All eyes are on Red Bull in F1 this season


For Red Bull's nine rivals in Formula 1, there is a mix of hope and realism that the sport's dominant team can be beaten this season.

Last year, Red Bull and its champion driver, Max Verstappen, rewrote the record books to defend their constructor and driver titles.

Ahead of the new season starting with the Bahrain Grand Prix on Saturday, Verstappen said it will be very difficult to top his achievements, but that is not our goal. It's about trying to deliver another extremely competitive car.”

Since the introduction of new aerodynamic rules in 2022, designed to help one car follow and overtake another more closely, Red Bull has won 38 out of 44 grands prix. In 2023, Verstappen set the record for most wins in a season with 19 from 22 races.

There is a belief among many team principals and technical directors that the limits can only be pushed so far under the current rules and Red Bull will be caught.

“Inevitably, when you have a team that is performing as well as Red Bull from 2022 onwards, there will be some kind of convergence on their solutions,” said Dan Fallows, Aston Martin technical director. “We take the view that Red Bull is absolutely beatable. This is what we are pursuing, this is our goal. We are focusing on them.”

Last season, Red Bull was beaten twice, by Ferrari's Carlos Sainz in the Singapore Grand Prix, and by McLaren's Oscar Piastri in the sprint race in Qatar. Piastri's teammate Lando Norris said it was possible to beat Red Bull and Verstappen at grands prix this year, but questioned whether they could lose their championship.

“If you ask 'Can they be beaten?,' then you have to say yes, and we would like to be confident in saying yes because last season we were very close at times, and at certain times we beat them,' ' They said.

“If the question is, 'Can we beat them in a season?', then that will be the challenge, and I think it will be very difficult to do given how well they have been performing.”

Norris scored more points in the final 14 races than any other driver except Verstappen, after improvements were introduced to the McLaren at the Grands Prix in Austria and Singapore last year.

McLaren team principal Andrea Stella expects Red Bull to maintain its lead, but he also hopes the gap can be closed.

“If we maintain the growth rate for 2023, we could be in a strong position,” he said. “Whether that is enough to challenge Red Bull and the other top teams, it will certainly lead to good improvements.” , we'll find out.”

Verstappen dominated last season to such an extent that his record for most points in a season, 575, was enough to win the constructors' title on his own. Mercedes, which stood second, scored 409 runs.

Like Ferrari, Mercedes has also redeveloped its car for this season. Mercedes, which won eight consecutive constructors' championships from 2014 to 2021 before regulation changes next year, has introduced a new chassis and gearbox.

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff is pragmatic.

“On the one hand, you have to be realistic about the chances of beating a team that is well ahead under these rules and that has done things right over the last two seasons whereas we haven't,” he said. “There are no miracles in sports.

“On the other hand, our ambition is strong. It's Red Bull and a very successful car that we want to benchmark against. I don't know when that will happen, we don't have a crystal ball. But we will soon know how far ahead they are and what the task is before us.

Lewis Hamilton, who has won six of his record seven drivers' championships with Mercedes, leaves the team for Ferrari at the end of the year.

Hamilton invoked a clause in his Mercedes contract that would allow him to depart a year early. He said he was fulfilling a “childhood dream” by joining Ferrari, but was determined to end his career with Mercedes “on a high”.

“It would be the biggest honor to help them get back to the top,” said Hamilton, 39. “I feel the most motivated and focused I have ever been. “I never thought at this point in my life that I would be as hungry as I am now.”

Hamilton will partner Charles Leclerc at Ferrari in 2025. Leclerc, who signed a multi-year extension to his contract during the off-season, is looking to build on last year's strong finish.

“2023 was a disappointing season because we were not fighting for the positions we wanted to fight for, there was a very good response from the team,” Leclerc said. “The second half of the season was really good.

“Our aim is to start this season on the strong basis we finished last year and then make similar progress to put Red Bull under pressure as soon as possible.”

His teammate, Carlos Sainz, who is looking for a new team for next season after losing his seat to Hamilton, said Ferrari has done everything possible to close the gap with Red Bull.

“Even though Red Bull is going to come out very strong, Ferrari is going to be able to close that gap and put us in a position to fight for more wins,” he said.

“Let's wait until the first race to see how competitive we are, and then I'll be able to tell you how many wins I think we can get this season.”

At the start of last season, Aston Martin made a strong start, with Fernando Alonso finishing on the podium in six of the first eight races but failing to win.

The 42-year-old Alonso has been encouraged by words from his technical director Follows that Red Bull can be beaten. “It's nice that he says that,” she said. “It brings a smile to my face. We have to be optimistic in this part of the season.

“First of all, we have to be in the points regularly, fighting for the podium, as we were last year, and if we are in that position, it would be lovely for Aston Martin to get the first win in green. Hopefully, I will be driving at that time.”

At the debut of its car, the RB20, for this season, Red Bull unveiled different bodywork, notably the side pods and engine cover.

Team principal Christian Horner said chief technical officer Adrian Newey and his team are working hard to achieve success in 2023 regardless.

“Logically, there is going to be convergence with stable rules. We can see other cars taking influence from the RB19, and we're expecting other teams to follow suit,” he said, referring to last year's car. “But the team has done an amazing job on RB20. There is no decency. “They continue to evolve and push the boundaries.”

Verstappen agreed. He said the new style is “controlled aggression”.

“When I saw the pictures of the new car I said, 'Wow! It's kind of different,” he said. “They have not been conservative.”

“What I like about the team is that we had a great package, but they took the opportunity to try to make it better by going all out. From what I've seen within the team, everyone is happy with what they achieved over the winter. There are no question marks.”

After three days of preseason testing in Bahrain last week, Sainz finished with the fastest time but admitted that Verstappen and Red Bull would again be the combination to beat.


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