Formula 1

The Red Bull F1 wins that mattered most

by Josh Suttill
10 min read

Max Verstappen’s 2023 Canadian Grand Prix victory was Red Bull Racing’s 100th win in Formula 1, making it only the fifth team in world championship history to achieve that milestone.

It’s got there rapidly too – it’s under a decade and a half since its very first F1 victory.

And while the ever-larger calendars help the dominant teams and drivers of the modern era notch up eye-watering statistics, that shouldn’t diminish the enormity of what Red Bull’s achieved in what’s now two spells of crushing all rivals. But there was a long fallow period in between too.

Here’s our pick of the wins that made the biggest difference among that 100, many of them from Red Bull’s greatest days but also some when it was very much the underdog.

Compiled by Edd Straw, Scott Mitchell-Malm and Matt Beer

Monza 2008: ‘Win zero’

Formula 1 Grand Prix, Italy, Sunday Podium

Sebastian Vettel’s famous victory in the Italian Grand Prix for Toro Rosso was effectively ‘win zero’ for Red Bull. The Toro Rosso STR3 was the same Adrian Newey-designed car as the Red Bull RB4, albeit with Ferrari, rather than Renault, propulsion and a few other minor tweaks.

While it’s fair to say Toro Rosso’s remarkable success in 2008 caused a few internal ructions at Red Bull, it was effectively proof of concept. And the fact it was Vettel behind the wheel made this the prototype for what was to follow in Red Bull’s first era of domination.

What’s more, he did it by controlling the race from start to finish after topping qualifying. That would become a familiar sight in the years that followed.

China 2009: The actual breakthrough

Win no.1

Formula 1 Grand Prix, China, Sunday Race

Red Bull Racing’s actual first win came in the form of a crushing 1-2 in a rain-hit Chinese Grand Prix.

Vettel bagged pole despite only being able to have one run in each segment of qualifying thanks to a leaking driveshaft seal, converting that into a win backed up by team-mate Mark Webber.

This was the one brief interruption of Brawn GP’s early-season dominance and a hint that the Red Bull RB5 was, double diffuser cars aside, the real trendsetter for F1’s new ‘skinny’ aero era.

Red Bull soon added a double diffuser of its own and asserted itself over Brawn, although it wasn’t quite able to turn that pace into a title victory thanks in large part to the early points lead Jenson Button and Brawn had amassed. But China was the marker that showed Red Bull had arrived as a contender.

Spain 2010: The first sign of aero dominance

Win no.8

Formula 1 Grand Prix, Spain, Sunday Race

The 2010 Spanish Grand Prix was the dawn of what we know as modern Red Bull. It may have been win number eight for Red Bull but this was a win of supreme dominance at an aero-dominated track.

The speed the car could carry through the quick corners at Barcelona was breathtaking and Webber triumphed from pole position. Vettel would have been second but for losing a place to Lewis Hamilton’s McLaren during the pitstops due to a slow turnaround.

But this win signalled this was now Red Bull’s era of aero supremacy.

Abu Dhabi 2010: Title sealed by an unexpected driver

Win no.15

Formula 1 Grand Prix, Abu Dhabi, Sunday Podium

Vettel was third in the championship heading into the race, which he dominated from pole position. That shouldn’t have been enough to be crowned world champion, but it was and gave Red Bull its first title double.

Webber, second in the points ahead of Vettel but struggling that weekend, had a part to play. He made an early stop, which prompted Ferrari to bring its championship leader Fernando Alonso to cover him. But Ferrari had failed to realise the pace drop-off everyone was battling was thanks to a graining phase that cleared (something Bridgestone suspected was rooted in its experience with the tricky 2009 Ferrari that led to it misunderstanding tyre behaviour in Abu Dhabi).

With Webber out of contention and Alonso stuck behind Vitaly Petrov’s Renault, Vettel was home free to win the race and become Red Bull’s first drivers’ champion.

Japan 2012: Vettel’s toughest title fight gets back on course

Win no.32

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Japanese Grand Prix Race Day Suzuka, Japan

Red Bull and Vettel’s 2011 championship double was achieved with a level of dominance not seen at that point since Williams in the early 1990s. But 2012 was much harder.

A series of rule changes affecting blown exhausts, nose flexibility and (on the eve of the season) the placing of bodywork around the exhaust all chipped away at elements of Adrian Newey’s genius and it took late-season upgrades for Vettel to get back to the level of performance and affinity with the car he’d shown in 2011. Alonso putting together his greatest-ever season in a Ferrari that had been embarrassingly off the pace in testing gave Vettel quite an obstacle to overcome too.

Suzuka gave Vettel the springboard he needed. He absolutely dominated, while Alonso was eliminated in startline contact with Kimi Raikkonen’s Lotus. The points gap was down to four and momentum was on Vettel’s side. He duly wrapped up title number three – slightly scruffily – in the Brazil finale.

Belgium 2013: Vettel’s final flourish begins

Win no.39

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Belgian Grand Prix Race Day Spa Francorchamps, Belgium

There wasn’t much of a title fight in the first half of 2013 but it wasn’t an absolute runaway for Vettel either. He entered the summer break 38 points clear of second-placed Raikkonen and having taken four wins already, but Lotus, Ferrari and Mercedes had won races too. Though Red Bull was clearly on course for another title, it wasn’t a cakewalk.

Then, suddenly, it really was. As the season resumed at Spa, Vettel won a first-lap battle with Hamilton’s Mercedes and wasn’t seen again that day. And he never lost another race that year either, rounding off what proved to be his final Red Bull championship win season with nine victories in a row.

A change of tyre made it possible. After a chaotic British GP, Pirelli reverted to the tougher construction it had used in 2012 and Red Bull’s true performance could be unleashed. An anomalous win for Hamilton in Hungary just before the break aside, it was all Red Bull from then on.

Canada 2014: Hello Ricciardo, improvisational underdog genius

Win no.48

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Canadian Grand Prix Race Day Montreal, Canada

It all fell apart quickly for Vettel – wrong-footed in 2014 not just by Mercedes emerging dominant in the new hybrid rules (and Red Bull partner Renault getting things very wrong) but by the change in driving style required by the end of the exhaust-blowing tricks he had mastered so peerlessly.

He was completely upstaged by new Toro Rosso graduate team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, in a switch of team status no one would have predicted pre-season.

Ricciardo’s breakthrough 2014 Montreal win was partly inherited as the hitherto dominant Mercedes hit technical trouble. But to get to the front of the queue to put a last-gasp pass on the limping Nico Rosberg, he had to pull off a superb move on Sergio Perez’s Force India.

That was the first proper glimmer of the magic Ricciardo and Red Bull would create together. The days when he’d get into a zone where anything seemed possible – no matter how outlandish the strategy he was put on, how many cars he needed to pass in a late soft-tyre charge, he’d ‘lick the stamp and send it’ and achieve the impossible.

Spain 2016: The future arrives

Win no.51

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

For all Ricciardo’s moments of glory, it was Max Verstappen who’d eventually take Red Bull back to the top. And that became pretty clear from his very first race with the senior team – which, incredibly, he won.

The Mercedes colliding helped. Red Bull and Ferrari tripping over each other with Ricciardo and Vettel’s strategies helped, effectively putting both team’s faster cars on the day onto slower strategies than their team-mates Verstappen and Raikkonen.

But in his 24th F1 race and his first for a top team, at the age of just 18, Verstappen had to manage his tyre wear on a very long final stint and hold off past champion Raikkonen in a faster Ferrari.

It would be some years before Red Bull was consistently competitive enough for more titles and for Verstappen to be polished enough to win them too. But that extraordinary team debut made it seem inevitable that’s what would eventually happen, and intra-team momentum was firmly heading Verstappen’s way after that too – even though Ricciardo had a few more wins in him yet and was brilliant across the balance of 2016.

Austria 2019: Red Bull makes Honda a winner again

Win no.60

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Austrian Grand Prix Race Day Spielberg, Austria

The erosion of Red Bull’s relationship with long-time engine supplier Renault through the start of the V6 turbo-hybrid set the team on a course to definitively alter its future.

Had Red Bull not gambled on Honda, effectively with the Toro Rosso team as a trial run in 2018, it would never have made the switch that would be critical for the eventual re-establishment of Red Bull as a title-winning force.

But the first months of Red Bull Racing’s first year with Honda itself were not easy and when senior Honda figures arrived at the Red Bull Ring for the Austrian Grand Prix, everybody was still waiting for the first win.

Verstappen’s superb victory that weekend, recovering from a bad start and culminating in a dramatic late pass on Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari, ended that wait, marked the beginning of the Red Bull-Honda era – and went a long way to redefining F1’s racing rules too.

Emilia Romagna 2021: A title contender again

Win no.65

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Emilia Romagna Grand Prix Race Day Imola, Italy

This was the start of the modern era of Red Bull domination, the first victory for Verstappen in a fractious season that yielded his first drivers’ championship after the hugely controversial Abu Dhabi finale.

Although Verstappen ‘only’ qualified third, he leaped ahead of team-mate Sergio Perez in the first few-hundred metres and had the inside line in his battle with Hamilton at the Tamburello chicane, emerging ahead after some wheelbanging with the Mercedes. He never looked back.

The Imola victory was Red Bull’s 65th victory. The fact that it was just over two years ago and Red Bull has now hit a century tells you all you need to know about what it marked the beginning of.

Abu Dhabi 2021: The most controversial of all

Win no.75

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Race Day Abu Dhabi, Uae

A disclaimer: ‘important’ doesn’t mean it was a good thing. Let’s get that straight before getting into the most divisive win in Red Bull’s history – but undeniably one of the most significant.

The controversial Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was effectively a winner-takes-all race. Red Bull has never faced a grand prix with higher stakes – even though this team has faced final-round deciders before.

What happened in the closing laps, as Verstappen swapped what was going to be a comprehensive defeat in the race and championship for a shocking last-lap pass and victory over Hamilton, will forever upset some fans and delight others. It ruptured F1 in a way never seen before in the modern era.

But whether you think what happened was right or wrong, whether you thought Verstappen or Hamilton deserved to be champion, whether you respect Red Bull for dethroning Mercedes or loathe it for the circumstances of that night in Abu Dhabi, the importance of the victory to the team cannot be disputed.

It made Verstappen a world champion and put Red Bull back on top.

Belgium 2022: Will this team ever lose?

Win no.85

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Belgian Grand Prix Race Day Spa Francorchamps, Belgium

By the time of last year’s Belgian GP it was pretty clear that Verstappen and Red Bull were heading for the titles. He was 80 points clear and though Ferrari had been a rival on pure pace up to the summer break, between driver errors, reliability problems and strategic calamities it was looking just too good at shooting itself in the foot.

Spa, however, was utterly demoralising for everyone else. Verstappen started 14th on the grid after component change penalties, reached the lead by lap 12 and won with ease. The Red Bull’s pace and his ability to exploit every bit of it was such that he looked unstoppable regardless of where he started.

And that has – with just a couple of exceptions – been the story of every F1 race since then. And looks like being the story of all of them in the immediate future too.

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