Red Bull Racing is finally rebuilding its momentum after a shocking start to the year – one in which it was expected to be Mercedes’ main rival.
The RB13 stood alone from the outset. Launched as a clean concept it was a step in the opposite direction to Mercedes’ F1 W08 and Ferrari’s SF70H; which many took as a sign of its impending potency…
And the belief was certainly there…
SOUNDBITE (English) CHRISTIAN HORNER, TEAM PRINCIPAL, RED BULL RACING:
“It looks mean, it looks fast. It's that old adage, ‘if it looks right it tends to go alright’. And this car for sure looks right.”
Fast forward to Melbourne, and the squad was playing down expectations with the new RB13 well off the pace due to a wind tunnel correlation issue – despite both drivers hungry to achieve.
SOUNDBITE: (English) DANIEL RICCIARDO, F1 DRIVER, RED BULL RACING:
"That's certainly my aim, that's my target to be world champion. I'll do what I can to make it happen this year but I'm not expecting it to happen. I’ll work hard and prepare for it to happen.”
Come August, and the luck has gone Daniel Ricciardo’s way with five-straight podiums from Spain to Austria, including a surprising win in Azerbaijan. Max Verstappen only has one podium so far, in China…
… while reliability has seen the team racing the least laps of all 10 teams – an incredible 80 fewer than McLaren-Honda.
Hungary was the squad’s best chance yet for another win, but Verstappen understeered into Ricciardo on the opening lap – forcing the Australian to retire on the spot.
The Dutchman was handed a 10-second stop-go penalty for causing the incident – but finished fifth, 13.2 seconds behind Vettel’s winning Ferrari - underlining the lost opportunity to claim the victory silverware.
Regardless, the squad is desperate to make up for lost time, with its team principal Christian Horner under no illusions as to what’s possible.
“We will not catch Mercedes and Ferrari,” said Horner. “But, I want to collect more points after the summer break than Ferrari; perhaps win here and there.”
To do that, Horner has kept the pressure on power unit partner Renault to try and provide more peak power, and better engine modes in qualifying - to split the Mercedes and Ferrari.
… while Belgium, and Italy ahead, are both power tracks, which shouldn’t suit the RB13 – but Spa will at least provide chances for more overtaking - and a sniff at a potential podium finish.
The next win chance should be in Singapore – with Ricciardo exclusively telling The Inside Line he’s primed for battle.
AUDIO QUOTE (English) DANIEL RICCIARDO, F1 DRIVER, RED BULL RACING:
“Singapore, the last few years, I’ve put emphasis on that with my training and my preparation before that and I think the results have shown that I’ve been on the podium three years in a row there.”
Unfortunately, the Ricciardo-Verstappen battle most fans had been hoping to see this year has been put on ice, the simmering frustration only upped by avoidable clashes like Hungary.
SOUNDBITE: (English) EMERSON FITTIPALDI, 2-TIME F1 WORLD CHAMPION:
“Both are world champion materials, who is going to be first? I don't know. Verstappen is much younger and much more aggressive. But Ricciardo is very talented. Both are very talented.”
In the first 11 races, Verstappen holds the upper-hand in qualifying, which is split 7-4 in his favour. But Ricciardo has scored far more points – 117 to 67 – with two less DNFs.
But with far better reliability in the season’s second half, it’s expected that this battle will be the one to watch, with many in the paddock saying it’s a pairing that can’t last beyond 2018, despite contracts in place.
Red Bull Racing has now endured two disappointing years, ones where it expected to take on Mercedes at the top – and failed.
Expect the team to redouble its efforts in the final nine races, as a test run to a title chase in 2018. For this proud team flush with cash, any period of mediocrity is simply not an option.