Red Bull Racing Honda F1 Team Season Review 2021

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Continuing our team reviews for the 2021 season. Going in reverse Constructor’s Championship order and to coincide with their 2022 challenger launching, it is Red Bull Racing Honda. Previous teams can be viewed here:

10. Haas Ferrari

9. Alfa Romero Racing-Ferrari

8. Williams Mercedes

7. Aston Martin Mercedes

6. Scuderia AlphaTauri Honda

5. Alpine Renault

4. McLaren Mercedes

3. Scuderia Ferrari

Pre-Season

Red Bull finished the 2020 season with arguably the fastest car.

Max Verstappen dominated the final race of the 2020 season. Taking a strong pole position and leading from lights to flag.

Red Bull had started 2020 with a very temperamental car. It took them the majority of the year to come up with solutions to realise its inherent speed.

With the minimal design changes for the 2021 season it was hoped that Red Bull might have a Mercedes challenger on their hands. Or at least a car that can take it to Mercedes more often than previously.

Honda had announced they would be leaving the sport at the end of 2021, but had brought forward their 2022 engine as a swansong.

The new Honda engine was a very compact package, but still delivered very good power and fitted very well into the Red Bull.

At pre-season testing, the Red Bull seemed to be clearly the quickest car in Bahrain. The teams newest driver, Sergio Perez, also appeared to be much more on the pace than Red Bull’s previous drivers had been.

The Season

First Half

Following a strong testing and the fact the first race was being held in Bahrain, Red Bull were clear favourites. Verstappen duly put it on pole position and led from lights out.

An incredibly aggressive Mercedes strategy with some superb Lewis Hamilton tyre strategy is all that stood in Red Bull’s way. Towards the end of the race Verstappen was rapidly closing and attempted a pass but went off track in doing so. He gave the place back but also caused a temperature spike in his tyres and couldn’t get the grip back to make the pass stick.

It lost Red Bull the opening win, but showed that there was going to be a fight this season as they were so closely matched. Verstappen did go on to learn from his mistake with the tyres later in the season.

In Spain, Verstappen again made an aggressive move on the first lap to take track position. Mercedes then pitted Hamilton for a second time as there was clear air behind Valtteri Bottas in 3rd. Mercedes then instructed him to get out of the way.

Red Bull could do nothing about Hamilton’s closing pace as they left it too long to pit and had to hope Max’s tyres would hold.

They didn’t. Lewis won the race. It was another lesson learnt for Max and Red Bull.

In Monaco, while not managing to claim pole, the Red Bull was very quick. Max effectively gained pole with Leclerc not starting and wasn’t troubled throughout the race from anyone behind.

It ended a bit of a hoodoo for Max at the principality since joining Red Bull, he had never managed to convert his pace.

Baku was a big tyre blowout for Verstappen, sending him into the wall down the main straight and ended his race.

Hamilton wasn’t able to capitalise on this, making a mistake on the restart. It left Perez to claim his first win of the season and for his new team. A timely reminder of his skills considering his relatively average start to the season.

In the build up to Baku, there had been a lot of noise (mainly from Mercedes) about flexible rear wings. A few teams were using these to reduce straight line drag. Afterwards the FIA issued a directive and further tests which effectively outlawed this practice.

It was also rumoured that Red Bull were finding a way to run lower tyre pressures in their tyres. A factor Pirelli felt was partially responsible for the tyre failures in the race. New higher pressures were forced on the teams to prevent further issues.

The two rule changes effectively trimmed back some of the Red Bull performance. However, the next three races (France and the two Austrian races) were a purple patch for Red Bull.

They still had the quickest package and France even gave the team an opportunity to reverse what had happened in Spain.

Verstappen lost the lead at turn 1 by going wide, but managed to undercut Hamilton at the pitstop. The level of tyre degradation was higher than the teams expected, but it was still looking like a one stop race.

Red Bull then pulled Verstappen in from the lead of the race, a very brave move as track position is king. This put Verstappen behind both Mercedes and Perez but on much fresher tyres. Mercedes knew they couldn’t now pit Hamilton so had to hold on.

Perez moved out of the way of Verstappen who then quickly dispatched Bottas ahead. Closing onto Hamilton with a few laps to go, there was nothing left in Hamilton’s tyres and Verstappen easily passed him.

With Perez going long at the start, he was also able to pass Bottas on the last lap to get a double podium.

Second Half

Coming into Silverstone, it looked like Red Bull’s title to lose and boy did circumstances conspire to nearly cause that….

Mercedes had a bigger upgrade package at Silverstone and were generally quicker. Max managed to win the sprint race but on lap 1 of the race Hamilton knew he had to get past to win.

Coming into Copse corner, Hamilton was just along on the inside but didn’t pull out like Max expected. This sent Verstappen into the wall in a huge crash but didn’t take out Hamilton who went on to win the race.

Perez was no where after making a mistake in the sprint race. Perez even had to pit out of the points to go for the fastest lap point so Hamilton didn’t get it.

Hungary – and the Red Bull couldn’t get the set up right, meaning they were off the pace in qualifying and starting behind the Mercedes. On lap 1, Max got a good start falling into second behind Hamilton. However, following the early rain shower before the race, Bottas got his braking point wrong.

The Mercedes came barrelling into turn 1 far too quick, taking out both Red Bulls via other cars. This also set off another major accident with Lance Stroll finishing off many others.

Perez was out of the race but Max continued, though with serious damage. He never had the pace to fight for a win and finishing 9th was actually a strong result.

In Spa, Max had a great qualifying to be on pole but the no race meant he only got half points for the result. Perez had an embarrassing off on the way to the grid in the wet conditions.

Zandvoort was like a festival, the track was returning for the first time since 1985. Verstappen being a hero in the Netherlands and fighting for the Championship meant the atmosphere was insane. For Verstappen to go and win from pole just made things even crazier.

Have a look at the videos of the orange flares covering the track after he had won!

Monza has never been a strong race for Red Bull which has higher downforce than top speed. In 2021 it was the same again, with Verstappen only being in 3rd on the grid for the sprint. He started on pole for the race due to Hamilton’s mistake and Bottas’ engine penalty, but lost out to Ricciardo into turn 1.

A slow pitstop for Max and Hamilton running a different strategy brought them back out on track at the same time. Into turn 1, Max went to the outside and attempted to brake later to carry the speed around the outside into turn 2. Lewis closed the door to push him out wide and they made contact. Both drivers ended up out of the race with Verstappen’s car resting on top of Hamilton’s. The recklessness of the Dutchman’s driving resulted in a grid penalty for Russia.

The pressure of the season was ramping up more and more but Mercedes now had the faster car on average.

In Russia, Max took an engine penalty on top of his grid penalty to get an upgraded Honda engine. This resulted in him ending up at the back of the grid. In the race he made rapid progress up the grid, overtaking Bottas along the way who appeared not to defend at all!

Verstappen’s pace started to slow because of what he took out the tyres and it looked like he’d made as much progress as he could. A timely call on strategy with the rain ended up getting Max into 2nd position which was a great result after starting at the back.

Austin allowed the team to show what he had learnt all the way back in Bahrain. Not taking too much out of his tyres meant he could measure his pace and took the win from a charging Hamilton behind.

The Honda engine really outperforms others in Mexico and combined with the high downforce Red Bull it lead to a very comfortable win for Max. It was also fantastic to see the celebrations for Perez on getting the final podium position.

For the remainder of the season, the Red Bull was very comfortably outperformed by the Mercedes. Only Max’s superb driving and qualifying performances kept him in the title fight.

The last race of the season in Abu Dhabi brought the title protagonists in level on points. Max was ahead by virtue of more race wins but it was likely to be winner takes all.

What happened and the controversies can be read here. But since this is about Red Bull then all that needs to be said is that Max won the Driver’s Championship. Bringing a first title back to Milton Keynes since 2013.

Red Bull did lose the Constructor’s Championship to Mercedes. Predominately down to weaker performances from Perez who couldn’t match Bottas’ levels and a car which finished the season not as strong.

High Points

Easy!

Max Verstappen winning the Driver’s Championship!

There were many wins and poles throughout the season but all that was building up to what really mattered.  For the team having their driver win the title.

Low Points

Many in the Red Bull camp are still quite angry and upset about Silverstone. They feel there was a lack or respect shown by Lewis. He was able to go on and win the race before celebrating the way he did while Max was in the hospital.

It annoyed them even more the way he celebrated on the podium.

Luckily, Max was okay after the crash. It did signal the point where afterwards Red Bull, probably on average, had the second fastest car.

In a season where the top two drivers were so far beyond the others there are very few actual low points.

Perez’s performances were often far below that of Verstappen. However, the real low point has to be Spa where he slid off the track into the barrier.

It shows what a weird race day Spa was. His mechanics were able to get the car back to the garage, fix it and still get him onto the grid before the race even started!

Next Season

With another improved engine from Honda for 2022 and the new regulations, Red Bull will be wanting to take the next step.

For 2022 the aim is to win the Driver’s and Constructor’s Championship and do it in a much more convincing way than in 2021.

The only issue could be how focussed the team were on 2021, did they take their eyes off the prize for 2022?

A lot of the more genius solutions to the new regulations will have taken time to design and develop. Could Red Bull have missed any and be having to play catch up from the start of the season.

Alternatively, like in nearly every season since 2014. Could Red Bull have a potentially very strong and well designed car that is unfortunately too temperamental? As a result, they must spend the start of the season fixing it rather than developing it further.

Now their 2022 challenger has been released, you can have a look for yourself.

If you’ve seen the new Red Bull challenger for 2022. What did you think and do you think they will be title challengers? Let us know below…

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