Mercedes deliver Red Bull RB20 ‘downgrade’ claim amid growing F1 2024 competition

Jamie Woodhouse
George Russell, Mercedes, ahead of Max Verstappen, Red Bull and Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes at the 2024 Monaco Grand Prix.

George Russell, Mercedes, ahead of Max Verstappen, Red Bull and Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes.

With McLaren and Ferrari emerging as serious F1 2024 threats to Red Bull, Mercedes technical director James Allison has a feeling that Red Bull’s recent RB20 upgrade proved to be a “downgrade.”

After Red Bull’s Max Verstappen won four of the opening five races in F1 2024, McLaren hit back in Miami where Lando Norris drove the upgraded MCL38 to his first grand prix win, with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc taking the chequered flag two rounds later in Monaco, where Verstappen was restricted to P6.

Did Red Bull actually ‘downgrade’ their RB20?

Nestled between those races was the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, where Red Bull took their first major shot in the F1 2024 development war, but with McLaren and Ferrari nonetheless right on their tail, Red Bull may have weakened their RB20 with that upgrade attempt, Allison suspects.

Speaking to media at the Canadian Grand Prix, he said: “I guess as soon as there’s a decent range of cornering speeds, they’ll be useful again, but it does look as if their upgrade was a downgrade.

“So, fingers crossed that would really mess them up.

“That [an upgrade not working] makes life hard, because the moment you stop trusting your tools, you have to backtrack, and you lose loads of time. Time is your biggest friend, losing it is your worst enemy.”

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Riding the bumps and kerbs of Monaco was highlighted as the glaring weakness for Red Bull, but while Sergio Perez – who has just put pen to paper on a new two-year Red Bull deal – is hopeful that the Canadian Grand Prix will not prove to be as much of a struggle, he still does not see the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve as an ideal Red Bull track.

“I hope it’s not as severe as it was in Monaco with the ride issues that we had there,” he said.

“We’ve done some work, some analysis, and I think it’s great to have straightaway sort of a similar challenge to Monaco in many aspects. So it will be an interesting one, but I do expect us to be a little bit stronger. I don’t think it will be our strongest track, but I really hope that we can be fighting up there.

“It’s a track where you need to ride the kerbs. Riding is definitely one of the biggest talking points in this track, so I do expect to suffer a bit in that regard. But like I say, we’ve done some work, we’ve done some understanding as well, so I really hope we are able to make a good step forward in that direction.”

As for Mercedes, who introduced a two-part W15 upgrade across the Miami and Emilia Romagna rounds, as well as further tweaks for Canada, Allison explained their progress as having gone from “really embarrassingly crap” to “near the fight”, as they chase the next step needed to join this Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren battle.

And asked if this feeling that Red Bull are being caught excites Mercedes, Allison replied: “Everyone always loves other people’s misery in this game.”

Mercedes sit P4 in the current F1 2024 Constructors’ Championship standings, as they look to whittle down an 88-point gap to McLaren a position ahead.

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