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Formula 1

Red Bull boosted by invisible Eifel GP upgrade package

by Matt Beer
4 min read

An unseen upgrade package helped make Max Verstappen and Red Bull a serious challenger to Mercedes in qualifying at Formula 1’s Eifel Grand Prix.

Mercedes has enjoyed a clear advantage all season with a well-rounded package that Red Bull team boss Christian Horner previously described as better than any from Mercedes’ six title-winning seasons.

But Verstappen and Red Bull have chipped away at their deficit in recent races, with season-best qualifying performances in terms of pure performance at Mugello, Sochi, and now the Nurburgring.

Earlier in the year Verstappen and team-mate Alex Albon had a problem with the car’s sensitivity making it unstable at the rear, causing oversteer and occasional spins.

But a sustained run of decent qualifying form reached a new peak at the Nurburgring, where Verstappen held provisional pole after the first runs in Q3 but was beaten by Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton by two tenths of a second.

Visibly the RB16 looks the same as it did in Russia two weeks ago, suggesting that its upgrades are subtle, likely under the top-surface of the car and not the usual aerodynamic focuses like the rear of the floor or the bargeboards.

Max Verstappen Red Bull F1 2020

Asked by The Race to explain the strong performance, Verstappen said: “We brought a few upgrades, so the car is working a bit better.

“Of course, with only having run today there are still a lot of things to go through and analyse and optimise as well, because of the understeer I had in the car.

“But it’s definitely a good step forward, so we are on the right way. I just hope we can keep heading into that direction and keep improving.”

Having understeer in the car could be a sign that Red Bull’s upgrades have succeeded in stabilising the rear – Verstappen even said having that feeling “for once is nice”.

It could also be down to not dialling in enough front wing through the session, as teams had to react to track development quickly as there was no running on Friday, but Verstappen believes it is a fundamental car improvement.

“There are a few unknowns here, of course,” Verstappen said. “We haven’t done proper long runs.

“The car has been improved throughout the year, like a lot of other teams of course, but from our side it was all about just calming everything down a bit and connect the rear with the front a bit more.

“That, so far, seems to work this weekend.

“We just keep on working. We know that at the start of the year a few things were not right.

“We tried to address it, we tried to learn and we tried to make it better and see what we can improve, also for next year that we don’t make the same mistakes.”

Red Bull Mercedes F1 2020

The Nurburgring is less power-sensitive than recent tracks, which may play a part as well.

Engine partner Honda has had a season-long deficit to Mercedes with a particular loss performance at the end of long straights, potentially due to the Mercedes engine sustaining a higher level of electrical power deployment.

However, Albon said Red Bull is benefiting from what he called “quite a big” upgrade package.

“It’s a whole part really, bits and pieces front to back,” said Albon.

“To be honest, we can’t compare it to the previous package without the Friday running. The plan was to run the cars old package versus the new package.

“So, with limited running, we’ve kind of just started on it. But it feels good. It feels quick. It was feeling pretty strong straightaway.

“I was happy with it. And I think it’s a good step forward it’s put us a closer obviously to the Mercs.”

This is not the first time in recent seasons Red Bull has struggled early on and then made significant gains once it has understood its initial deficits.

F1 is keeping fundamental car components the same for 2021 but aerodynamic development is free and there are significant rule changes that will reduce the downforce produced by the cars.

With both the drivers’ and constructors’ titles a formality, Mercedes could be devoting its development focus to next year already. Team boss Toto Wolff did not confirm that when asked but said he expected Red Bull’s challenge to increase until the end of 2020.

“We tend to see this pattern that Red Bull catches up towards the end of the season,” said Wolff. “I guess it’s good for the championship.

“We are deploying the strategy that we believe is right, balancing next year and this year.

“And some of that you can see on the results on track, but we need to be vigilant and accept that the competition will increase over the last few races.”

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