Why Red Bull ‘half-step ahead’ admission does not mean rival accepting defeat

Jamie Woodhouse
Max Verstappen drives the Red Bull RB20.

Max Verstappen in the RB20.

Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz said the Red Bull RB20 design is “half a step ahead” of their rivals, but he is not “afraid” and will not wave the white flag yet.

Red Bull unleashed a record-breaking campaign of dominance in 2023, winning a staggering 21 of the 22 grands prix held, with Sainz the only driver to deny them the undefeated season via his win in Singapore.

Nonetheless, considering their stranglehold on Formula 1, Red Bull were expected, understandably, to roll out an RB20 for F1 2024 which would represent an evolution of this concept which has controlled the ground effect era. Is that what they did? Of course not.

‘Half-step ahead’ Red Bull RB20 not scaring Carlos Sainz

Red Bull instead has gone with a radical concept switch for their RB20, sharing surprise comparisons to Mercedes’ flawed ‘zeropod’ concept. Only this time, it seems Red Bull has uncovered the secrets to success with this route.

Ferrari may have topped the second and final day of Bahrain F1 2024 testing, but the paddock is largely united in believing the Red Bull RB20 and reigning three-time World Champion Max Verstappen are clear out front.

Red Bull senior advisor Helmut Marko has estimated their advantage to be three-tenths per lap, but Ferrari are also feeling confident about their SF-24, Sainz saying it is a challenger which “makes sense” after hitting the track, so he is not bowing to that “half-step ahead” RB20 yet.

Presented with Marko’s three-tenths ahead verdict, Sainz told media in response: “I don’t know if it’s three-tenths, one-tenth, half a second, it’s impossible to know right now with fuel loads and engine modes.

“But I can already tell you that they’ve done it looks from the outside a really good car. You can already see by the design it’s half a step ahead of the others and they’ve had more time to develop it considering the advantage they had last year.

“But at the same time, I think we had a strong day yesterday [Day 1 of Bahrain testing], I think we’ve brought this year a car that makes sense in our numbers, that makes sense in what we want or makes sense in what we’re targeting. So let’s give it a bit of time and see where we are.”

PlanetF1.com recommends

F1 points all-time rankings: Where do Hamilton, Verstappen and Alonso feature?

The many milestones Max Verstappen can reach in F1 2024 season

To that point, when asked if he is “afraid of what he saw from Red Bull”, Sainz rallied against that way of thinking, pointing out that Ferrari weren’t exactly looking slow in Bahrain.

Sainz topped Day 2 and set the fastest time of testing overall with a 1:29.921, while team-mate Charles Leclerc ended the final day on top and clocked the second-fastest overall time, a 1:30.322. Verstappen’s best effort for comparison, which topped the timings on the opening day, was a 1:30.755.

“No, afraid is not the right word,” Sainz insisted.

“Obviously you see them being very quick. We were quick also.

“But, I think it’s too early to know.”

The wait to find out the true F1 2024 pecking order will soon be over, with Bahrain hosting the first race of the new season on March 2.

Read next: Ferrari cast ‘another planet’ verdict as crucial weakness cured on eve of F1 2024