Thursday, February 11, 2021

1 Racing Mind’s Formula 1 Season Ending Team Report Card: Red Bull Racing

Photo Credit: Andy Hone/ LAT Images/ Pirelli

Team Grade: B+

Overall Season: 

Although Red Bull Racing has lost its dominant position in the Formula 1 tour in 2014 with the arrival of the turbo/hybrid powerplant format, the colourful race cars fielded by the Austrian energy drink company has maintained a place as a top-three team. For the 2020 season, Red Bull Racing entered its second year using Honda-supplied power unit installed in their RB16 chassis. While the team drivers mentioned handling complications with the vehicle at the Hungarian Grand Prix, the race car performed well overall.

In the hands of Max Verstappen, the #33 RB16 race car was a formidable entrant seen as being one of the few competitors capable of nearly matching the pace of the Mercedes-AMG race cars evident by three fastest race laps, two grand prix wins and a pole. Red Bull Racing’s second driver Alexander Albon encountered a less consistent outing in the #23 machine as he navigated his first full season with the team. Albon did manage to stage some noteworthy runs in 2020 including his first career Formula 1 podium. Deservingly, Red Bull Racing finished second in the Formula 1 World Constructors’ Championship after the year wrapped.

Achievements During 2020 Season:

With two race wins in the 2020 Formula 1 campaign, Red Bull Racing’s top triumphs in the season were actually more impressive that just claiming the top podium positions. Max Verstappen’s victories at the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix and the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix were the direct result of Red Bull Racing outfoxing the German factory team on race day with an advantage. The first victory of the year at the Silverstone Circuit saw Red Bull Racing exploit a weakness with the Mercedes-AMG cars’ ability to manage tire wear. At the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Verstappen finally ended up on the best side of a qualifying fight with Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas. Following a great start, the Dutch driver’s second win for Red Bull Racing appeared to be better suited to the Yas Marina Circuit.

Scoring a total of 14 podium finishes between both drivers in 2020, the Bahrain Grand Prix served as the team’s best overall result. Aided by Sergio Perez’s late race retirement, Max Verstappen and Alexander Albon snagged podium finishes behind grand prix winner Lewis Hamilton. The double podium result for Red Bull Racing in the third-to-last event in 2020 was the first for the team since the 2017 Japanese Grand Prix.

Beyond the accomplishments of the drivers, Red Bull Racing’s unsung garage crew staged one of the most breathtaking exhibitions at the Hungarian Grand Prix before the race started. During the formation lap for Formula 1 cars on a wet Hungaroring race track, Max Verstappen’s and his vehicle on intermediate tires slid wide in turn 12. Impacting the safety barrier resulting in damage to the left front suspension and front wing, the #33 car was quickly attended to by the Red Bull Racing mechanics. A grateful Verstappen was able to finish second in the event thanks to his crew’s efforts. 

Shortcomings During 2020 Season: 

Assembling a 2020 season that saw them functioning as the only viable challenger to Mercedes-AMG, Red Bull Racing ended the year as the second-best outfit. Most of the times outright beaten by the German automaker’s Formula 1 team, there were occasions where opportunities for better results slipped away. Despite finishing in the runner-up position in the Formula 1 World Constructors’ Championship, Red Bull Racing failed to score points in three grand prix events. McLaren, Racing Point and Renault only had one race apiece where neither vehicle finished in the top 10. Several mechanical problems and Max Verstappen’s unlucky involvement in an opening lap of the Sakhir Grand Prix proved costly.

Red Bull Racing has been spoiled by their wealth of grand prix talent that existed within their Scuderia Toro Rosso affiliate team. Sebastian Vettel, Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo all followed a route from the so-called ‘junior team’ to Red Bull Racing. In the past two seasons, the Austrian-based team has fielded two entries with noticeably varying consistency. While the #33 Verstappen car was a stable frontrunner, the second drivers have been seen as underachievers. Dropping Pierre Gasly in the middle of the 2019 season, Red Bull Racing put Thailand driver Alexander Albon behind the wheel for the remainder of last year and the full season in 2020. Albon has encountered much of the same obstacles of Gasly with Red Bull Racing. Receiving a new race engineers ahead of the British Grand Prix, the Thai Red Bull Racing pilot eventually gain two podiums but his performance remained uneven.

Team's Drivers: 

#33 Max Verstappen: A-

Photo Credit: Mark Sutton/ LAT Images/ Pirelli

Overall Season: 

When the Dutch driver joined Red Bull Racing in the fifth round of the 2016 season, it was clear to the motorsport world the name Max Verstappen would become a spotlight athlete. In his sixth full season in Formula 1, Max Verstappen maintains a fierce level of aggression on the race track but continues to assert an attitude that some could call abrasive at times. 

The Dutch driver led the charge for the Red Bull squad in 2020 and was ultimately seen as ‘the best of the rest’ compared to the dominating performance of the two Mercedes-AMG team competitors. In 17 races, Verstappen claimed 11 podium finishes and the fastest laps in three grand prix events in addition to victories at the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix and the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. On four occasions, Verstappen was voted by fans as the Driver of the Race. 

Achievements During 2020 Season: 

Max Verstappen was the only non-Mercedes-Benz powered Formula 1 entry to stand at the top of the podium. On two occasions in 2020, Verstappen took the chequered flag in first place beating the Mercedes factory team. 

The season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was perhaps the best drive by Max Verstappen. Taking the race’s pole by a narrow .025-second maring for Valtteri Bottas, the Dutch racer presented a masterful performance on Sunday reminiscent to some of the showing Mercedes-AMG were able to orchestrate in races this past season. Maintaining his lead from the start, Verstappen would cross the finish line 15.9 seconds ahead of Bottas.

Shortcomings During 2020 Season: 

Max Verstappen finished on the podium in all but one race when the vehicle remained running at the end of a grand prix. On the flip side of that number, the 2020 season featured five retirements for the #33 Red Bull Racing RB16 race car. For two of the DNFs, Verstappen was caught in an opening lap crash including the Sakhir Grand Prix where he had a hypothetical chance at winning if he remained in the race based on the way the event transpired. Verstappen also suffered a retirement at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix at Imola when a sudden tire failure sent him off the track and out of the race while running second.

With only Haas F1 Team driver Kevin Magnussen recording more DNFs in 2020, Max Verstappen’s failure to finish likely cost the Dutch drive the runner-up spot in the World Drivers’ Championship ending the season nine points behind Valtteri Bottas.

#23 Alexander Albon: C+

Photo Credit: Charles Coates/ LAT Images/ Pirelli

Overall Season: 

Thanks to the high profile mid-season driver change pushing Pierre Gasly out of the team in favour of Alexander Albon, the Thai racer was almost immediately on the hot seat to perform in 2020. In his first full year with the Red Bull Racing squad, Albon proved to be less effective in races than teammate Max Verstappen but did manage some accolades. A first career podium at the Tuscan Grand Prix allowed Albon to become the first athletic competing under the flag of Thailand to claim such an honour in Formula 1. Adding another podium later in the season, Alexander Albon succeeded in proving himself behind the wheel of the RB16 race car. However, being constantly measured against a teammate that ended the 2020 season with two wins and eleven podium finishes were inevitable causing the driver of the #23 car to be judged against a high standard. 

Alexander Albon finished the 2020 Formula 1 tied with McLaren’s Carlos Sainz Jr. with 105 points in the season-long drivers’ standings but a second place scored by the Spaniard resulted in the Red Bull Racing driver settling one position behind in 7th place. 

Achievements During 2020 Season: 

In a unique grand prix held at Ferrari’s Mugello race track, Alexander Albon took his first career podium finish crossing the line behind the pair of Mercedes-AMG race cars. The podium result at the Tuscan Grand Prix was essentially an overdue honour for the Thai driver. Running within the top-three late in the 2019 Brazilian Grand Prix as well as at the 2020 Austrian Grand Prix, Albon’s hope to celebrate on a stage was foiled both times after contact with Lewis Hamilton.  

Although Alexander Albon was outranked in many aspects of the 2020 Formula 1 by Max Verstappen, the Thai driver leaves the past season better in one discipline. Albon finished all but two grand prix events compared to Verstappen’s five race retirements.

Shortcomings During 2020 Season: 

Alexander Albon performance during the 2020 Formula 1 season has been a roller coaster. Though he succeeded in putting the #23 Red Bull Racing car in a podium spot twice, the 17-round calendar also featured some less than stellar outings and missed opportunities for better placement. On lap 58 of the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, Albon spun as he battled Racing Point’s Sergio Perez for fifth place costing him and his team a point-paying finish. Albon was also out-qualified by Verstappen in every grand prix event in 2020 and earned a second row grid position on just three occasions. 

The lofty expectations of Red Bull Racing are difficult for many qualified Formula 1 drivers to live up it during a season. Alexander Albon performed well but not good enough for Red Bull Racing to field him in Formula 1 competition for 2021. His team elected to pick up hot free agent Sergio Perez to be the teammate to Max Verstappen next season with Albon remaining with the squad as a development driver. 

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