The ones that got away: Red Bull’s lost F1 wins with Verstappen, Vettel, Ricciardo and Albon

Oliver Harden
Max Verstappen (Red Bull) collides with Esteban Ocon (Racing Point Force India) in an infamous Brazilian Grand Prix moment. Sao Paulo, November 2018.

Max Verstappen (Red Bull) collides with Esteban Ocon (Racing Point Force India) in an infamous Brazilian Grand Prix moment. Sao Paulo, November 2018.

Max Verstappen clinched Red Bull’s 100th F1 victory at last weekend’s Canadian Grand Prix at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal.

The sight of a Red Bull winning is nothing new – indeed, Verstappen has won 31 of the 52 grands prix held since the start of his maiden title-winning season in 2021, with team-mate Sergio Perez also nabbing five – but what about the ones that got away? Red Bull may well have reached this milestone even sooner had some other races gone to plan over the years.

With the lows in sport said to make the highs feel even sweeter, here we pick out seven of Red Bull’s most glaring missed opportunities…

Brazil 2018

Only one place to start here.

“What a f**king idiot!” Verstappen raged over team radio after being turned around by Esteban Ocon, in the lapped Racing Point Force India, at Interlagos.

Until that incident – on Lap 44, ironically enough, as though Lewis Hamilton himself had conjured up a pink car to invade Max’s personal space – this had seemed certain to be his best win yet.

Starting fifth in a Red Bull-Renault nicely suited to the high-altitude conditions, Verstappen picked off the Ferraris and Mercedes one by one and had established a handy three-second lead over Hamilton.

Then along came Ocon, no doubt feeling hard done by in what would be his penultimate F1 race for more than a year and maybe even envious of Verstappen’s success.

Should Max have seen it coming and left room at the Senna S? Only a wind-up merchant would have suggested something so preposterous – as lapped fodder, the responsibility was Ocon’s alone to make room for the race leader.

Despite damage to the floor/sidepods, Verstappen got going again and reduced the gap to Hamilton in the remaining laps from 5.7 seconds to 1.4, but the win was gone and Max’s fuse lit as he pushed and shoved Ocon in the post-race weighing area.

You know the next time F1’s idiotic television commentators call for the end of blue flags? Remind them of this race.

In an era in which Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull all hold considerable influence over teams lower down the grid, removing blue flags would risk turning F1 into the wild west.

Monaco 2016

To fully grasp the pain felt by Daniel Ricciardo after the 2016 Monaco Grand Prix, it is important to retrace the steps to the previous race in Barcelona.

As Verstappen celebrated his maiden victory on his Red Bull debut, Daniel was out the back convinced – as racing drivers often are when straight out of the car – that he had been shafted by the wrong strategy.

He was, in actual fact, on the preferable plan – Verstappen and Kimi Raikkonen had finished first and second on Plan B, which sometimes happens – but even after one race together you could almost hear the cogs in Ricciardo’s mind turning.

Was this going to turn out like the last time Red Bull partnered a popular Australian with a frighteningly gifted academy product?

That explained why Ricciardo arrived in Monaco – a circuit where the team had an inkling they’d be competitive against the dominant Mercedes – somehow more focused, determined and, well, vicious than ever before.

Already in opening practice he had given Raikkonen the finger after a blocking incident, and after going fastest on Thursday afternoon he returned on Saturday to set an angry pole position.

“My time. My time,” Ricciardo kept muttering, more to himself than anyone else, over team radio at the end of qualifying.

He overcame the uncertainty of a Safety Car start to maintain the lead in the early stages in wet conditions… but, wait.

Who forgot the tyres?

Time ebbed away as Ricciardo sat motionless in the pit box, the Red Bull mechanics running around searching for a set of slicks, and he returned to the track just behind Hamilton.

That slapstick episode naturally caught the attention, but the real difference here was the time Hamilton saved in making only a single stop from extreme wet to dry tyres as Ricciardo initially switched from extremes to inters before pitting a second time for slicks – eventually – after nine laps.

Ricciardo was unable to find a way back past and in his frustration was almost unable to speak after the race. Even if he would finally win Monaco two years later, he would never quite forgive Red Bull for the one he lost.

“Save it,” he sighed over the radio at the end in response to the team’s apology. “Nothing youse can say can make it any better. Just save it.”

Austria 2020

Alex Albon’s spell as Verstappen’s team-mate was a hard-luck story from beginning to end, defined by two high-profile tangles with Hamilton.

The first at Brazil 2019 denied him a first F1 podium. The second, eight months later in what felt like a different world, cost him the chance to be king for a day.

Verstappen’s retirement after just 11 laps of the delayed season opener, at a circuit where he had won for two years running, had Red Bull unusually putting all their energies behind Albon.

He had no answer to Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas out front – until a late Safety Car put the Red Bull on softs with the Mercedes on old hards (sound familiar?).

Upon the restart, with 10 laps remaining Albon launched an ambitious move around the outside of second-placed Hamilton when his tyre advantage – combined with Mercedes’ concerns over gearbox reliability forcing them to stay off the kerbs – may have allowed him to wait and execute a safer pass.

Pinned to the inside of the off-camber Turn 4, Hamilton drifted across the track and tipped Albon into a spin in the gravel.

He would ultimately be classified 13th. Unlucky for some.

Turkey 2010

Who’s to say Red Bull would have won the 2010 Turkish Grand Prix anyway?

At the time of the dramatic collision between Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber, the pair held only a small lead over the McLarens of Hamilton and Jenson Button.

And in a way, that was part of the problem.

In a stressful race unexpectedly harsh on fuel consumption and with the threat of rain hanging in the air, the close proximity of the McLarens only added to the complexity of the day.

In their hopes of closing the door on Hamilton and Button, Red Bull inadvertently took it off its hinges, rolled out the red carpet and waved them through.

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This was the first major flashpoint between Webber and Vettel as team-mates, coming almost three years after their previous clash behind the Safety Car in torrential rain in Fuji.

Although the evidence of everyone’s eyes seemed to pin the blame on Vettel, Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko – famously with one eye of the glass variety following an unfortunate accident in his own racing days – took the entire paddock by surprise by claiming it was all Webber’s fault.

His interjection only reinforced the view that Red Bull swayed in Vettel’s favour, seemingly confirmed a few weeks later at Silverstone when the team took an upgraded front wing off Webber’s car and fitted it to Seb’s.

Canada 2011

The Canadian Grand Prix of 2011 is fondly remembered as Button’s greatest day, a victory achieved through four hours and all manner of setbacks and penalties to remind the world that giving up is simply not an option.

For some reason, a lot less is said about the driver who stood to his right on the podium that afternoon.

Vettel qualified on pole position in Montreal and led the race for 68 of the 70 laps, his position at the head of the pack the only constant on one of F1’s craziest days.

Yet, come the end, he was second. First loser.

It mattered little in the context of the season – Seb had won all but one of the previous six races in 2011 and would ease to a second straight title – but how about in hindsight?

Was that error so close to the finish, a small mistake with big consequences, the first real sign of the lack of composure that would later derail Vettel’s career at Ferrari?

Europe 2012

Another race that has helped cement a driver’s legend, but really should have had Vettel’s name written all over it.

When you think of Valencia 2012 today, you think of Fernando Alonso winning from 11th on the grid. You see him muscling his way around the outside of Romain Grosjean at the restart.

You picture him parking his car on the cool-down lap to celebrate with the fans, delaying the podium ceremony, and then being moved to tears when he finally made it up there. You picture him stood shoulder to shoulder with Kimi Raikkonen and Michael Schumacher in what would prove to be the latter’s last podium.

In reality, though, this was Vettel’s race.

After setting pole by around four tenths, Seb had established a lead of 20 seconds prior to the Safety Car that set up Alonso’s move on Grosjean.

With the race resuming on Lap 34, there was seemingly nothing to stop Vettel – the dominant winner in Valencia the previous year – building the gap right back up again.

And then, as he sought to scurry away from Alonso in that typical approach of his to starts/restarts, his Renault alternator failed. Game over.

The alternator problem would also take Grosjean’s Lotus-Renault out of the race a short time later and cause concern on the Red Bull pit wall for the remainder of an intense 2012 title fight.

Korea 2010

A mixture of the previous two, this one, in the sense that Vettel came through tricky conditions and long delays with his lead preserved, but was powerless to prevent Alonso having the last laugh.

The rain at the new Yeongam circuit had already done for Vettel’s team-mate Webber, who in his blind determination to keep up – despite the temptation to play it safe and protect his healthy points lead – had spun and hit the wall, taking Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes down with him.

Already an accomplished wet-weather specialist on account of his early exploits for Toro Rosso, Vettel was serene in the chaos and the fading light until with 10 laps remaining he slowed on the main straight and was passed by Alonso. Engine failure.

The abiding image of that day?

Upon returning to the pit lane, a smiling if rueful Vettel – his title challenge all but over, having fallen 25 points behind Alonso with only a couple of races left – shared an embrace with Marko.

What a shame, they probably said. That’s probably it for this year. All we can do now is win the last two and see where it takes us…