OPINION: Red Bull are the worst underperformers in Formula One right now
In terms of underperforming, it’s very easy to pin the badge of dishonour on Ferrari. Their 2020 season was nothing short of a disaster, with just three podiums and 6th in the championship – the team faced a midfield battle, as opposed to the title challenge of the previous season. However, when you break down the team into its core components – drivers, car, technical designers and management – you begin to see the cracks that led to such a disappointing campaign.
Written by Lewis Rundle, Edited By Joe Kirk
First of all, is the difference in the driver’s ability to get to grips with the car, arguably the third best driver in F1 at the moment, Charles Leclerc outperformed the car’s capabilities throughout the season, but on the other side of the garage Sebastian Vettel was given his notice before the first race, and failed to get a handle on the machinery throughout the season. The Ferrari itself was weak, the loss in power due to the changes from the ‘illegal’ 2019 engine meant a lack of pace from the car over the past season. There have been internal management issues as well, leadership at Ferrari has been in flux ever since Arrivebene’s departure led to Binotto’s promotion from the technical side to the team management role in 2018/19. The passing of Sergio Marchionne in 2018 and the sudden resignation of Louis Camilleri in 2020 also added fuel to the fire. This leadership instability combined with other factors has almost certainly caused Ferrari to falter over the last year.
There are no such excuses for Red Bull. Christian Horner and Dr. Helmut Marko, Team Principal and Special Advisor for the team, have been with RedBull since it’s formation in 2005, with the legendary Adrian Newey as Technical Director since 2006. All three are remarkably talented, each contributing to the four constructors titles at Red Bull, and Newey’s career total of ten constructor’s championships making him the most successful designer of all time. So what’s going wrong?
To start, we can exclude RedBull’s two different engine suppliers and the relationship that the team has had with them over this period. While this was a significant factor at the beginning of the hybrid era, Remi Taffin, Renault Operations Manager, believes that all four power units were within 20 horsepower of each other in 2019. Even in 2020, AMuS reported the spread to be around 50 horsepower between Mercedes and Ferrari, compared to the 80 (prancing) horses that Maranello was missing in 2014.
Perhaps then it’s the driver lineup that has halted Red Bull’s championship efforts since 2013? Out of all the Red Bull pairings since their last championship since 2013, four out of six are Grand Prix winners, and all six have multiple podiums to their names. One might even argue that the pairing of Ricciardo and Verstappen was the strongest on the grid in 2018. Admittedly, the driver’s seat has become unstable in recent years, thanks to the unceremonious axing of Gasly and Albon – after just 12 and 26 races respectively. For reference, their predecessor Ricciardo managed 138 races and current frontman Verstappen has clocked up 96 appearances for Red Bull. Who is sitting in that second seat is, in many ways, irrelevant, as Verstappen has not been able to consistently match his Mercedes counterpart Lewis Hamilton, and Red Bull haven’t come close to winning either title since 2014, indicating that the team as a whole is operating below what it is capable of.
It’s difficult to understand why Red Bull has seen such a drought, when on paper they have all the components required to put together a dominant force. Personally I believe that management has stagnated. Christian Horner has held the same Team Principal position for 16 years and has shown no inclination towards releasing his position – unlike his Mercedes counterpart Toto Wolff. There is also no doubt that Red Bull have hired a lot of talented people since 2014, but they will be limited in what they can achieve by the people at the top and how they choose to direct the team. Red Bull needs a reshuffle to reinvigorate the team. Horner’s and the team’s accomplishments between 2010 and 2013 should not be diminished, but in a world which moves at 200mph, that period is ancient history.
Overall, I believe Red Bull have failed to maximise their potential and have squandered opportunities to challenge Mercedes over the last seven years, and for me, this makes them currently the worst underperformers in Formula One.