Formula 1 2017 team preview: Red Bull Racing

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After a tumultuous 2015 campaign that nearly saw its marriage with engine supplier Renault break down, Red Bull hit back last year by claiming two race wins and second place in the constructors’ championship.

With one of the most dynamic driver pairings on the grid in Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen, the four-time world champion team is ready for another title tilt in 2017.

The new focus on aerodynamics – an area the team is traditionally strong in – should play into Red Bull’s hands, but can it overhaul Mercedes and fend off Ferrari?

DRIVERS

3. Daniel Ricciardo (Australia)
33. Max Verstappen (Netherlands)

CAR

Red Bull RB13

ENGINE

Renault R.E.17 (rebadged as TAG Heuer)

TEAM CHIEFS

Christian Horner (team principal)
Adrian Newey (chief technical officer)

MONTMELO, SPAIN – MARCH 07: Daniel Ricciardo of Australia driving the (3) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB13 TAG Heuer on track during day one of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on March 7, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

What went right in 2016: After the slanging match with Renault through 2015, big, big gains were made on the power unit side, prompting Red Bull to sign an early contract extension with the French manufacturer. The decision to (harshly) ditch Daniil Kvyat for young upstart Max Verstappen paid off as he won on debut for Red Bull, while Daniel Ricciardo was one of the most consistent drivers through the year. Red Bull did basically everything it could right.

What went wrong in 2016: Red Bull maximized its potential last year. It was never going to challenge Mercedes, but did well to pick up the pieces where possible. When Mercedes dropped the ball, it was Red Bull – not Ferrari – that took advantage. Perhaps the only off-note was its performance on ‘power tracks’ like Montreal and Monza, where Ferrari moved ahead, but that was more a Renault thing.

What’s changed for 2017: The biggest off-season change for Red Bull is the switch in fuel and lubricant supplier, dropping Total in favor of long-standing McLaren partner ExxonMobil. Curiously, the factory Renault team has linked up with BP/Castrol, potentially creating a mismatch for the power units. Keep an eye on whether it impacts Red Bull this year.

What they’ll look to accomplish in 2017: A title challenge is the target for Red Bull. The shift back to more aero-based regulations helps, particularly with technical guru Adrian Newey on-board, yet most expect the power units to still be the defining factor. Renault had a few issues through pre-season, while Red Bull hid its pace and will turn in Melbourne next Sunday with a vastly different-looking RB13 car. Only then will we know what Red Bull can really achieve in 2017…

MONTMELO, SPAIN – MARCH 07: Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Red Bull Racing talks to the media during day one of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on March 7, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)

MST PREDICTIONS

Luke Smith: Red Bull has one of the most-balanced driver line-ups in F1, and I’m expecting both Ricciardo and Verstappen to win this year. Ricciardo’s strength in qualifying will be particularly key, given the difficulty of following cars and overtaking under the new regs. But in all honesty, I don’t think Red Bull can quite make the jump to catch Mercedes at the front. Ferrari looks in the best shape from pre-season, although I’d expect Red Bull to make more progress over the season. The two will scrap for second in the constructors’ championship.

Tony DiZinno: This could be the year Red Bull’s talented, fast and fun, dynamic young duo enters the dramatic stage of their relationship as teammates. Even as Daniel Ricciardo keeps his smile out front, first and foremost, Max Verstappen is poised to become a more complete driver this season if his race craft is better. He knows the team now from the start of the year and will be keen to edge ahead. If there aren’t fireworks, I’d be surprised. But multiple wins should still be possible here and a potential championship threat if the car’s up for it.

Kyle Lavigne: Red Bull Racing perplexed many during pre-season testing. Given that they were the only team outside of Mercedes to win a race in 2016, many hoped they would improve their form and regularly challenge the silver cars. However, they rarely made appearances near the top of time sheets during testing.

Still, individual lap times can be misleading and there is a belief that Red Bull has not shown its hand yet. However, their TAG Heuer-badged Renault power unit could be the most important factor in whether or not they challenge Mercedes. On the driver front, standouts Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen have shown the speed needed to challenge for wins (each won a race last year) and return to the team. If the car and power unit are up to it, either of them could be a title contender.

Heather Lyne, Dennis Erb Jr. make history in the World of Outlaws Late Model Series

Lyne Erb Outlaws Late
Jacy Norgaard / World of Outlaws
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More than two decades in the making, the pairing of Heather Lyne and Dennis Erb Jr. produced a historical milestone in Dirt Late Model.

Last month, Erb and his long-time crew chief Lyne won their first World of Outlaws Late Model Championship and with this achievement, Lyne became the first female crew chief to win in a national late model series. Their journey together goes back 21 years and tells the story of hard work, persistence and belief in oneself.

After a career-best season with the World of Outlaws, Erb and Lyne secured the points championship at US 36 Raceway in Osborn, Mo. with three races remaining in the season. The consistency and success of their season came down to pinpoint focus. Lyne and Erb are a team of two living out a David vs. Goliath tale. In order to be as successful as possible this year the duo knew they had to do as much as possible with the resources they had.

“It’s always a challenge when you only have two people, both at the racetrack and at the shop,” Lyne told NBC Sports. “I also work full time, so during the day, Dennis has to do a significant amount of work so that when I get down there I can start working and maintaining. It’s planning ahead. It’s having that system in place and making sure that you’re prepared ahead of time.

“When you have a problem at the track, making sure you have all that stuff ready so it’s a quick change and not a lengthy process to make a repair. We had zero DNFs in the World of Outlaws, we had only one DNF out of 96 races [combined among all series].”

Dennis Erb clinched his 2022 championship before the World of Outlaws World Finals. Jacy Norgaard – World of Outlaws Late Model Series.

Taming Time

This was not an easy feat. Between a full travel schedule and Lyne’s full-time job as an engineer, time comes at a premium. What they lack in time and resources they made up for in patience and planning.

“We buckled down, and we got all the equipment that we needed back, motors freshened, and things of that nature,” Lyne said about the mid-point of last season. “We were able to keep up with that. We just had a higher focus. I tried to reduce my hours at my day job as much as I possibly could while still maintaining what I need to get done at work. I got rid of a lot of the other distractions and got a more refined system in place at the shop.

“We did certain tasks on certain days so we had time to recover. We were on the road a little bit more, as opposed to coming home to the shop. So we had to be more prepared to stay out on those longer runs. It was just really staying on top of things a little more. It was a heightened sense.”

This was Lyne and Erb’s fourth full season with the Outlaws, but they’ve been on the road together for the last 21 seasons starting in 2001. Their partnership began with Lyne’s bravery. When one door closed, she was quick to open another. In 2001, Lyne’s dad was ready to stop racing. Her mother wanted to regain her weekends, but Lyne knew this was her life path and wasn’t prepared to lose it.

“I’ve always been a tomboy at heart,” Lyne said. “I watched racing with my dad. Growing up he watched NASCAR. In high school, I got tired of playing at the lake house, so I went to the local dirt track and fell in love with it. I just couldn’t get enough. It took a year for me to convince my dad to come to the track with me. He finally did and we sponsored a car that year, the following year he started to race limited cars. He ran hobby stocks and limited late models.”

At some point, Lyne and her father’s level of commitment drifted apart.

“He did it for about five years,” Lyne said. “And then my mom said: ‘I’m done racing. I want my weekends back. It’s just not fun anymore.’ I wasn’t ready to hang up my wenches and Dennis raced out of the same hometown so I, on a dare, went down and introduced myself; told him if you ever need any help, I’ll drill out rivets, I’ll help wash, whatever you need. Twenty-one years later here I am.”

Heather Lyne became the first female crew chief to secure a national touring late model championship in 2022. Paul Arch / World of Outlaws Late Model Series.

Breaking Through

Lyne entered a male-dominated job in a field that is also male-dominated – and where there were few examples of women creating these places for themselves. In this way, Lyne became a blueprint for other women as they strive to find a place for themselves in racing and in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) overall. She has her mother to thank for providing a strong role model, her father for sharing her passion, Erb for taking a chance on an unknow entity and most importantly herself.

“I was raised to believe that I can do anything, I want to do, as long as I put my heart and soul into it.” Lyne replied when asked about role models in the sport growing up. “My parents did not raise me to have that limitation. But from a racing role model perspective, I went in there completely green and just introduced myself to Dennis, the fact that he was brave enough to take that risk and bring a girl to the racetrack. Someone he didn’t know at all speaks volumes for him.”

Lyne and Erb have learned how to survive and succeed with each other on the road. They do this by leveraging decades of combined experience and an ability to adapt to the everchanging landscape of dirt late models. Next year the World of Outlaws visits nearly a dozen new tracks and Lyne sees it as an opportunity for continued success.

“I just want to do it again,” Lyne says going into next season, “I’m looking forward to the competition, I always do. I wouldn’t do it if I wasn’t competitively driven.

“There are some new tracks on the schedule that I’m looking forward to trying for the first time that I haven’t been to myself,” Lyne said of the 2023 season, “Dennis seems to do well on those first timers. We won out at Marion center, we finished second at Bloomsburg. We have a good solid notebook of information to tackle them over the last three years with these rocket race cars that we’re running. It’s good to have that information and leverage it to try some new things.”