Red Bull is set to introduce upgrades to their RB19 Formula 1 car at this Qatar Airways Hungarian Grand Prix this weekend. What does this mean for Red Bull’s rivals?
In short, “Nail, meet coffin.”
And isn’t it about time Red Bull came with an upgrade; Max Verstappen barely won the British Grand Prix, by just under four seconds. That’s just a fraction of a minute, nowhere near the standard margin of victory we’ve come to expect from Red Bull.
But the RB19’s upgrades come at a time when opposing teams’ upgrades have proven to be meaningful. Just recently in the British Grand Prix, McLaren upgrades on Lando Norris’ car boosted Norris into the same zip code as Verstappen, albeit briefly, before Verstappen said “I’ll see your upgrade, and raise you my engine, which does not need an upgrade to beat you.” Maybe the game of poker is not the right game to explain Red Bull’s dominance. It would take two games to do that, because RB is playing chess; their rivals are playing a game that is a step below checkers.
Red Bull’s most noticeable upgrade will appear in their sidepods, which, if the wildest of rumors are correct, will sprout wings and send the RB19 airborne. That’s obviously not going to happen, but the visual is apropos: Red Bull’s technology is that much more advanced than their rivals that the RB cars are doing things other teams can only dream of.
Now, it’s not like the other teams don’t notice what Red Bull is doing: the RB19 is there for everyone to see at each race. Sometimes, Sergio Perez even makes it possible to examine the underside of the RB19.
It seems odd that the brightest engineering minds in motor sports have a hard time identifying the specific designs and parts of the car where Red Bull has an advantage, then duplicating that in their cars. That’s an oversimplification, but being a copycat is often how you stay competitive in F1.
And since nine other teams seem to have a problem with this, Red Bull should, as a good will gesture towards competitive balance, blatantly point out their design advantages with specific markings on their cars. For example, if Red Bull’s new side pods give them a two-tenths of a second advantage, then they should add a decal that states “0.2” on each sidepod.
If Red Bull’s DRS package provides a 30 kilometers per hour advantage, then they should attach a banner to their rear wing which states “30 kph.” Not only would this let opposing teams know what they’re lacking, it would also create drag and slow the Red Bulls.
Of course, this would be a problem for Red Bull’s sponsors, because there would be no room left on the car to display their sponsor logos.
One wonders how long Red Bull has had these upgrades ready. Common sense would tell you that RB could have implemented these upgrades weeks, even months ago. They probably chose not to, since they were consistently winning races by 30-45 seconds over the closest team. Why upgrade then, when said upgrade would make that margin, let’s say, five seconds larger? Five seconds on top of a 45 second advantage is 50 seconds. On a percentage basis, that’s an 11% increase.
Not a massive sell when you’re already on track for a perfect season.
If Red Bull’s upgrades at Hungary add five seconds to their margin of victory over McLaren at the British Grand Prix (3.798 seconds), then that would be well over a 100% increase. That’s if my math is correct. If my math is incorrect, I’m probably an engineer or race strategist for Ferrari.
The point is, Red Bull could have upgraded earlier and further embarrassed the field, or, as they have chosen to do, upgrade now, after giving the field a false sense of progress, and then embarrass them. It’s a cut-throat business, and Red Bull is wielding the guillotine.
What can other teams do in the face of seeing such a dominant car becoming even more dominant? Not much. All they can do is swallow their pride, inhale Red Bull exhaust, and hope that the FIA again catches Red Bull for spending too much money on catering, and are thus penalized a certain amount of wind tunnel testing time. But let’s face it, Red Bull could put their car in a tunnel with no wind and still find a way to make the car faster.
So, a simple message to Mercedes, McLaren, Ferrari, Aston Martin and others: watch and learn, and don’t think for a second, or more appropriately, much more than a second, that you’re catching Red Bull.
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