Could Confidence be building in the Red Bull Racing camp that they could end Mercedes AMG Petronas dominance and win their first FIA Formula One World Championship since 2013 after a strong showing in pre-season testing.
A step too far for Red Bull
Red Bull entered the 2020 F1 season full of hope and belief that it was finally their season to end Mercedes dominance, but that quickly vanished when the DAS system was presented to the whole world in pre-season testing in Barcelona.
Similar to how the past six seasons, Red Bull couldn’t build a car to match the speed of their main competitor, having to settle for a second-place finish in the constructor standings, nearly 254 points behind Mercedes.
For a second consecutive season, Max Verstappen secured the third spot in the World Championship, only eight points behind Valtteri Bottas, but put in some excellent performances across the year, notably, the two wins at the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix and Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
However, Red Bull’s downfall came from Alex Albon, who struggled to make his presence known in the RB16 throughout 2020. He managed to grab his maiden podium at Tuscan Grand Prix before adding a second at Bahrain Grand Prix. However, inconsistent performances led the young driver to only finish seventh in the World Championship, which forced Red Bull to replace him with Sergio Perez at the end of the season.
Can the RB16B outdo the W12
Everyone that adores F1 knows not to take pre-season testing too seriously, especially the team’s time throughout the weekend. Yet many couldn’t take their eyes of Red Bull’s performance in Bahrain, while Mercedes struggled.
Verstappen was the overall quickest in pre-season testing, setting a time of 1:28.960 on C4 compound tyres, while his new team-mate Perez also set a time of 1:30.187 on the same tyres, the eighth fastest over the sessions. However, it wasn’t the pace that worried Mercedes, but the lack of reliability in their car, suffering gearbox failure on the first before both drivers struggled with the balance.
While Red Bull endured a comfortable and free-flowing three days, except for the opening parts of the first session that saw Verstappen lose the rear a couple of times, without any problems and undoubtedly added more belief that Red Bull can finally stop Mercedes in 2021.
As mentioned above, pre-season testing shouldn’t be an indicator of what to expect from teams in the opening race, because for all we know, Mercedes could have been sandbagging, but the signs do look promising for Red Bull.
Perez to bolster Verstappen chances
Perez replaces Albon in Red Bull’s second seat for 2021 after some terrific performances for Racing Point, including his maiden Grand Prix victory at the Sakhir Grand Prix. The Mexican went onto finish fourth in the World Championship ahead of both McLaren F1 Team and Renault drivers.
From Red Bull’s point of view, it seemed like a no brainer to sign Perez for the team, not just because he’s a quality driver but also adds a bit more experience in the Red Bull camp and can help mature Verstappen into an even better driver.
One of Red Bull’s main downfalls in their 2020 season was the lack of two drivers at the front of the grid, with Albon usually involved in the midfield battle, leaving Verstappen alone to battle both Mercedes drivers’. However, Perez will certainly help Verstappen in those situations, giving the Dutchman more confidence to attack Lewis Hamilton, knowing that Perez offering support.
What to expect
It’s hard to predict what we could expect from Red Bull going into the 2021 FIA Formula One World Championship. The RB16B is comfortably going to secure second in the constructor standings. The rest just depends on whether Mercedes actually have problems heading into the 2021 season, or it was just a case of sandbagging.
However, the pairing of Verstappen and Perez is arguably one of the strongest on the grid at the moment and help Red Bull at least close the gap on Mercedes.