Red Bull’s season of excellence punctuated by memorable moments of controversy

Sam Cooper
Red Bull celebrates as Max Verstappen wins. Austin, October 2022.

Red Bull team members celebrate as Max Verstappen's crosses the line first. Austin, October 2022.

Red Bull swept the board in 2022 but it was certainly not a season of plain sailing for the Milton Keynes outfit.

Having spent eight years stuck in the exhaust fumes of Mercedes, Red Bull could have hardly wished for a better return to form.

After a tumultuous start to the season, the team produced a supreme run of sustained brilliance through to the end of the year. In the final 19 races of 2022, all but three were won by the team with the charging bull adorned on the side of its livery.

2021 would prove monumental for both the sport and Red Bull but any fears that the elongated battle, which lasted until the final lap of the final race, would impact the team’s fortunes in 2022 were soon put to rest.

2022 was the perfect combination of a confident and matured Max Verstappen combined with the brilliance of Adrian Newey, who was given a new set of regulations and was able to lead the design of a near perfect car.

But for all this perfection, the season itself was not without its incidents. The team entered 2022 off the back of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and the clouds of controversy that emanated from the final moments of the 2021 campaign.

While Red Bull were without blame, large parts of both the media and the fan base used the actions of Michael Masi as a stick to beat them with, arguing without merit that Verstappen’s maiden Championship win should come with an asterisk.

Red Bull needed to start 2022 strongly and while the RB18 instantly looked a quick car, it also looked a step behind Ferrari. The opening race in Bahrain saw Charles Leclerc take a clean sweep of pole, fastest lap and the race win while Red Bull suffered double DNFs for both Verstappen and Sergio Perez, as well as the AlphaTauri of Pierre Gasly, as the first year of Red Bull Powertrains got off to a ropey start despite the continued support from Honda.

Those reliability issues would make another appearance in Australia. Verstappen suffered a fuel leak and made it seem as if both Championships were Ferrari’s to lose.

The Dutchman was disconsolate, already abandoning talk of the title, but after the trip to Melbourne, something clicked for both him and Red Bull. Verstappen would win the next three races to move above Leclerc in the standings. By the time of the British Grand Prix, Verstappen had a 49-point lead over the Ferrari driver.

The Scuderia may have hit back with a win at Silverstone followed by Red Bull’s home race in Austria but it would prove to be a flash in the pan. For if there was one race that reflected Verstappen’s season, it was Spa.

He qualified on pole and was moved back to P14 due to exceeding engine component limits, but it proved to be of little concern. By the end of the second lap, he was eighth. By lap six, he was P6 and by lap eight, he was in the podium places.

He moved into first on lap 12, having not pitted, but by lap 18 he was in the slipstream of leader Carlos Sainz on fresher rubber. He overtook the Spaniard with the same effort it takes to bat away a fly from your shoulder and from then, never relinquished his control of the top spot.

Finshing 18 seconds ahead of second-place Perez, it was about as dominant as a win can be. The Belgian Grand Prix proved to be not only one of the performances of the season but one of the finest from the Dutchman’s already remarkable career.

The race in Spa was the first after the summer break and with the victory, it was all but confirmed where both titles would be heading.

It was this ease of which Red Bull galloped to the title that made their moments of controversy all the more memorable.

Ahead of the race in Singapore, rumours surfaced that Red Bull along with Aston Martin had broken the cost cap for 2021. Rivals wanted blood with some suggesting that penalty points be applied while McLaren’s Zak Brown described the breach as “cheating” in an open letter to the FIA.

The saga exploded with rumours flying of what punishment would be heading Red Bull’s away until shortly after the Japanese Grand Prix, the FIA confirmed the team had committed a minor overspend.

The differences in calculations appeared to boil down to the labelling of a tax refund, but the saga was put to rest when they were handed a fine along with a reduction of their wind tunnel time for 2022.

With that issue behind them, there was time for one final moment that would have left Christian Horner with his head in his hands. With Verstappen’s title sewn up, he refused to yield a place to Perez who was battling Leclerc for P2 in the Championship.

The Dutchman defied team orders, telling race engineer Gianpiero Lambiase that he had his reasons but it erupted into an unnecessary civil war in the Red Bull garage. Just as it had done with the cost cap, rumours emerged about just exactly what Verstappen’s reasons were with Perez’s crash in Monaco qualifying, which prevented the Dutchman from setting a final flying lap time, emerging as the most likely source of Verstappen’s grievances.

Perez would go on to lose out on P2 to Leclerc and while Red Bull maintain it is water under the bridge in terms of the team-mates’ relationship, the arrival of Daniel Ricciardo as a third driver for 2023 provides further intrigue for the coming year.

Even with the cloud of the cost cap hanging over them and the simmering tension that may threaten to erupt once more in the future, 2022 can be defined as nothing but an enormous success for Red Bull.

They nailed the 2022 regulations, a feat that will stand them in good stead going forward, while Verstappen produced a near perfect season to earn himself a second Drivers’ Championship in as many seasons.

He did so with his gold boots and the number one emblazoned on the nose of his car and if 2022 is anything to go by, it will take some stopping for that number to be on the front of any car but the Red Bull.

Read more: Ferrari see 2022 season descend from roaring success to painful failure