beginning last October.

While rivals and fans alike decried the punishment amounted to little more than a slap on the wrist, the reduction could prove more significant than it initially appeared. As champions, Red Bull already have the lowest level of testing time of any team under the current regulations. Anything beyond that makes the difficult job of trying to stay ahead of their equally well-resourced rivals all the more challenging. Unlikely though it is to have dramatically affected the RB19, Red Bull’s in-season development will be hampered in so small way by their limitation.

As Red Bull look to launch their new livery in the world’s most famous city tomorrow, it’s fitting that they appear set to announce a new tie-up with one of the most well-known motor manufacturers. Few concrete details have emerged about what kind of partnership Red Bull and Ford may be planning to announce, but all signs indicate that the US giant are indeed looking to return as a player into the highest level of motorsport at some point in the future – and do so with its current best team.

Whatever they may reveal, it will have more impact on the long-term future of Red Bull, rather than impact their 2023 season too much. With the possible resurgence of Mercedes and Ferrari under new leadership, it’s likely that Red Bull will face far greater competition at the front of the field this season. But having fought so hard to get back on top, Red Bull will not give up their position as F1’s champions without putting up one hell of a fight.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

2023 F1 season

Browse all 2023 F1 season articles

Author information

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...

Got a potential story, tip or enquiry? Find out more about RaceFans and contact us here.

24 comments on “Will Red Bull dominate again as their development handicap bites in 2023?”

  1. “Handicap” nice wording for punishment /s

  2. Since they weren’t punished for breaching the cap, they will simply do it again to whatever degree they need to. Merc will be better and closer.

  3. Hiland (@flyingferrarim)
    2nd February 2023, 18:32

    doubt RBR will be impacted too much from that penalty. I think they’ll still be the team to beat.

    1. Agree.. Although I can’t see them dominating like last year. Max will still be the driver to beat and Red Bull should have a car that is the fastest car over the entire race weekend… but Mercedes had already closed the gap massively at the end of last season, so they should be fighting for the front row from race 1 onwards. Ferrari might not be the car to beat, but at least they’ll be more competitive on racedays with Binotto gone.

      1. Ferrari might not be the car to beat, but at least they’ll be more competitive on racedays with Binotto gone.

        Doubt it.
        They haven’t fixed that problem, and may never.

      2. Mercedes had started to make improvements towards the end of the year, and may not be in as bad a position this station as last. However, RBR had a massive advantage over them, and they didn’t bring many (if any) upgrades in the latter part of the season. It’s likely Red Bull were already concentrating on this season.

        Maybe they won’t be as dominant this year, but they’ll still have a large advantage unless they’ve really screwed up or another team has made an unexpectedly large leap forward.

    2. I think this year Red Bull battles for the win but their advantage is slim at best. But next year (2024) is where they feel the penaulty the most. We will see what things will bring.

    3. It will probably just mean that they did not increase their advantage too much. It will hardly affect how they are able to execute the racing on track and in the pitlane. And it will just mean they will have to think a bit harder before they actually test things in CFD and the windtunnel.

      If we want a competitive season, we need both Mercedes and Ferrari to cut out their own mistakes, build a better car and make less mistakes in execution and strategy.

  4. Why wouldn’t they? It’s an aero dominated formula. That’s where they excel. Engines being roughly equal has given them an incredible advantage. The other item which never seems to be mentioned is the banning of advanced self leveling suspension systems which Mercedes made great use of up until 2021. RB next 4 years

  5. I don’t understand the point of this articles. There’s zero chance for any other driver-team combination to win a WDC or WCC in the next 3-4 years. No chance at all, because all other teams are absolutely terrible. And their drivers, too.

    Hamilton is broken. Leclerc sometimes manages to lose to one of the worst drivers in F1 (even Renault, the definition of losers, dropped him). Russell will never be in a position to fight for anything in this Mercedes. And don’t me get started on Norris… this guy had his chance to get a win and failed. All other F1 drivers are even worse.

    Forget it guys. It’s Red Bull for years to come.

    PS: There’s only one guy who could beat Verstappen. But being 40+ and in one of the worst teams on the grid… he has no chance either.

    1. the alonso overhype is crazy, dude stopped being good a while ago

    2. No chance at all, because all other teams are absolutely terrible. And their drivers, too.

      This is by far and away the most ridiculous comment I have read on this site in a long time. Utter nonsense.

    3. I’m an Alonso fan.. but I honestly don’t think he would have taken the fight to Verstappen in a stronger fashion than Hamilton, Leclerc or Russell would. He’d be more consistent and tactical on racedays, but would fall short on quali pace. But I get what you’re saying.. If we had Alonso driving a Ferrari instead of Sainz, he would put himself in the mix each race weekend, and would be battling Max more often than Carlos would.

      Overall, Max will still be favourite to take the title.. but my hope is that Mercedes drivers are constantly hounding him and forcing Red Bull in to tactical errors. I just don’t see Perez being a strong #2 this season.

      1. Alonso had his chance at Ferrari.

    4. I rarely comment, but boy oh boy, this take is so dumb that I felt the urge to recover my password.

  6. Emerging bruised, bloodied but victorious from their brutal year-long battle against Mercedes in 2021

    Will, it was a gift, not a victory.

    2022 was a victory (achieved by overspend, and thus tarnished, but still a victory)

    1. You would need to provide evidence of a conspiracy to hand an advantage to RedBull for that to stick. Otherwise it was just a bit of good fortune in AD 21. Good fortune that they had been seriously lacking up to then.

      1. Depends on whether you’re taking the literal or metaphorical definition of “gift”.

        For the metaphorical, which is a common usage, there would need to be no proof. It would be considered a stroke of luck for them that Masi broke the rules in a way which changed the result from an all-but-certain Hamilton victory to an all-but-certain Verstappen victory. That’s a metaphorical “gift” in common parlance.

    2. You mean in 21 he took it back after being robbed in Silverstone. In 22 he humiliated the compitition. You better get used to it.

  7. According to Webber they will

  8. Personally I think they’ll dominate this year and probably next.

    Gains in F1 are measured in tenths or less and the competition really has a lot of catching up to do. Kudos to them, they got it right and the others didn’t and I suspect they weren’t really stretching out last year much like Merc in the first couple of turbo hybrid era seasons to minimise the risk of rule changes.

    I’d be surprised if they really have to work all that hard to stay on top because they got their first iteration done so well which in turn limits the impact of their reduction in wind tunnel and CFD.

    1. @dbradock

      Personally I think they’ll dominate this year and probably next.

      Gains in F1 are measured in tenths or less and the competition really has a lot of catching up to do.

      I think its a little too early to make that prediction about the next 2 seasons. On qualifying pace, Ferrari were pretty much up there with Red Bull last season. Mercedes was probably 0.2s down in quali pace by the end of the season, if you take their last 3 to 4 races before Abu Dhabi. On race pace, I’d say Ferrari were probably 0.3s down a lap, and Mercedes around the same margin on most circuits, with the exception of a few where they genuinely looked faster than Red Bull.

      So, honestly, we’re betting on if Mercedes find 0.2s to 0.3s over the off season over Red Bull, and whether Ferrari fixes some tyre management issues and gains some straight line speed to be a more consistent raceday car. Both these situations look entirely possible, especially considering they have a larger budget and more wind tunnel time, cfd resources, etc. than Red Bull.

      I still think Max will be bringing those extra tenths, which will seal the deal for Red Bull, but will Sergio be fighting for wins and P2 in the WDC like last year?? Heck no, he would be fighting for a best of P4 every weekend.

  9. It’s doubtful that the “penalty” will have any significant effect until the end of this year at the earliest. There was no penalty when they were developing this year’s car, so it will start in the same position as it would have without the penalty. Given they were already at least several tenths ahead, and they didn’t appear to do much in season development towards the end of last year, I strongly suspect they will start the year just as strongly as last year.

    This is why the penalty was such a joke: you can potentially gain an advantage for 2 years before this penalty bites, and that advantage could easily carry over enough to offset any disadvantage caused by the penalty.

  10. Red Bull and Verstappen are both starting to be quite familiar with the sport. Red Bull grew from metal can company to the top of formula world and Max was just a reckless little boy but is now a two time champion. Who will be next Red Bull? Will some company buy Haas and take the red bull route. Most importantly what’s next for Red Bull who is their next Vettel/Verstappen? Benetton became Renault? Can Red Bull become Ford?

Comments are closed.