How Max Verstappen’s talent actually ‘heightened’ Red Bull’s problems

Thomas Maher
Max Verstappen tests the Red Bull RB16 in Barcelona.

Pierre Waché has revealed how Max Verstappen's talents masked the problems inherent in the Red Bull RB16 in 2020.

Max Verstappen’s talents behind the wheel had a detrimental effect on the development of the Red Bull RB16 back in 2020.

While Verstappen won his first F1 title with the 2021 RB16B, the car was an evolution of the previous year’s RB16 – a fast but tricky machine which suffered with rear instability that even caught out Verstappen on occasion.

However, during the development of the car and through its upgrades over the season, Verstappen’s ability to drive around its issues meant the team didn’t realise they were pursuing a developmental dead end until quite a lot of time had been wasted.

Pierre Waché: Red Bull pursued a characteristic that made the car very difficult

Speaking in an interview with Motor Sport Magazine, reflecting on Verstappen’s title win in 2021 with the RB16B, Red Bull technical director Pierre Wache explained how Verstappen’s abilities had masked the issues they were having with the car.

“We started that year [2020] not far off Mercedes, then we had a massive down in the middle of the season before coming up again,” Waché said.

“Clearly, we went in the wrong direction and we recovered. That’s where we missed something in our analysis in terms of development direction.

“The car had a characteristic which Max liked and which allowed him to go faster and so as we went further down this path his lap times would improve.

“But it brought with it some instability on entry and eventually you come to a point where that is the limiting factor and you cannot go any faster. It also made the car very difficult for the other drivers.”

Pierre Waché: Max Verstappen’s talent contributed to Red Bull’s problems

An example of the RB16’s lack of stability was particularly evident at the 2020 Hungarian Grand Prix, when Verstappen managed to crash on his way to the grid before the race – his mechanics working at break-neck speed to get it repaired in order to successfully make the start.

But, occasional spins aside, Verstappen’s talents were hiding the car’s instability – a problem for the team, given that his teammate Alex Albon was struggling massively for pace and confidence.

“It’s ironic that, in 2020, Max’s talent was a contributory cause to the problem we had,” he remarked.

“He has an ability to control this sort of instability that would be impossible for some others. We know that sometimes, making a car on the edge in this way can create a quicker car – and you don’t realise you went in the wrong direction because you are still extracting more lap time from the car.

“But you don’t realise at first it’s only because he has so much talent. So you keep going in this direction but you go too far and it takes you a few months to come back from that and realise you’d gone in the wrong direction.

“The system is so big that to rethink the aero surfaces of the car and remake them, it was a long and painful process.

“It’s a big gain for Max that he can set a car up with some rear instability and extract more performance from a given car.

“But if we are giving him a car that is not stable enough, we are limiting the potential of the car, and his talent blinded us a little to what was happening.” recommends

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Despite Verstappen’s best efforts to cloak the car’s problems, Red Bull eventually figured out what was going on and set about rectifying the instability – the result of which led them down the development path to create the far more compliant RB16B title winner.

“We identified that [issue] and also identified what the driver could actually use as performance,” Wache said of the car that was the quickest on the grid at the start of ’21.

“We had some characteristics that made it very difficult to extract the theoretical performance. We identified this after mid-season [2020].

“This characteristic was the main limitation of the car and we moved away from it. At the end of that season, we could confirm this and that gave us a good foundation for ’21.”

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