It may not feel like it sometimes with the way they’ve dominated the 2023 season so far, but Red Bull’s had to be deliberately methodical to overcome their shortcomings. The energy drink suppliers have had to deal with the lowest amount of windtunnel time as reigning Champions on the sliding Aerodynamic Testing Regulation scale, combined with a further 10% reduction due to their cost-cap breach in 2021 that lasts until October 2023.
As a result, Red Bull has gone to extreme lengths to focus on maximising performances on race days, even at the detriment of their qualifying pace. But how, despite resources stacked against them, have Red Bull been able to increase their dominance this season compared to 2022?
If there’s been one element of vulnerability shown by Red Bull in 2023, it’s their qualifying pace. Despite winning all of the first 11 races of the season, they’ve been beaten to pole twice already, by Lewis Hamilton in Hungary and Charles Leclerc in Baku. Ferrari, on average the second-best qualifying team in F1, have been just a couple of tenths behind Red Bull all season. And while Charles was incredibly quick over a lap in Baku, he eventually finished 21 seconds behind Sergio Perez’s winning car.
Red Bull has achieved this by compromising on setup by reducing some of the ultimate potential of its car, for more consistency. Other teams have gushed about the stability the RB19 has in race trim, something very difficult to achieve in an era of ground-effect cars and dealing with the current generation of cars porpoising at higher speeds, a problem Red Bull has never really experienced.
There’s also been the incredible power of Red Bull’s DRS in combination with their trick floor layout. It’s led to a difference of over 20 miles per hour when in range of another car, making passing far easier than their rivals when Red Bull hasn’t been leading (Something of a rarity this season.)
But also, Red Bull’s had to get clever with car development as they’ve been extremely limited with their windtunnel allowance, only getting 63% of the run-time that rivals Aston Martin have had this season.
Red Bull’s upgrades have been focused on the middle of their car, such as the side pods, engine covers and focusing on the cooling of the car. And according to the rulebook, testing aerodynamic parts purely based on cooling does not count against the ATR allowance. It’s not an accident or a loophole, it’s how the regulations were written and Red Bull’s been clever in taking full advantage of their limitations.
And of course, car setup itself has played a huge role in how Red Bull’s achieved such a drastic contrast in form between Saturday and Sunday. They’ve often had to add understeer into the setup of their cars, to help protect the tyres, making the car unbalanced on the limit in qualifying.
This also helps explain the struggles that Sergio Perez has had in qualifying this year, only making one Q3 in his last six weekends and not scoring a pole position since Miami. The Mexican recently admitted after Silverstone that he struggles a lot with the car outside of a narrow operating window saying:
“I have become a little bit more sensitive to the car in the last few races, especially on Saturday on low fuel. We have some ideas, but we operate in such a small window of detail that… it’s just that we need a strong Saturday. The positive thing is that the pace is there on Sundays, but we just have to sort out and have a clean weekend, because the pace is there.”
At the absolute limit, Red Bull’s approach to setup has Max looking vulnerable to his competition on Saturdays. But on Sundays, when tyre wear kicks in over longer stints, that understeer adds balance to the car and makes the RB19 far better on its tyres. And as a result, has led to Red Bull going undefeated so far this season.
The 2023 Hungarian Grand Prix was the clearest example yet of how Red Bull’s tricks have played out over a race weekend. Red Bull’s usual strengths of brilliant aero efficiency were nullified by the high-downforce track, with Lewis Hamilton snatching pole and publicly pondering where Red Bull’s massive DRS advantage shown earlier in the season had gone.
But when Hamilton faded to 4th with his poor start in the race, you could also see Red Bull’s advantage in their battle with McLaren. In the early stages, Oscar Piastri stayed within a couple of seconds of Verstappen. But as the tyre degradation kicked in later on in the stint, Piastri faded fast as the Red Bull was able to better manage its tyres, and Verstappen had a nine-second advantage by the time the first round of pitstops came around. Lando Norris knew the writing was on the wall saying; “They’re not massively quicker over a lap. It’s just tyre degradation.”
Red Bull has used their setups and upgrade packages to compromise when needed and take full advantage of the incredible strengths of the RB19 on race day. And if this form continues, the perfect season is still very much on…
Do you think Red Bull will win every single race left in 2023? And if not, who’s best poised to make an upset? Let us know in the comments and if you liked the video, be sure to subscribe!