After a season in which nothing or no one could make anything at Red Bull Racing, there seems to be a lot of internal trouble at the Austrian racing team. Nevertheless, the reigning world champion will once again start the Formula 1 season as the obvious favorite. While the competition has to quickly look for improvements to dethrone Red Bull and Max Verstappen, the Austrian racing team must try to maintain its lead. Can anyone stop Red Bull or will the team drive undisturbed to its third title in a row? We discuss it with editor-in-chief Mark Hanselman.
The years full of frustration about an uncompetitive and unreliable engine are some time behind Red Bull. In 2021, the racing team just missed out on the constructors’ championship, but in 2022 Adrian Newey knew what to do with the new regulations. The car was a bit too heavy in the beginning, which allowed Ferrari to win some races. Ultimately, the Austrian racing team’s lead became more than clear. Verstappen managed to win fifteen races and Sergio Pérez also took two Grand Prix victories. Ferrari’s bumbling also helped a bit, but at the end of 2022 there was a feeling: things couldn’t actually get any better.
So that was possible. The Bahrain Grand Prix was a harbinger of an incredibly dominant season for Red Bull and Verstappen. The gap between Verstappen and Fernando Alonso, who finished third in Bahrain, was 33 seconds. There were moments when the gap between Red Bull and the competition was a little smaller, but overall the gap was large throughout the season. Only Carlos Sainz managed to snatch a race victory from Verstappen and Pérez. It was Ferrari again that managed to prevent an undefeated season for one racing team. The team previously did this in 1988, when McLaren was the dominant team.
Can anyone dethrone Red Bull?
After a season in which Red Bull managed to win 21 of the 22 races, the feeling now is: things really can’t get any better. Yet the reigning world champion is again a huge favorite for next season. The other racing stables will do their best to get closer to Red Bull with concept changes. Of course, it remains to be seen whether it will be enough; The fact is that Red Bull is already several months, if not a year, ahead of the competition. The Austrian racing team is therefore working on an evolution of the RB19, which was already an evolution of the RB18. The feeling within F1Maximaal about Red Bull’s final ranking is more than clear.
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After all, the editors unanimously believe that Red Bull will also win the constructors’ title next year. According to editor-in-chief Hanselman, the competition has to fear a lot again. ‘I expect Red Bull to dominate enormously again. The team had the luxury in 2023 to focus on the RB20 very early, so the fact that the gap narrowed somewhat at the end of the season is a distorted picture in my opinion. Despite Red Bull’s dominance, I suspect that the competition will take more than one victory. The fact that Red Bull won almost everything in 2023 was mainly because Verstappen himself often made the difference in very difficult circumstances. It is simply impossible to maximize your potential every weekend as a team and driver, so I expect a few opportunities for the other teams.’
Is Pérez a title contender?
With the predicted dominance of Red Bull, the two drivers are being looked at equally. Last year Pérez was supposed to be Verstappen’s challenger, but that quickly turned out very differently. After victories in Saudi Arabia and Azerbaijan, some analysts were convinced that the Mexican was certainly a title contender. Verstappen seemed to take all those messages personally and subsequently stopped allowing his teammate to win a race. The now three-time world champion was not untouchable only in Singapore; there was a hitch at Red Bull at the Marina Bay Street Circuit.
That was also a one-off, because Verstappen simply continued where he left off. Prior to the Singapore Grand Prix, the Dutchman had even managed to take the record for most victories in a row from Sebastian Vettel. If Verstappen manages to win the first four races of the upcoming season, he will break his own record. But can ‘street fighter’ Pérez put a stop to that? After all, the man from Guadalajara managed to win the Grand Prix of Saudi Arabia last year. According to F1Maximaal, Pérez will certainly be able to win a race, but stopping Verstappen is certainly not an option.
After all, the editors have once again decided unanimously; Verstappen wins the Red Bull fight. “Pérez has never won on pure speed,” says Hanselman. ‘Each of his six Grand Prix victories was the result of bad luck among the competition, including in 2023. In Saudi Arabia, Verstappen drove a catch-up race due to technical problems in qualifying, and in Azerbaijan they were evenly matched, but had Verstappen was in the lead until he missed it due to the unfortunate timing of the safety car. We are now in the third year of these regulations, and the cars are being designed and tuned increasingly sharply. Pérez has much more difficulty with that than Verstappen. So I don’t see him winning on pure speed, but he has to ensure that he is in the right place if the Dutchman encounters bad luck.’
Unrest in the quiet Red Bull camp
Given the successes of recent years, it should be fairly quiet in the Red Bull camp. However, nothing turns out to be further from the truth. There’s a lot going on behind the scenes. Team boss Christian Horner is under investigation for alleged inappropriate behavior. The allegations in the various media vary considerably, but on Friday, February 9, the team boss was heard by an independent lawyer. Moreover, there would be a major power struggle at the Austrian racing team. Not really an environment where you expect success.
Will the research play a major role in the upcoming season? ‘If the investigation is completed quickly and Horner remains in office, I think the consequences will be limited. If Horner is replaced, I expect that this could mainly have consequences in the longer term, so for 2025 and especially 2026. Unrest within the team is never positive, but the RB20 has already been built, so it would at most influence the the weekends themselves. Red Bull also has other big names on board, including Jonathan Wheatley, but for the time being there is mainly a lot of speculation, while we also have to wait and see,’ says Hanselman.