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Formula 1

The gloomy longer-term reality of Red Bull’s F1 brilliance

by Jack Cozens
7 min read

“Red Bull is so far advanced in understanding that concept and further down the road in terms of development, I can’t see how anyone catches them up until the rules change drastically, which is what…2026?”

Ben Anderson’s prediction on the latest episode of The Race F1 Podcast is a gloomy one but it’s reflective of just how well an Adrian Newey-led Red Bull technical team has understood this era of Formula 1 and how its nearest rivals have failed so badly – something that neutral fans may continue to pay for over the next few years.

Red Bull has earned nine one-two finishes since the start of 2022 and has a win rate of 83% (24 grands prix out of 29) – far exceeding anything it managed during its four consecutive doubles between 2010-13.

The team currently has acquired 88.9% of the potential points it could have scored – on course to be higher even than Mercedes’ most dominant season.

Gary Table 5 Percentage Scored

“The numbers are staggering, they’re so dominant this year,” Glenn Freeman remarked on that same podcast.

“In terms of people not talking enough about how remarkable Red Bull is, it’s exactly what we do every single time a team is dominating F1 because most people want competition so quite often, we end up framing the team doing the dominating as the bad guys.

“Pure performance-wise they’re not the bad guys here, the bad guys are Ferrari and Mercedes who right now aren’t doing a good enough job, just like how the bad guys when Mercedes was dominating were Ferrari and Red Bull not doing good enough job or Renault for producing a rubbish engine.

“These things always get skewed, eventually it happened to Ferrari at the start of the 2000s. Ross Brawn said for a while everyone loves seeing Ferrari win and then people got tired of it. With so many races now and with so much dominance, it feels like they’ve been dominating for longer than they have, they’ve only been dominant for about a 12-month period.”

A common myth around Red Bull’s domination is that the overspend it made in preparation for the new era in 2021 was a major building block of its tight grip on the field.

“I’m not going to make excuses for them [Red Bull] breaching the cap, they were banged to rights on it,” Edd Straw said.

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“The cost cap overspend was $1.8million however that was based on them declaring some tax break stuff that they shouldn’t have so as the FIA stated the effective overspend was just over $400,000.

“Now that clearly was something they shouldn’t have done but it absolutely doesn’t add up to this advantage.

“This advantage is earned through being a phenomenally good team and also they retain that desire to always improve.

“They’re never resting on their laurels and getting complacent about how well they’re doing.”

Red Bull’s dominance is a brilliant feat of sporting excellence but in modern-day F1 it can be especially frustrating for neutrals considering the improved reliability.

Aside from early teething problems it suffered in Bahrain and Melbourne last year, Sergio Perez’s retirement in the Canadian Grand Prix with a gearbox failure last year stands as Red Bull’s only race-ending reliability problem of this new era.

“I think there are a couple of factors behind it. One is that as teams get better and better they’re eliminating more and more of the variables. It means that every team on the grid, whether you look at Red Bull or Williams, is getting closer to their ultimate potential on more weekends than or not as we’ve had seen in the past,” Freeman said.

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“You’re more likely to just have the best team keeping on winning, more than it would have done in the past. You don’t have unreliability mixing things up as much.

“Also teams are so big now and it takes so long to turn them around that a team gets an advantage, whenever they get it right. It’s no longer the case it might have been in previous eras where all you need to do is a quick redesign of your car and you can achieve what they’re achieving.

“The cars are so complex, the processes involved in changing a design and understanding a design are so complex as well.

“It does feel that the modern science that’s behind F1, unfortunately, means until teams are fighting on a much more level playing field – and hopefully all the things F1 is trying to do to help that works – we’re going to be in a situation where whoever is doing the best job will win a lot more than the best teams of the past did.”

Red Bull already had a nine-race winning streak in the middle of last year and is currently on an eight-race victory streak, just three race wins away from equalling the record for most consecutive wins that is currently held by McLaren’s all-conquering MP4/4.

“It’s been the case for a while now that you basically need a massive rule change to knock a team off its perch,” Anderson suggested.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Spanish Grand Prix Race Day Barcelona, Spain

“It took two to take Mercedes down. The 2017 big steroid aero regs that kind of cut their winning percentage from the 90% [in 2016] to 60% [in 2017] and Ferrari was able to get close, Red Bull was able to win a few. Then they had another go in the Covid period, where they delayed the new regs and trimmed the cars for 2021.

“We finally got the epic contest we’d wanted for so long in 2021 and of course by then they’d already signed off another major rule – obviously one about making the racing better and many other things, the sport more cost-effective and efficient – [so] there was also the hope of level the playing field and not having a dominant team and it’s just skewed us the other way and sent Red Bull into the stratosphere and now everyone else is struggling.

“It’s kind of been the way since the early 2000s. Ferrari was pegged back with rule changes in the middle of that decade. The teams are so good, it takes a massive pulling of the rug if you like from underneath the technical structures for teams to get a bit lost down their own rabbit holes, to have a big shake-up of the order because they’re all just so good.”

Therefore it’s only natural to look to the next big regulation change – 2026, when both the engine and chassis regulations will be overhauled.

“Teams are now much better at getting the most out of their cars, there’s less fluctuation, less variables which does lead to this potential for pulverising dominance and just the problem of how long it takes to recover,” Straw admitted.

“Mercedes has brought upgrades recently and set a new design direction but we’re talking about ‘well, start of next year they can do a new car’ and can maybe take a step, but even then I’d be surprised if Mercedes do enough to be at Red Bull level at the start of next year because you’re trying to catch up so much, while all the time Red Bull are serenely carrying on the same development path that they started on.

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“Red Bull has not had to deviate or take a step back or a 90-degree right turn, because every time you have to do that the teams are not doing that to gain an advantage. It’s the same with Ferrari, a bit of a shift with direction, that will take time to exploit and that’s one of the other things teams have failed to do.

“Not only have they let Red Bull dominate but [they’ve let it happen] in this year where Red Bull has an ATR disadvantage.

“The rivals are making that whole equation really easy for Red Bull to manage because they’re going to win this season quite easily. The pressure is taken off them and it becomes a virtuous circle for Red Bull.”

A 2026 date for the potential end of Red Bull’s dominance might be a dim outlook for neutrals to contend with but it’s also testament to the position Red Bull has worked so brilliantly to put itself in – one Ferrari and Mercedes have successfully put themselves in previously.

“That does seem like quite a bleak prediction but it’s perfectly realistic because nobody else has come up with any majorly different direction to Red Bull,” Straw concluded.

“They are all having to change. It becomes very difficult to make those gains. It’s feasible, something could happen. Mercedes or Ferrari could discover something with their alternative paths that Red Bull has missed but most likely it’s not going to be the case, because all this time Red Bull is carrying on its development path it can also have a little bit of a look at this, that and the other and [ask], ‘Is there something that might work? No, we don’t need to do that’.

“It becomes less likely but it’s possible; I don’t want to condemn the next few years, that’s why people start to talk about whether there will be a little rule tweak or something that slightly changes parameters – I absolutely don’t think there should be and I see no evidence there will be. But you never know in Formula 1.”

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