#3 – Daniel Ricciardo – Australia – 21 Starts, 256 Points, Best Finish: 1st (Malaysia), Championship Position: 3rd.
#26 – Daniil Kvyat – Russia – 4 Starts (17 for Scuderia Toro Rosso), 21 points (4 for Toro Rosso), Best Finish: 3rd (China), Championship Position: 14th.
#33 – Max Verstappen – Netherlands – 17 Starts (4 for Toro Rosso), 191 Points (13 for Toro Rosso), Best Finish: 1st (Spain), Championship Position: 5th
After two disappointing seasons on the run, Red Bull Racing were waiting for a miracle to get them back to their winning ways. It transpires that they got three: the second strongest car on the grid, Daniel Ricciardo, and a certain teenage Dutch sensation.
The Milton Keynes based team saw themselves safely ending the 2016 Formula One season in second place in the Constructor’s Championship with 468 points, behind only Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team’s 765 points. They have also been the only other team on the grid to win a race other than the Brackley-based team this year, with victories coming in both Spain and Malaysia.
The team has also had its fair share of controversies, namely surrounding their decision to swap Russian driver Daniil Kvyat with Scuderia Toro Rosso driver, Max Verstappen, with some claiming the decision was unfair or that Verstappen was not ready to take on the role. These complaints were ultimately quashed when the young Dutch driver won his maiden race with the team at Spain – albeit thanks to a collision between the two Mercedes’ drivers, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. However, even without luck, the team earned their ‘best of the rest’ title, with twelve podium finishes between the three drivers.
The Australian Grand Prix was a mixed race for the team and for the sport on the whole, with criticisms of the new qualifying system flying in even before Q3 had finished. Red Bull had bigger issues than the qualifying, with a technical failure on Kvyat’s car meaning that he didn’t get to start the race for the second year in a row. However, the crowd favourite Daniel Ricciardo finished the race in fourth place, much to everyone’s delight.
The second round of the championship took place in Bahrain, a track notorious for its good racing, most notably between the Mercedes AMG Petronas drivers, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, in 2014. Kvyat had an unlucky qualifying that saw him starting the race in fifteenth place, but with some clever driving he managed to claw it back into the points with a seventh place finish – but still not the result that the team wanted. Ricciardo, on the other hand, had a much more successful drive, even after making contact with Williams Martini Racing’s Valterri Bottas on the first lap, which saw him, once more, finishing in fourth.
The first podium of the season for the Red Bull team came in China, after a controversial but fantastic driver from Kvyat, which involved his first ‘run-in’ with Scuderia Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, who claimed he was driving ‘like a torpedo!’. Nevertheless, the third place that he earned was the first of many podiums for the team this season.
It was the next race in Russia where his actions were called into question, once more by Vettel. The young Russian driver crashed into the Ferrari twice on the first lap, and the second time saw Vettel’s race end, as well as Kvyat’s. It was a disappointing day for Ricciardo also, who finished out of the points in twelfth, but this was overshadowed by Kvyat’s actions, which were the catalyst for one of the most talked about events of the season – his swap with Scuderia Toro Rosso driver Verstappen.
The swap between the two drivers was both criticised and praised, and team boss of Red Bull, Christian Horner, saw it as ‘killing two birds with one stone’. Many people thought that Verstappen may struggle due to his age, or that he wouldn’t be any better than Kvyat. However, in his first weekend, Verstappen silenced all the critics of the move with a stunning maiden win in Spain for the team.
Helped by the two Mercedes crashing into each other on the first lap, Verstappen inherited a strong place in the race, but whereas team mate Ricciardo went for a three-stop strategy that potentially cost him the win, or at least the podium, Verstappen displayed masterful tyre management that allowed him to stay ahead of Scuderia Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen to take first place – becoming the youngest driver in history to do so. Ricciardo finished a strong fourth, but felt as though he had the pace to win.
Race six of the season, Monaco, was a weekend that contrasted completely to the prior race. Verstappen went from hero to zero, a trip into the barriers meaning that he had to retire from the race for the second year in a row – inevitably making it something of a challenge for the young driver. Ricciardo, conversely, had his best qualifying session, beating both Mercedes drivers to his first pole position of his career. With a new engine upgrade from Renault, the Australian looked like the one to beat, but a poor strategy call from Red Bull effectively robbed him of the victory, and instead saw him take third. Whilst still a good performance for the team, Ricciardo, the ‘smile of Formula One’, couldn’t hide his anger and disappointment on the podium.
Canada was the next round of the season – a race that may be best remembered for ‘seagull gate’. However, it was also a chance for Verstappen to prove that his win hadn’t been a fluke, and he did so, by coming a respectable fourth place, holding off Nico Rosberg. He did, however, receive his first reprimand of the season that came as a result of impeding Bottas in FP1. Ricciardo had a race to forget: he still managed to keep in the points but finished a mediocre seventh – another kick after the disappointment of Monaco.
This was shortly followed by the inaugural race at Baku – also known as the European Grand Prix. It was estimated that the race would have lots of ‘thrills and spills’ due to its narrow streets and barriers, but in it turned out to be a quiet race for the Red Bull team, with Ricciardo finishing in seventh and Verstappen in eighth.
Formula One next ventured to Red Bull’s ‘home race’ in Austria, and this was one of the most promising weekends for the team. Ricciardo finished in a respectable fifth place, but seemed confused as to why he lacked the pace of his rivals ahead, given that he had had the Renault engine upgrade a few races before. Verstappen, however, did even better than his last race in Canada and achieved his first podium since his win in Barcelona, with a very strong second place behind Lewis Hamilton.This good run of finishes continued to the next race at Silverstone, where he once more finished in second position in wet conditions that he tends to favour. Once again, he finished ahead of his team mate, with the Australian finishing in fourth, and commenting that he felt as though it was ‘a boring race’.
The next race was in Hungary, and was where Verstappen first tried his controversial ‘moving under braking’ manoeuvres. Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen was on the receiving end, and fortunately no contact was made – but there was uproar. Nevertheless, Verstappen still finished fifth, but Ricciardo reasserted his number one status in the team with a fantastic drive that saw him finish in third place, a position that he felt was the best that the team could do, given that they only finished behind the Mercedes.
Swiftly after Hungary came Germany, a race that didn’t feature on the calendar in 2015 and won’t be again in 2017. This track saw a strong result for the team, with a double podium finish, with Ricciardo once again gaining the upper hand in second and Verstappen finishing third – but only after Rosberg had been penalised for pushing him off track, when it appeared that he ‘forgot how to steer.’ Verstappen seemed to brush the incident off in a comedic manner, commenting in the Press Conference after the race that ‘Lewis knows’ about Rosberg’s choice tactics.
The summer break followed Germany, which meant that the next race was Spa-Francorchamps towards the end of August. At his ‘home race’ (Verstappen drives under a Dutch flag but was born in Belgium), the young driver qualified second, but a crash with Vettel and Raikkonen on the first corner seriously hindered his race. There was mixed opinion as to who’s fault the clash was, but Verstappen’s dive down the inside of the Scuderia Ferrari’s meant that he was apportioned most of the blame.
However, his race was made even worse with another of his infamous ‘braking’ move on Kimi Raikkonen on the Kemmel Straight, which caused a huge backlash from drivers and fans alike. It was definitely a race to forget for the Dutchman as he finished in eleventh place. Ricciardo, on the other hand, avoided all of the drama at the beginning of the race, and then drover superbly to finish once more in third, as he seemed to be proving to all of the fans that he was still superior to his young ‘protégé’ team mate.
Next came Monza for the Italian Grand Prix, which, in comparison to prior performances, was a mediocre race for the team, with a fifth and a seventh place finish – but was expected due to the Red Bull’s deficit in straight line speed. However, a circuit they knew that they could capitalise on was Singapore – last year’s weakest track for the Mercedes car. It certainly did throw up some surprises this year, most notably Verstappen’s close encounter with ‘Godzilla’ in FP1. However, the race belonged to Rosberg, with Hamilton nowhere to be seen, allowing Ricciardo to sneak into second place, with a breath-taking last minute charge that almost saw the Australian catch the race leader. Verstappen had a somewhat quieter race, which included a dice with Kvyat – which may have been seen as some payback for his demotion earlier in the season.
The Malaysian Grand Prix was by far the best race for the team, with their first 1-2 finish for well over a year. Daniel Ricciardo felt as though his victory was justice for missed opportunities in Monaco and Barcelona, as he capitalised on Hamilton’s dramatic engine failure that saw him retiring from the race. Verstappen followed closely to seal second place ahead of Rosberg, something that helped the team in their fight for second place in the Constructors Championship ahead of Ferrari.
The seventeenth round of the Championship was in Suzuka, a track that many of the drivers enjoy. Verstappen once more caused controversy with his driving, a trend in the year, with a daring defending move on Lewis Hamilton that allowed him to keep second position. There was confusion as it appeared that Mercedes launched an appeal against him, but this was quickly, and angrily, dismissed by Hamilton on Twitter. Once more, Ricciardo stayed out of the drama to come home with another solid position of fifth place for the team.
The ‘home-straight’ of the season began in the United States of America, at the Circuit of the Americas. This was an odd race for the team – Verstappen decided to pit by himself and then subsequently had a mechanical failure that saw him parking at the side of the track and retiring. This then brought out the safety car, which in turn impeded Ricciardo and stopped him from taking the second position that he was on course for due to poor strategy from the team.
However, the strange luck for the team did not stop there – instead, it continued into the next race in Mexico. Ricciardo was eventually granted third place after both Verstappen and Vettel held it, but due to penalties handed out for leaving the track and gaining an advantage (Verstappen), and the newly implemented ‘moving under braking’ rule (Vettel), it was the Australian who clinched the last spot on the podium, and Verstappen who earned fourth.
With only two races remaining in the season, the attention was firmly turned to the World Championship, but the Brazilian Grand Prix caused it’s fair share of drama due to the torrential downpour before and during the race. Whilst Hamilton won it, all anybody could talk about was Verstappen – who with 12 laps to go was in fourteenth place, but worked his way through the field, taking ‘karting’ lines to overtake and move his way up to third. He also had a massive scare coming up the last straight that saw him almost spin, but after righting it he calmly commented over team radio, ‘yeah, my heartbeat went up a bit there’.
Ricciardo drove a much safer race, finishing in eighth position, and commented after the race that he was struggling with visibility and thought that he had used the wrong tyre strategy. However, both drivers scored enough points to firmly put them second place in the Constructors Championship, a significant improvement from last year’s fourth place.
The final race of the season, Abu Dhabi, saw the drivers finishing fourth and fifth respectively. A spin on the first lap put Verstappen in last, but a fantastic drive for a one stop strategy meant that he had an advantage on others. Ricciardo felt as though he could have taken the same strategy to his team mate, which would have seen him likely to finish ahead of him. Nevertheless, it was a strong result for the team to finish on.
A year of controversy, wins and points for the Red Bull team. They arguably have the most promising driver pairing on the grid, and with new regulations coming in 2017, they could be challenging for Championships rather than just race wins. Only time will tell what’s in store for the team, but one thing is for sure – it will be entertaining to find out.