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?
3. Daniel Ricciardo (Australia)
33. Max Verstappen (Netherlands)
Red Bull RB13
Renault R.E.17 (rebadged as TAG Heuer)
Christian Horner (team principal)
Adrian Newey (chief technical officer)
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…
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.