Red Bull made all the right moves this season

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I’ve written much this year, about Formula One teams’ race strategies, the ways they go about deciding those strategies and the way the best laid plans have panned out over each race weekend. I’ve talked about the way teams operate from top to bottom, how drivers have performed and analyzed whether things could’ve been done differently to maximize potential. Looking back, there are very few things one team in particular could, or should, have altered for a better outcome.

During the course of each season, those on the front line at every team are faced with a massive series of challenges to overcome, ever-moving goal posts through which to score and constantly unpredictable sets of circumstances and conditions in which to do it. Those who do the very best job, over the entire season, the ones who predict the unpredictable, make the best decisions and react best as events unfold, are normally crowned World Champions.

No one can say Red Bull Racing is undeserving of that title.

The design department, led of course by Adrian Newey, did a good job of developing a car over the winter from the one that finished the 2012 season as arguably second fastest. The RB9 began 2013 as a real contender, but ended it in a completely different class than everybody else. The team continued to bring upgrades even to the last few races of the season, despite already winning both championships and just got further and further in front.

McLaren took a strategic decision with the design of their new car at the tail end of 2012, citing the fact that the relatively stable regulations for the following year meant there was little scope for teams to continue developing an already well used concept under the same set of rules. Somehow Red Bull have not only managed to do just that, but by working hard on specific areas of aero, tire management and engine usability, they’ve pulled out the kind of gains not often seen in any season, let alone one where rules have remained this restrictive.

Alongside car development, the team managed to excel in just about every area of Formula One.

Strategically, the engineers on the pit wall, together with the team operating from their Milton Keynes base, have managed to execute some inspired race plans to leave rivals wondering where they went wrong.

In the pitlane, the boys and girls in blue have moved forward too. From a team that were perhaps third quickest and occasionally unreliable a year ago, they’ve developed technology and procedures to move themselves to the forefront of the pitstop league and perhaps fittingly, set a new world record for the fastest F1 tire change ever, in 2013.

It’s often too easy to say that with the fastest car, the job of the team, engineers and strategists becomes an easy one. I can tell you, from experience, that’s not true. I’ve been involved in campaigns over the years where we’ve had the pace setting cars, yet failed to take overall spoils because every single element of the F1 team’s job wasn’t carried out to perfection, so I take my hat off in admiration at what’s been achieved.

To finish Sunday’s race with a 1-2 standing is representative of the way Red Bull finished the season. Dominant in so many areas, the current era of our sport comes to an end in Brazil with the rest of the field squabbling over the scraps left behind.

It’s a tough job getting it all right at exactly the right time, but that’s exactly what this Red Bull Racing team has done in 2013 and, together with a much celebrated young driver, still writing his own incredible passage of history, they need to applauded as much as he is.

Who knows what 2014 will bring, but one thing’s for sure, whatever order of competitiveness the new rule book throws up in March, come December it’ll be those who’ve adapted, developed, planned and reacted best that stand on the top step again.

Porsche ready for final LMP1 outing in Bahrain

Photo: Porsche
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At the conclusion of this weekend’s Six Hours of Bahrain, Porsche’s four-year run in the LMP1 class of the FIA World Endurance Championship will come to a close. The pair of Porsche 919 Hybrids will roll off from first and third after Friday’s qualifying, and will look to add one more win to their final tally.

Despite its short stint, Porsche more than made its mark on the class and the championship, immediately jumping to the fore and challenging young hotshots Toyota, race winners in 2012 and 2013 and LMP1 champions in 2014, and long-time stalwarts Audi, which introduced its first LMP1 entry in 1999 and quickly became the predominant force in the LMP category.

The 2014 season saw Porsche score four poles and a race win before embarking on a remarkable three-year stretch from 2015 to 2017, in which they scored three straight 24 Hours of Le Mans wins and three straight WEC driver and manufacturer championships (they wrapped the 2017 titles at the previous race in Shanghai.

Fritz Enzinger, Vice President of the LMP1 effort, detailed that the early days of the program were a little rocky, given the complex hybrid technology they were working with, but that they were able to find their stride relatively quickly.

“Back then (in 2014), we developed from zero a highly complex hybrid racecar on a Formula One level. The early days were extremely demanding, especially as we had to set up the infrastructure, including new buildings, at the same time, plus assembling a team of 260 excellent people. The timing was really tight and the 2014 Le Mans race came way too early for us. But since then, we have managed maximum success. I’m incredibly proud of this team and I hope that we can conclude the era of the Porsche 919 Hybrid with a good race in Bahrain.”

Team principal Andreas Seidl added that having the championships wrapped up will make the final weekend more enjoyable, as they won’t have the pressure of racing with the championships in mind.

“I feel a big relief that the pressure of defending the manufacturers’ and drivers’ world championship titles is resolved before our last race. The emotions of the farewell under the stress of the title battle would have been extremely hard for the team,” Seidl revealed.

Further, he added that Toyota’s TS050, which debuted last year, made their task all the more challenging as they worked to developed the Porsche 919 Hybrid –  the same basic car that they launched in 2014.

“In Toyota this year, we are facing a competitor who developed an all-new car for 2016. We, instead, kept developing our existing car. That we still won Le Mans as well as both championship titles is thanks to outstanding driver performances, many detailed improvements and the operational strength of our team,” Seidl asserted. “Now we have to get ourselves together and focus on this last race. We want to leave the stage not only as world champions but also with a performance that is satisfying for all of us. Six hours of reliability and faultless work are big challenges of men and machine. Safety has the highest priority. Only after the checkered flag can we allow our reflective feelings to break through.”

In terms of approaching Porsche’s LMP1 swan song, some drivers are taking different approaches. For example, Nick Tandy, driver of the No.1 entry with Neel Jani and André Lotterer, isn’t putting much thought into the farewell and is focusing entirely on the race.

“I prefer not to think about the farewell yet,” Tandy quipped. “The Bahrain race is very interesting anyway because we are racing from day into night. It is normally very hot for the car, the drivers and especially the tires. It is a challenging race to finish the season at. I haven’t been there since 2015 but I was on the podium back then when I came second in the LMP2 class. So this year’s target is to make it onto the LMP1 podium.”

Conversely, newly crowned champion Brendon Hartley, driver of the No. 2 entry with fellow champions Earl Bamber and Timo Bernhard, freely expressed his emotions about the end of the Porsche LMP1 program.

“Going to Bahrain will be emotional for all of us. Especially as we arrive as World Champions with less pressure now,” asserted Hartley, who has also endured a busy stretch since the Petit Le Mans on October 7 that has seen him racing every weekend across the WEC, Formula 1, and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. “I have so many incredible memories and experiences with the 919 Hybrid, teammates and all the boys and girls from the Porsche LMP Team. We shared something very special together. After developing the Porsche 919 for more than four years, it’s an absolute dream to drive so we will all be enjoying every last lap with this awesome machine. On one side there will be a lot of sadness, but on the other hand we will be giving everything to give this project the ultimate send off it deserves.”

Porsche’s LMP1 effort won races in each of its four seasons, totaling 17 victories between it’s entries.

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