Red Bull’s greatest strength is one which chief rival Aston Martin admits cannot easily compare as it is “baked in” to the championship’s flagship Formula 1 racing car concept for 2023.
The next round of racing before the summer break, starting with the Austrian Grand Prix this weekend, will properly test that conceptual feature, at circuits that bring out the best in Red Bull and indicate how much better their rivals’ cars really are now after the last stint. Big upgrades.
Over the Canadian Grand Prix weekend, Red Bull Pier Watch’s technical director validated the car’s “efficiency” as its main strength: “On different tracks, we can produce downforce without massive drag.”
This has been seen again and again this season, sometimes as blatantly as the RB19 blasting past rivals with or without DRS but often more subtly in the form of good cornering performance without sacrificing straight-line speed.
Simple as this is the identification, it is not easy to replicate them. As F1 heads to the Red Bull Ring, and follows that up with high-speed challenges at Silverstone and Spa (interspersed with the Hungaroring) ahead of the summer break, we’ll see the first signs of just how much progress (or not) the Red Bull rivals have been making.
Aston Martin is a surprising challenger to Red Bull this season, or at least as competitive as any team can be for a team that has dominated every Grand Prix so far.
A significant performance step from last season until then has propelled Aston Martin into regular contention for the podium as it battles Mercedes and Ferrari for second place in the championship.
At the most recent race in Canada, where Aston Martin experienced its best upgrade of the season, the AMR23 was more competitive than the RB19 ever raced, and Fernando Alonso had his best result for the team of the season in second place.
As for the Aston Martin, its car was strong in low-speed cornering, but unlike the Red Bull it wasn’t as successful at managing the trade-off between downforce and drag.
Technical director Dan Fallows, a former teammate of Wache’s at Red Bull before his high-profile move to Aston Martin, has explained where the development priority now lies.
“What Pierre is hinting at about their car’s very high efficiency, we all see we all have the data as well,” said Fallows.
“Obviously that’s something we’re working on. But it’s really not something that comes overnight. It’s baked into the concept car.
“But it’s obviously a big target for us to try to make sure the car is slippery as well as fast in the corner.”
This seems to have started. And it’s also linked to broader progress – Aston Martin starts from a lower base than Red Bull, so in theory, it has more room for improvement.
As Aston Martin continues to go its own way, it is capitalizing on the potential of the package it has developed since the concept change last season.
Canada introduced a major upgrade package designed to take advantage of the car’s power over a wider range of circuits. The Aston Martin has definite strengths, compared to the Red Bull being better across the board, which means some tracks bring out the best in the AMR23 while on others it has to compromise its strength more.
“The reality is when you have a car that’s probably good on one set of turns and not on another, that means at the end of the day you’re going to have to make setup compromises for those particular circuits,” said Fallows.
“So you find those circles where you have a certain angular velocity or a certain angle type or less on a variety of angle types, and you can improve on it.
“And if you then go to an arena where there’s a lot of variety, you have to make those compromises. And that’s what we found. That’s what we’ve been really working on.”
Wash believes Red Bull is in trouble in terms of “pure performance” on one lap although it retains “some advantage” in managing its pace in races. But he also predicted in Canada that its competitors could “open up” more, and warned: “You see some updates coming from our competitor here, and it certainly will be closer.”
The rest of the weekend seemed to prove his theory correct. Although Max Verstappen dominated the rainy qualifying session and won the race comfortably, Alonso felt Aston Martin was challenging Red Bull for the Grand Prix.
But he lost ground early on after being passed by Lewis Hamilton at the start and then had to manage a problem on the final stage of the race that turned out to be less severe than he had initially feared.
Alonso has hinted that there is more to come, although in Canada he lamented the format of the Red Bull Ring weekend as it takes time to “understand the package and improve it a bit”, which Alonso says is necessary.
“But the circuit will be just as good, maybe even better, for the package as well,” said Alonso.
“So, maybe we’ll have more speed in Austria.”
Verstappen said Aston Martin – and Mercedes, who have introduced their own significant upgrade in Monaco – are “definitely” close in Canada. The upcoming faster layouts will be great tests for that.
They’ll show whether Aston Martin in particular has made its car more aggressive at tracks that focus more on both straight-line speed and cornering performance, a combination that lets Red Bull’s RB19 flex its muscles the most.
Aston Martin boss Mike Crack had been careful at the previous race not to get carried away and say anything about starting to put Red Bull under pressure. He also cautioned that Canada presents a definite challenge, and given the huge difference in car performance between Barcelona and Montreal, firm conclusions are difficult – especially with the AMR23 upgrade between them.
But even Krack was willing to admit he’s excited to see what comes of the next few episodes, given what Aston Martin aims to improve on.
“We’ve seen that recent updates seem to be working,” said Krack in Canada.
“And there are some tracks coming up now where you have a lot of high-speed corners and I think we’ve improved our car on the high-speed corners – which we don’t have a lot of here.
“So, I’m looking forward to them. Because it’s in circles like this, I think we’ll see the true strength of Red Bull – and we also have a better handle on how far we are.”