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The Evolution of Red Bull Racing: The History

Written by Sophie Harvey, Edited by Sharifah Zaqreeztrina

Credits: Patrick Hertzog/AFP

In today’s world, there are not many Formula 1 teams more recognizable than Red Bull Racing. Its base in Milton Keynes has seen the team evolve from an initial ten-man team to one of the most technically advanced institutions in the UK, collecting an impressive haul of titles and silverware along the way.

Setting Foot in the Sport: Stewart Grand Prix

The journey to the team we know today began as Stewart Grand Prix, formed by three time World Champion Jackie Stewart and his son, Paul Stewart in 1996. This venture was provoked by the successful pursuits of its ten man workforce in Formula 3 alongside its expansion to Formula 3000 and Formula Vauxhall Lotus gaining the interest of the motor company Ford. In return, a 5 year deal was struck that spurred the launch of the SF01, debuting with drivers Rubens Barichello and Jan Magnussen the following season.

Little did they know that 1997 would be the first of three tough years for the team, with Ford’s engine proven to be increasingly unreliable. The following year saw no podiums alongside a set of rather infrequent point finishes.

1999 saw Stewart Grand Prix’s only ever win. This occurred after 12 retirements at an eventful European Grand Prix at the Nurburgring, Germany, led to the championship contenders all unable to fight for the win. This conveniently paved the way for Johnny Herbet to take and maintain the lead for the last sixteen laps, with his teammate taking third position. Alongside Rubens Barichello, the pair managed to haul the team into an impressive 4th in the constructors championship.

Switching up Names: Jaguar Racing

The year 2000 saw Ford’s decision to rename Stewart Racing after increasing the size of their investment within the sport. This change led to the introduction of Jaguar Racing, Ford’s appropriately-named effort to promote their Jaguar Premium car on a global scale.

Credit: Marcus Brandt/Bongarts/Getty Images

Ford’s extra funding allowed Jaguar to begin their pursuit by signing Eddie Irvine, the 1999 championship runner-up, to join forces with existing driver Johnny Herbert in an attempt to produce a winning team. However, the result was more disappointing than the season prior, finishing ninth in the constructors championship.

This was the beginning of a downward spiral that only escalated further in 2001. The team’s manager, Wolfgang Reitzle, was replaced by Bobby Rahal, a former American racing driver. Despite the recruitment of three-time F1 World Champion Niki Lauda at that time, this did not help team efforts, with no improvement in results. Rahal conflicted with Lauda and reportedly attempted to sell Eddie Irvine to rivals Jordan, which led to Rahal’s eventual dismissal.

Although 2002 did not bring success as Ford found themselves struggling with the costs associated with the team. This resulted in Lauda and 70 other employees being made redundant. Jaguar was given two years to show their worth, beginning with a new manager, John Hogan, and a new driver line up which consisted of Mark Webber and Antonio Pizzonia.

Red Bull’s Takeover

However, Ford decided that Jaguar did not return enough funds from its investment. In 2004, it was confirmed that Dietrich Mateschitz’s energy drink company, Red Bull, had purchased the team and would make 2005 their maiden season. Operations were spearheaded by newly appointed team principal, Christian Horner, taking over Jaguar’s facilities in Milton Keynes.

As for the drivers’ lineup, it was announced that their 2005 challenger, RB1, would be driven by former McLaren driver David Coulthard in an attempt to lead the team. Driving responsibilities of the second car would be split between two of their Red Bull Academy drivers, Vitantonio Liuzzi and Christian Klein.

Red Bull’s first year proved to be a year of consistent point scoring finishes and 6th in the constructors championship, beating the previous results of Stewart Grand Prix and Jaguar Racing in just a single season.

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Bringing in the Youth: Toro Rosso Makes its Appearance

In September of that year, it was announced that Red Bull had acquired Minardi, a backmarker team based in Faenza, Italy and previously managed by Paul Stoddart. Despite petitions by Minardi fans, the team rebranded as Toro Rosso to align with Red Bull’s marketing plans but still alluded to the team’s Italian heritage. Its purpose would be to promote drivers from their young driver programme, sharing technical resources but still running as a separate team.

2006 wasn’t quite as prosperous with a swap to Ferrari engines. This brought cooling problems and overheating. The team did get their first podium this year regardless, a third place finish by David Coulthard at the Monaco Grand Prix which assisted them into seventh in the constructors championship.

It was also the year when a notable face of Formula 1, Adrian Newey, who Rahal had previously tried to recruit during his stint at Jaguar, joined the team. A former technical director at Mclaren, Newey and his former team were experiencing top three finishes in the constructors year by year.

The introduction of the RB4 in 2008 led to the resolution of the reliability problems faced previously, scoring 24 points within the first half of the season - the same amount they had earnt in total the season before. However, they had to settle for seventh in the Constructors Championship, with their sister team Toro Rosso beating them to sixth place.

The Top Step of the Podium: Sebastian Vettel’s Era

Although changes within the team were progressive, they were still without a win, something that their sister team Toro Rosso could no longer relate to. The 2008 Italian Grand Prix saw Sebastian Vettel take his maiden win, at the age of just twenty-one years and two-months old, which made him the youngest race winner in Formula 1 at the time. He himself described the occasion as a “miracle”.

This impressive performance spurred his promotion to Red Bull in 2009, replacing David Coulthard, he’d accompany Mark Webber. It only took Vettel three races to bring the team their first ever win and pole position at the 2009 Chinese Grand Prix, hauling the team into 2nd in the constructors championship by the end of the season.

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2010 was the beginning of the Vettel era, where Red Bull really got its first taste of success. The next four years saw Vettel pick up four Driver World Championship titles and an additional 34 wins to add to his successes.

Tension Between Teammates

The road to success was not an easy ride, especially with internal feud within their driver line up. Mark Webber’s role in the team has shifted to second driver. When making decisions, every effort was made to maximize Vettel’s points haul, leaving Webber frustrated.

Much conflict was caused over the fact that the pair were not running the same cars; Webber’s car would make slower starts due to the additional weight of his car’s KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System). He was fighting a losing battle, having to give up new car elements just to replace those that Vettel had damaged and blame fell on him for race incidents between the duo. When team orders began to be disobeyed, relationships turned to tension and ultimately led to Webber’s departure from the team to race in the World Endurance Championships.

Credit: Moy / XPBImages

Cutting Ties and Making New

In late 2014, it was announced that Vettel would not be returning for the 2015 season. This left a seat open for the year, with Horner choosing to opt for a driver in Red Bull’s own talent pool. Daniil Kyvat had spent a year at Toro Rosso, who as a team had achieved a sum of 30 points, taking them to seventh place in the constructors championship. Only eight of these points were scored by Kyvat, the rest earned by Jean-Eric Vergne.

Kyvat did not perform as well as his teammate Daniel Ricciardo, which alongside the Renault engine’s unreliability, marked 2015 as the first winless season for Red Bull since 2008. This spurred the ending of their partnership with Renault, due to lack of progress and an unimpressive fourth place in the constructors championship - their lowest finish in seven years.

2016 rolled around and Horner had been unable to negotiate a successful deal with any other engine suppliers, forcing them to return to Renault. However, the engine would be rebranded as TAG-Heuer in an effort to move on from Red Bull’s public criticism of Renault.

The Making of their Second Champion: Max Verstappen

Only three races into 2016, it was announced that Toro Rosso driver Max Verstappen would swap seats with Kyvat in an attempt to salvage the season. Any uncertainties towards this decision were soon silenced when Verstappen won the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix, his debut race with Red Bull. This made him the youngest driver to win a Grand Prix at just eighteen years and seven months old, beating Vettel’s record at Toro Rosso.

Credit: Peter J Fox/Getty Images

Verstappen has since won back to back F1 World Drivers Championships in 2021 and 2022, with his eyes on earning a third in 2023. The combination of Verstappen and Sergio Perez, who joined the team in 2021 after a few years of rotating between Red Bull’s drivers’ talent pool, has not been far behind.

As the face of Red Bull Racing, the pair are representing how far the team has come since its origins in 1996. Red Bull Racing has grown to hire over 1000 individuals, all contributing to a story that is far from being over as their cabinet of trophies and titles grows larger by the day.


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