Formula 1 Racing

Where has Red Bull’s F1 advantage gone?

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB20, Lando Norris, McLaren MCL38, Oscar Piastri, McLaren MCL38

When Red Bull rolled out its RB20 for pre-season testing in Bahrain, there were ominous signs of a 2023 dominance repeat.

Fast forward four months and the competitive picture has changed completely. Mercedes finally managed to make its ground-effect car sing with a spate of upgrades and McLaren has continued its impressive development trajectory.

Problems with its latest upgrade package have seen Ferrari take a step back, but it too has been in the hunt at circuits that suit the SF24.

Five drivers from four different teams have won one of the past seven grands prix, which is great news for Formula 1 fans as the second half of 2024 is shaping up to be a thriller.

For Red Bull? Not so much. So where has its sizeable advantage from the start of 2024 gone?

The traditional explanation is that teams invariably converge as regulations stay stable, with Red Bull simply having less performance to squeeze out of the current rulebook.

Meanwhile, rival squads who missed out in 2022 and 2023 are slowly starting to find all the right answers to questions Red Bull had already solved on how to generate downforce and performance across different corner types with these low-slung ground-effect machines.

Add the sliding scale of development time, which takes away wind tunnel and CFD runs based on a team’s success, and Red Bull is hit by a double whammy of a head start turned into a long-term handicap.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB20, Lando Norris, McLaren MCL38, Oscar Piastri, McLaren MCL38

Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images

“I think they got to a kind of terminal velocity quicker than the rest of us,” said McLaren CEO Zak Brown.

“There does come a point of diminishing returns as far as just how much you can continue to develop a car. To their credit, they got there first and now we’re all just caught up, or almost caught up.”

While clashing with Brown on a number of topics recently, for once Red Bull team boss Christian Horner agreed with him.

“It’s no secret that we have less development time than the others and we’re at the top of the curve, so you’re into diminishing returns,” he said.

But one man who doesn’t want to take no for an answer is Max Verstappen, who has repeatedly pushed his team to double down on finding gains rather than accepting its new reality.

“We could say: ‘Yes, it’s normal’. I don’t think it’s normal,” he said at the start of the past triple-header.

“We do have to keep working hard. If we think…

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