Never before have so many wanted one team to fail as Red Bull gallivant towards the season’s double, breaking records along the way.
Winning every one of this year’s 12 grands prix in the build-up to the summer break, Red Bull can spend the holiday clearing a space on the mantel for the championship trophies. Oh wait, they already have them on display at their Milton Keynes HQ.
A good thing given that time is running out for them to make space with the team on course to wrap up the titles earlier than ever before, potentially with the biggest winning margin seen in F1 history, and let’s not forget the much-talked-about whitewash of 22-0 that’s on the cards.
It’s impressive, you can’t argue with that, Max Verstappen is in a league of his own, no questions there, and Red Bull deserve every champagne celebration they spray.
It’s also maddening, frustrating, and rather boring, so much so that fans, maybe even a few of the Red Bull ones too, are dreaming of its end. Red Bull have done little to change their opinions.
Budget cap breach, no apology offered
The only team as I write this to have been found guilty of overspending in Formula 1’s new budget cap era, Red Bull overspent by $2.2 million on their way to the 2021 Drivers’ Championship title. They argued tax and lunch bills, adamant none of that $2.2m had been spent on the car. Rivals rebutted, saying any penny spent above the cap meant a penny extra toward the car.
That Christian Horner, accepting the penalties imposed by the FIA, defiantly called the team’s punishment “draconian” and offered no apology – in fact, he called on the FIA to investigate how details of the team’s budget cap breach were leaked – didn’t help Red Bull’s image at the time.
He stood firm in his statements that Red Bull had done nothing wrong while rival teams argued it had given them an advantage for 2022 with its all-new cars. It is an advantage some believe could trickle down for two or even three years. There was no mea culpa from Red Bull.
Team management, in F1 to win at all costs
It’s fair to say that Red Bull’s leadership duo of Christian Horner and Helmut Marko, two stalwarts within the team, inspire a love-to-hate relationship, some days even hate-to-love.
It is also fair to say the team boss and the motorsport advisor have achieved incredible success with/for the team. But it’s the attitude and the comments that can at times leave a sour taste for some.
Winning the 2021 World title in controversial circumstances, Verstappen overtaking Lewis Hamilton on the final lap of the race after then-race director Michael Masi made the call to allow only the cars between the two protagonists and not the rest of the grid to unlap themselves, Horner celebrated as any team boss who finally dethroned Mercedes would.
But with it clear Red Bull didn’t read the room as for many watching this was not a championship to crow about, rather it was one to accept that a helping hand had been given, Horner, Marko and Co spoke of Verstappen’s brilliance and a deserving title. It wasn’t until six months later that the Red Bull team boss accepted Masi had made “one mistake” in his procedures on the day. One mistake that, let’s be honest, gave Verstappen the opening he took (as any driver would).
Then 12 months later Horner sat in a press conference and made it abundantly clear Red Bull would not be apologising for their budget cap breach – “we make no apology for the way we’ve performed, the way we’ve acted” – didn’t sit well with many, especially those who felt their budget cap penalty was a get-out-jail-free card.
Then, of course, there is the team’s hire-and-fire policy that has shattered the dreams of many a young driver from Vitantonio Liuzzi to Jaime Alguersuari to Nyck de Vries. Led by Marko, the Red Bull motorsport advisor has taken straight-forward (read blunt), honest (read mean) to a new level.
Just ask Pierre Gasly who, despite Horner admitting he had been promoted a year too soon in his development, was blamed for his pre-season testing crashes hampering Red Bull’s 2019 season. Marko has been forthcoming, if you want to put it in a nice way, time and again about his drivers’ shortcomings, and doesn’t mind sharing that with the worldwide media.
But while a distinct lack of humility lingers in the air, you cannot blame Red Bull after all they are in F1 to win races, not be humble. Just ask Max Verstappen.
Max Verstappen, sublime and ruthless
Prolific doesn’t even begin to describe Max Verstappen’s talent, the 25-year-old billed as a once-in-a-generation talent. Likened to Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher, he also shares their ruthlessness.
And, if reports about Monaco 2022 are true, he holds a grudge.
Stepping up to Red Bull in 2016 and quickly usurping Daniel Ricciardo as Marko’s favourite, it seemed to be just a matter of time before Verstappen won a first World title. And he did that in 2021.
Winning the championship in a thrilling battle with Lewis Hamilton, Verstappen emerged as F1’s new shining light. That he’d ended Mercedes’ reign made him the new fan favourite, and rightly so.
But there’s a streak to Verstappen, a ruthlessness, dare one say pettiness, that casts a shadow over the soon-to-be three-time World Champion. Sergio Perez knows all about that.
Verstappen’s hero after the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix when Perez held up Hamilton for several laps to allow him to close the gap, 12 months later Verstappen said it would not have been fair for him to hold up Charles Leclerc to help his team-mate take second place in the championship.
“I think it’s not the nicest way going out of the season like that,” he declared, even though 12 months prior he praised Perez for doing just that.
Verstappen’s change of attitude on that could have been the final bite at Perez after it was alleged – but denied – that the Mexican driver deliberately crashed in Monaco qualifying to prevent Verstappen from beating him. Verstappen, according to De Telegraaf, retaliated by refusing to yield a position to Perez at the 2022 Sao Paulo Grand Prix.
This year, even as pundits noted Perez’s good start to the season but declared it wouldn’t last, Verstappen ignored Red Bull team orders to deny the Mexican driver the fastest lap point at the Saudi Arabian GP. A point that would’ve seen Perez make history as the first Mexican driver to lead the F1 Drivers’ standings, but on the other side of the argument, a point that could’ve given Perez a confidence boost.
Instead, it left him irked as Verstappen extended his run of championship P1s that began back in Spain 2022. Little did Formula 1 know that the saviour who led us out of the Silver Arrow domination had only swapped silver for blue.
Dominance, above and beyond what rivals have achieved
Statistics and records will speak for Red Bull’s 2023 when the final chequered flag has been waved, the team’s dominance this season glaring obvious as they’ve not only recorded 12 wins from 12 races, but five of those have been 1-2 results, and aside from the occasional race with a Safety Car restart, Max Verstappen is ahead of Sundays by 20s plus.
He’s already on to his 10th win of this season and with 10 races remaining is on track to beat his record for the most wins in a single season, a record he set last year with 15. He could also challenge Michael Schumacher’s 2002 tally for the earliest championship success and is just one away from equalling Sebastian Vettel’s record for the longest winning streak of nine.
Throw in the winning margin in the championship, the number of points scored, and the most races leading the championship, and this season should be called the ‘2023 Max Verstappen World Championship’, the rest of the field are just bit players.
Red Bull are also breaking records along the way with Verstappen’s P1 in Hungary breaking McLaren’s 35-year-old stat for the most consecutive wins, as that marked the team’s 12th in a row dating back to last year’s Abu Dhabi GP. As with Verstappen in the Drivers’, winning margins, most points and earliest Constructors’ Championship success are up for grabs.
Red Bull, or at least Verstappen, are as Toto Wolff put it, leaving the rest of the field looking like they’re running “F2 cars”. A sad state of affairs given behind Red Bull there are four teams that each have two runner-up results which mean there is a genuinely good fight with back-and-forth action going on, it’s just all taking place in Red Bull’s shadow.
…Because it’s easier to hate Red Bull than take accountability
From ruining Formula 1 to damaging the sport to making it boring, Red Bull faced just about every allegation as they raced towards the summer break unchallenged.
While there have been moments when it has seemed as if rivals, whether that be Aston Martin, Mercedes, Ferrari or McLaren, have started to close the gap, Toto Wolff crowing about Mercedes’ gains after the Spanish Grand Prix, Red Bull were quick to put them all, one by one, in their place.
The Milton Keynes squad has said a few times the gap is the same as it was all the way back at the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix, it’s just the team sitting behind them that’s changed. In Bahrain, Verstappen won by more than 30s ahead of the nearest non-Red Bull car, it was still 30s as F1 wrapped up the first part of the season in Belgium.
That’s not Red Bull’s fault, they’re doing the job they are paid to do, and they’re doing it a hell of a lot better than their rivals. If anyone should be hated, point the finger at Mercedes, Aston Martin, Ferrari, McLaren and the rest for not doing a better job, for not giving us the fans the fight we’d love to see.