With Red Bull’s recent success on the street circuits pushing them above Mercedes in the championship, Breanna looks at the likelihood of Red Bull staying hot or Mercedes overtaking them once more.
June 9, 2021
After preseason testing in Bahrain, it seemed that Red Bull Racing was at the absolute top of their game. With the flying Dutchman himself, Max Verstappen, and experienced newcomer Sergio Perez working together, the championship fight was skewed in their favor over the 7-time champions of Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton. Despite all of the beginning highs, it seems Red Bull has had their fair share of ups and downs since preseason testing. One week they’re on top of the world, and the next, they are picking up Mercedes’ scraps. The real question here is, is Red Bull hot or not?
The preseason testing did nothing but make Red Bull look flawless compared to the other teams. Due to Red Bull’s high rake, the downward slope of the car, they seemed to be less affected by the new 2021 floor regulations made to cut back on downforce. The aggressive angle of Red Bull’s rake allowed them to make up for the downforce reduction and still be within rules. Mercedes carries a low rake design to maximize aerodynamic efficiency and was hit hard by these new regulations. As Red Bull was flying through corners and down straights throughout testing, Mercedes was spinning into the gravel. On top of that, by the end of testing, Verstappen would have the fastest time of a 1:28.960, the only person to get below a 1:29 the whole weekend.
That momentum carried Red Bull into the first race where Verstappen would clinch pole position ahead of both Mercedes’ drivers Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton. The car was analyzed to be the quickest on short paces and only came second by a slight margin to Mercedes on the long pace. It should’ve been an easy win for Red Bull, but their mental woes would begin at the start of the first race.
In Bahrain, Verstappen led the race after starting on pole for 13 laps before an early pitstop gave Hamilton the undercut. Verstappen chased the Black Arrow for 40 laps before overtaking him on lap 53. He had to quickly relinquish his 1st position and give it back to Hamilton because he made the move outside track limits on turn 4. Verstappen did not have the pace or power to try and overtake Hamilton again and ended the race P2.
Imola was a quality race by Verstappen as he won from 3rd on the grid; there was over a thirty-second gap between him and his nearest competitor. Max was involved in a turn 1 incident with pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton who retained damage from the fight. Although damage occurred, Hamilton still finished second to Max and clinched the fastest lap point, putting him and Mercedes ahead of Red Bull in both championships. The day may have been great for Max, but they still trailed behind the Silver Arrows.
Here’s where we saw the biggest glimpse of Red Bull’s problems. The first doubleheader of the season arrived, and so did Red Bull’s lack of strategy. In Portugal, Max once again exceeded track limits at turn 4 and had his potential pole lap deleted. On the last lap of the race, he was running in 2nd place, and they pitted to allow him to get the fastest lap point where he would, for the 3rd time in three races, violate track limits at turn 14 and have his lap deleted handing the point to Bottas. Spain was looking to be better as Verstappen did a beautiful overtake for the lead in turn 1 of the first lap, but the entire Red Bull garage was caught off guard by Mercedes pitting Hamilton on lap 42 for a two-stop strategy.
Max Verstappen’s race engineer said, “It’s like Hungary all over again” to Verstappen as Hamilton was riding down the pits.
At Hungary in 2019, Red Bull was left stunned by Mercedes pulling out a two-stop strategy to win the race, making up strides in pace, and leaving Verstappen out to dry on his near-dead tyres. This is an outcome they had seen before, so they knew the strategy from 2019 was not going to work, yet they still stuck with the original strategy. On lap 43, instead of calling Max into the pits to put on a pair of brand new softs tyres so he could catch up to Hamilton and regain track position, they kept him out there. When Hamilton ended up closing the 23-second deficit between them, overtaking the Dutchman six laps ahead of his target time, Red Bull were the only people to blame for this loss.
They were aware of what happened in Hungary yet failed to learn anything in the past two years. As a team with sub-two second pit stops who are consistently breaking their own record as the fastest pit crew, they would have had no problem boxing Max so he could’ve had at least a fighting chance. There is no excuse for what happened in Spain; it was a poor performance from all.
Red Bull’s biggest problem is their mistakes. Every time Max Verstappen exceeds track limits, it’s a mistake Mercedes will (and has) capitalized on. Instead of reacting to the new data or strategy being displayed, they sit with their pride and don’t give Max the proper help he needs. Their inability to learn from mistakes and react to the current situation prevents them from seeing their true potential.
While Verstappen has certainly had his difficulties, Sergio Perez is starting to get more comfortable in the car. Perez has joined the team for 2021, so there is obviously an adjustment period for him to get used to the car, but with Red Bull having three different drivers in three years who haven’t been able to match Max, it’s no wonder why the internet thinks that seat is cursed. With his win in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, Perez has just started to give the team the points it needs to compete with Mercedes. But Perez is trying to drive a car that is known to be finicky and built mostly around Max so will he be able to keep up the pace that won the streets of Baku? With a driver as talented as Perez having difficulty in the car, if he can’t hold the pace, it will be time for Red Bull to take a step back to evaluate why they can’t seem to find a good teammate for Max and why it’s on them to help new drivers adapt to the car, not the other way around.
Red Bull’s biggest problem is their attitude. They say they have the fastest car on the grid on good days, but on the bad, they say they only lost because Mercedes is faster. You can’t have it both ways. They clearly have a fast car, so they need to work on all the other parts to create a possible championship-winning team.
There are good things for Red Bull to set their sights upon after the Grand Prix in the iconic Monte Carlo. Red Bull’s weekend there proves they are, in fact, capable of capitalizing on their opportunities and producing a mistake-free race. Max Verstappen won the Monaco Grand Prix and took 1st place in the driver’s championship away from Lewis Hamilton. With Perez finally getting more comfortable in the car, his 4th place finish also pushed them past Mercedes in the Constructors championship. His win in Baku and Hamilton’s mistake pushed them even further ahead while the tyre issue Max fell victim to left him with the same gap to Hamilton in the Drivers Championship. This is the pendulum swing that Red Bull needed to validate their comments throughout the first chunk of the season.
They showed real progress on the street tracks, and it is not to be undervalued, but is it a one-off? Mercedes already seemed to struggle on the street circuits. Bottas was nowhere to be seen on the top of the grid in Baku and Hamilton’s costly “magic” mistake took him out of contention to fight with Perez in the Red Bull till the very end. Due to the lack of both Mercedes fighting at the top in Monaco and for some part Baku until the final laps, Max’s only real competition was with himself. Can Max sustain the pace if Lewis is there? Will Perez begin to challenge Max at the front or stay behind the Mercedes? Only time will tell on this championship battle.
With all this information we’ve discovered over the last six races, the stakes are higher than ever. Both championships are in reach for Red Bull and Mercedes, and honestly, I cannot wait to see how it plays out. Will Red Bull stay hot, or will Mercedes take over as we move onto proper circuits and dominate?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Breanna’s earliest memories of motorsports come from Kyle Busch and his M&M car. Currently, Breanna studies journalism at UNLV, where she one day plans to become a sports journalist/broadcaster in motorsports. Outside of school, you can usually find Breanna crocheting a new blanket or baking cookies.
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