32 SPRING 2017
ime is a great healer.
At the end of 2013, the majority of
Formula 1 fans were begging for a team
– any team – to bring an end to Red Bull’s
dominance of the sport. Germany had
already won five consecutive world titles
with Michael Schumacher from 2000-’04,
and Sebastian Vettel then reeled off
another four in a row from 2010 onwards.
Fast forward to 2017, and Red Bull is
viewed as F1’s likely savior in terms of
taking the fight to Mercedes and making
each race weekend competitive between
two teams, rather than just two drivers.
While a new set of aerodynamic
regulations play to Red Bull’s strength
– namely its aero team led by tech chief
Adrian Newey – it must be acknowledged
Vettel’s run came to an end because of
matters outside of Red Bull’s control: its
Renault power unit has been no match
for Mercedes for the past three years.
But Renault has made clear progress
over the past 12 months and, most
encouragingly, seems to know where
its next gains are coming from.
“I think Renault’s turned a tricky
situation into a much more coherent,
robust approach,” says Toro Rosso
technical director James Key, who’s also
using Renault Power in 2017. “They’ve
definitely made very real progress. The
power unit is different architecturally; it’s a
much tighter installation now.”
Key is well placed to judge Renault’s
improvement as Toro Rosso used the
French manufacturer’s power unit in 2015,
before running a year-old Ferrari last
season. The size of the engine is another
plus for Red Bull, allowing the designers
more freedom when it comes to exploiting
the new aerodynamic regulations.
So is it really a golden opportunity
for Red Bull to overhaul Mercedes?
“It would be lovely to think that, but I
think the reality is Mercedes go into 2017 as
the firm favorites,” team principal Christian
Horner concedes. “They have produced a
great car, they still have the best engines,
so if we can close that gap further…
“If we can get to a point where they’re
not dominating every grand prix weekend,
I think that’s only healthy for F1.”
Horner would say that. The best
approach is to keep expectations
manageable, and then exceed them. But,
once again, the key lies with Renault.
If the power unit improvement
matches that made by Mercedes over the
winter, then Red Bull has a good chance
of giving the Silver Arrow a real run for its
money on most tracks this year. Red Bull’s
progress last year enabled it to pick off
the second Mercedes on a number of
occasions late in the season, and the
opportunity to work on a new concept
has reinvigorated Newey.
If the car is good enough, the two men
behind the wheel are good enough, too.
Daniel Ricciardo was expected to be an
understudy to Vettel when he was
promoted to the senior team in 2014,
but he adapted far better to the new
regulations – showing incredible feel on
the brakes – and has gone from strength
to strength. The arrival of Max
Verstappen appeared to lift Ricciardo,
and his pole lap in Monaco showed he
can and will deliver under pressure.
TVerstappen should be the bigger
question mark at just 19 years old, but he
already makes so few mistakes that the
only unknown is, which driver will emerge
on top over a full season together? At
Mercedes, if Hamilton and Bottas both
perform to their best, then it’s the Briton
who’ll spearhead its challenge, but the
Red Bull pair might take so much out of
each other that it hinders a title assault.
Red Bull Racing is distancing itself from any grand proclaimations about its potential
to unseat Mercedes this year. Is that pragmatism – or perhaps false modesty?
Daniel Ricciardo had to fight his
way out of Sebastian Vettel’s
shadow in 2014, and raised his
game again after Max Verstappen
came on board last year. His
late-season consistency helped
him to third in the championship.