Why the team currently dominating F1 is “in the best shape it has ever been”

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Like Sebastian Vettel or Lewis Hamilton before him, when a driver wins a Formula 1 world championship in a manner as dominant as Max Verstappen has just won the last two, it prompts some to ask: Was it down to the car or the driver?

Some believe it’s easy to win world championships if a driver is in the best car. But a team needs the right tools and the right people working together in the right way to produce a car as good as the Red Bull RB19.

Verstappen is a key piece of the puzzle. Since his arrival at Red Bull in 2016 he has become the driver around which the pieces fall into place. You only need to listen to a few minutes of his radio chatter during any F1 session to hear his relentless desire to improve which pushes the team on.

“He doesn’t leave anything on the table, he wants it all,” says team principal Christian Horner.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, 2023
Verstappen wants to “totally dominate their opposition” – Horner
“That drives and motivates the team internally. He is relentless in his pursuit of performance. He doesn’t just want to win, he wants to dominate.

“I think you see that in any great sportsman, their pursuit of excellence and pursuit of not just wanting to beat but totally dominate their opposition is again a hallmark of what makes him such an exceptional talent.”

But beyond the driver, another vital element of Red Bull’s success has been stability. Christian Horner is the longest-standing current team principal, with 18 years under his belt. He is the fourth-longest serving team principal of all time, despite not turning 50 until later this month.

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Granted, that’s some way behind the likes of Sir Frank Williams’ 43-year tenure. Still, it’s remarkable in a paddock where Mike Krack, who joined Aston Martin in January last year, is already the sixth-longest-serving team boss in terms of those in their current roles on the grid.

Horner has guided his team back to the top
In his time at the helm of Red Bull, Horner has guided the team to six constructors’ championships and their drivers have taken seven drivers’ titles. Their latest run of success began with Verstappen’s 2021 title win, which proved the precursor to back-to-back double championships in the last two seasons.

Reflecting on their upward turn in form since 2021, Verstappen said the team has reached a point where it is consistently strong across the board.

“Everything like the chassis, the engine, everything is operating so well together at the moment that I think fewer mistakes are made,” said the three-times world champion.

“Communication has always been on point the last few years between everyone. I think definitely that helps, and then I think the general performance of the car has just really stepped up.

“Of course, I think a lot of faces in the team have been very familiar for a very long time. So the stability in the team has been also key.”

An obvious example of that stability is the continued presence of chief technical officer Adrian Newey, whose arrival in 2006 helped change the entire direction of the team created from the former Jaguar entry a year earlier. His all-conquering creations took the team to its first succession of titles when Vettel dominated much of the 2010-13 period, taking a then-record 13 wins in the latter season.

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Over the past two years, his deep understanding of ground effect meant Red Bull nailed the new 2022 technical regulations from the start. It has kept them a few steps ahead of many other teams and the result has been the team has only lost two of the last 29 grands prix.

Adrian Newey, Red Bull, Monaco, 2023
Newey’s ground effect expertise proved invaluable
But, as Verstappen acknowledges, the consistency in the team’s technical division goes beyond its star designer. Chief engineer Paul Monaghan has also been with the team since 2006.

Pit stops have been another strength for Red Bull, winning F1’s fastest pit stop award six years in a row. Sporting director Jonathan Wheatley, another long-standing senior member of the team as one of Red Bull’s earliest appointments, is the man behind that record.

“A pit stop can often be confused for ‘this bit of equipment’ or ‘that bit of equipment,’ but, ultimately, it’s a human endeavour,” explained Wheatley.

“So we work very hard with the guys in terms of their mindset and also with their core stability. You don’t want any injuries, you want the same people at the last race as at the first race.

“When you’ve got a massively motivated group of individuals, they come together as a team in that ethos.”

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Not content to rest on their laurels, Red Bull are building the foundations of the successes to come at their ever-expanding Milton Keynes campus. “We’ve got tremendous support,” Horner said in Austin. “We’re investing in a new wind tunnel, and that’s been signed off by both shareholders.

Red Bull have honed their pit stops to perfection
“We’re investing in the facilities and the campus to make it a real technology campus to attract and develop talent. The commitment is absolute: our strength and our depth has always been our people. And I believe we’ve got the strongest technical group that we’ve ever had.

“I think operationally we’re strong. I don’t see any weaknesses in the organisation. I think that doesn’t mean that we can’t get better. You can always improve and you’re always learning, but I think Red Bull Racing is in the best shape it has ever been.”

The major new challenge for the team’s future, of course, is formation of its new Red Bull Powertrains facility, which will produce its engines for the 2026 season in conjunction with Ford.

There are more titles to be won before then, however, and the pressing questions for next year will be how far Red Bull’s development of its all-conquering car has been constrained by the penalty the FIA handed down a year ago when the team was found to have exceeded the 2021 budget cap by £1.8 million. They were fined $7m and were required to cut their aerodynamic development time this year by 10 per cent, a reduction Horner thinks they have managed well.

“You have to remember that since the summer break, we’ve really added very little performance, if anything, to the car,” he explained Horner. “With the wind tunnel restrictions that we’ve had, we’ve elected to use that on RB20, next year’s car, as opposed to continuing the development on RB19.

“And that’s not to say, whatever we do now, we don’t learn and apply for next year but we’ve managed to be consistent at a whole variance of circuits.”

The team which has dominated the last two seasons will inevitably start next year as favourites to win again. But the key to that success is much more than building a quick car – a point their rivals will bear in mind as they prepare to spend the off-season searching for a way to stop Red Bull’s dominance of F1.

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Claire Cottingham
Claire has worked in motorsport for much of her career, covering a broad mix of championships including Formula One, Formula E, the BTCC, British...

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13 comments on “Why the team currently dominating F1 is “in the best shape it has ever been””

  1. The gap between Red Bull and the next fastest car has varied all season, partly because the contenders have been inconsistent, but it’s generally not been far from 0.3 in qualifying and 0.7 in the parts of races where Max pushes flat-out.

    That’s a real edge that several top drivers could turn into a championship win, but it’s less than any other ‘dominant’ car I can think of.

    Red Bull have been dominant because the team understand the car and can extract performance each weekend; the car doesn’t break down; the pitstops don’t end in tragedy; the strategy team rarely make big mistakes; Max is a safe pair of hands, and also steps up to the plate when needed due to a grid drop or major rain.

    Other teams should be scared not just by the car’s performance, but that this small edge is *all it takes* for the people at Red Bull to pull off a landslide win.

    As a thought experiment, if Ferrari had the fastest car and Red Bull were 0.3/0.7s slower… on this year’s evidence, I would still make a Red-Bull-backed Max the championship favourite.

    1. You’re making it look like 7 tenths advantage is little, half the grid could turn that into a championship win.

      1. This year has set records for being the closest race ever, having the closest qualifying ever, and so on. It really isn’t much.

        I’d rather it was zero of course, but got this level of gap to turn into dominance is unprecedented.

        1. Correction: *for* this level of gap to turn into dominance

    2. And definitely disagree on the ferrari\red bull performance swap ending with a red bull title, 7 tenths is massive and I’m sure both leclerc and sainz would be ahead of verstappen in those circumstances.

      1. Saturday: “If Ferrari were faster, they were win”

        Sunday: Ferrari have one of the fastest cars, but it doesn’t even finish the formation lap because of hydraulics issues.

        That’s a perfect example of where I’m saying, there’s more to Red Bull’s lead than the speed of their car.

    3. That’s a real edge that several top drivers could turn into a championship win, but it’s less than any other ‘dominant’ car I can think of.

      Absolutely
      The RBR is ahead of the rest this season but not by much, hugely less than the really dominant cars of F1 history, say the Tipo 500, the MP4/4, or at the absolute top the W05 or the Sharknose.
      Seems that for those in the brigade who claim that the present RBR “rocketship” is the most dominant F1 car of all time, F1 history began something like 5 minutes ago.

  2. They are doing a nice job indeed, but it is nowhere comparable to the 8 straight years of domination of Mercedes. Hence I feel the word domination is not in place here (yet), though often used to set the tone towards a more swift regulatory intervention (one can always wish and try). Moreover, they do not succeed in getting both their cars in the right spot which is to say a rather big flaw and sign of underperformance. They happen to have a driver like Max that masks this. Mercedes could, with their Perez, secure podium slots consistently. So a large part of what we are looking at comes from their single stellar driver icw a top 5 team. imagine him driving somewhere else. I doubt whether RedBull would even be in contention for the WCC.

    1. How wouldn’t they be in contention for the WCC? Perez is already 2nd in a terrible, terrible season. Without verstappen he’d have scored way more points too, and then you could pick ocon as other driver, plenty for both driver’s and constructor’s championship.

    2. Max is stellar and a big part of their success, but the reliability of the car and consistency of the strategy department have been critical too: he would miss those elsewhere.

      As for Perez, it’s been an unexpectedly bad year for him, and I suspect he’ll regret this for a long time. In previous years and at the start of this one he’s been a close match for Sainz and better than Bottas… something stopped working. I suspect he’ll be moved on, and there’s a chance it ends his career. It’s a real shame for him as a person.

  3. Interesting that Cheko is not in the group picture.

  4. Coventry Climax
    3rd November 2023, 14:48

    I’d like to hear real, documented and proven evidence of the mantra of Newey’s ground effect expertise advantage.
    His experience with it was, what, 20, 30 years old? At the pinnacle, which is what F1 claims to be, that’s ages, medieval style outdated. Then there’s claims he gained experience with it in Amerca too. If so, he can’t possibly have been the only one. So: What kept the other teams?
    Then those are all cars totally different from today’s F1 car and concept; weight, dimensions, tyres, aero on all other parts, power and it’s delivery distribution. And that’s just part of the list.
    Moreover, ground effect itself is not some unexploited, new territory. It is extensively researched in the aerospace industry. That means there’s more than just one expert on the subject walking this planet. The other teams however, seemed to have greatly underestimated the value of that knowledge, and didn’t hire outside help. But they could have.

    If anything, I’m sure Newey is nothing short of a genius, but it’s overall, and not just in the ground effect department. He and his team are great in integrating everything into the whole of their car.

    And that’s probably opposed to where quite a couple of other teams are still struggling to grasp the subject even as an isolated technology. But that’s because they are slow as a team, not because Newey, as one person, is fast. If Red Bull have an advantage, it’s because the other teams let them get it.

    OK, that last paragraph is my take on it, but again, prove me wrong; I’d love to see some real evidence here and not this grapevine stuff.

  5. They have the most consistent driver I have seen in the last 20 years, they have strategy that’s based on common sense, they have very consistent pitstops, they have a good car that while not dominant in qualifying has a 3 to 5 tenth pace delta in Verstappen’s hands when it matters. Most importantly they have a motivated bunch who don’t drop the ball and are not tired of winning.

    RB19 is still not comparable to the masterpieces like the W11 but as a car + driver + team, I’ve never seen anything as close to perfection.

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