With two double-podiums and two wins since Malaysia, Red Bull Racing’s recent wave of strong results has been boosted by the news that Max Verstappen will now be staying with the team into 2020. Mobil 1 The Grid spoke to the man behind the revival, Christian Horner, who is adamant that the team can win more races this year, and perhaps even challenge for the title in 2018.
Red Bull were the Formula One team that best interpreted the last major chassis regulation change. So with the rules set for another overhaul for 2017, there was great expectation that they would have the best chance to end Mercedes’ stranglehold on both driver and team championships.
But it became clear as early as pre-season testing that Mercedes and Ferrari were a step ahead. In Australia, they were around a second off the front. The first half of the season was frustrating but, as has been the case in recent years, the Milton Keynes outfit was ruthlessly efficient with its development.
Come the resumption of the season, following the summer break, Red Bull’s chassis started to emerge as arguably the best in the field. In the last four races, the team has won twice – courtesy of Max Verstappen. During that period, it has accumulated 110 points, only 10 shy of pacesetters Mercedes.
Its Achilles heel has been the power unit. The Renault engine, badged as a TAG Heuer, has improved in terms of performance this year, but remains off the pace of newly-crowned champions Mercedes, as well as Ferrari. As a result, Red Bull has had to push in all other areas, including being aggressive with the development of its chassis.
“To win World Championships you have to excel in all areas, on-track and off-track,” Red Bull boss Christian Horner told Mobil 1 The Grid. “That includes reliability, development, operation in terms of logistical challenges across the 22 different departments that make up Red Bull Racing and Red Bull Technology. It requires each one of those to be outperforming your competitors.”
He added: “We have demonstrated that we have got a really competitive chassis. I think since Hungary we’ve been very, very strong. So, as I say, if we can take these learnings into next year’s car then hopefully we can start on a stronger footing than the second or so we were off in Melbourne at the beginning of the year.”
One area Red Bull has managed to find gains is through its fuel and lubricant supplier, ExxonMobil, which it started using this year. Red Bull chief engineer Paul Mongahan has said gains from the two fuel upgrades this year have been worth a grid slot to the team.
With Renault’s special qualifying modes yet to match that of Mercedes, those fuel gains can prove crucial to securing track position in a close qualifying.
“Esso Synergy race fuel and Mobil 1 lubricant are a key element for our competitiveness, and have played a vital role in our on track performance,” added Horner. “They are at the cutting edge, always pushing the boundaries, which is exactly how we go racing. In F1, you need every area to be performing to the maximum, and that includes fuel and lubricant as well.”
Red Bull’s recent form gives it hope of mounting a strong challenge for the title next year. As it looks to the long-term, the team have received a big boost in having recently extended Verstappen’s contract until the end of the 2020 season.
Their priority now is to extend Daniel Ricciardo’s stay at the team, as Horner explains. “The simple plan is to try and do the same [with Ricciardo],” said Horner. “Daniel has been with us for a long time. I believe we have the most exciting and dynamic driver line-up in F1, and I’m keen to protect that and extend that. We have a little bit of time but hopefully we will be able to come to terms with Daniel in the relatively near future.”
For now, Horner is targeting a strong end to the season, starting with the next race in Brazil, at Interlagos, where the team has triumphed four times in the last eight years. However, given the ongoing developments being made, he concedes that further grid penalties for engine component changes may be unavoidable.
“The last four races, we’ve been extremely competitive,” he said. “We’ve won two out of the last four. We would have been second and third in another two events. The car is performing extremely well at the moment. We might have another penalty or so to pick up between now and the end of the year, but we are hopeful we can take that great form, particularly from Mexico, into Brazil and the final race in Abu Dhabi.”