Saving the best for last? Huge shoes to fill as Red Bull launch RB20

Jamie Woodhouse
Red Bull's Sergio Perez during the Japanese Grand Prix weekend.

Red Bull's Sergio Perez during the Japanese Grand Prix weekend.

Just one F1 2024 challenger reveal remains and it is the one many expect to be the car to beat, the Red Bull RB20.

Red Bull has set the bar incredibly high for themselves with their heroics of last season, where the competition was crushed with 21 grands prix victories out of a possible 22.

Surely Red Bull could not possibly stretch those record-breaking season statistics further this time around? Well, the potential is there with 24 rounds scheduled, but can the RB20 deliver?

Red Bull the daunting unknown benchmark

Talk has been positive from most rival camps in launch season, with claims of steps forward made aplenty, but the lines of improvement are significantly blurred as it will all be relative to what Red Bull conjure up.

The message from Red Bull has been consistent, they expect the pack to converge, with design guru Adrian Newey having admitted it was a “complete surprise” to see the RB19 build on the dominance of the RB18.

And with the latest creation set to be a further evolution of that initial ground-effect aerodynamic car, the RB18, Newey admitted to feeling some trepidation over the unknown of whether it will be enough, with the likes of Mercedes, Ferrari and Alpine going back to the drawing board for their F1 2024 creations.

“RB18, the first car to the new regulations, I think we managed to get the fundamentals right in terms of how we approached the research process, the architecture of the car in terms of its layout and so forth, and we managed to come out with a decent car that we then developed through 2022,” said Newey on Red Bull’s ‘Talking Bull’ podcast.

“Obviously, we had a very strong second half of the season in ’22.

“2023, the second season of those new regulations, we completely expected the grid to close up so, last year, it took all of us – me most of all – by complete surprise, we didn’t expect the domination that we had.

“This year, from what I understand, a lot of people, our rivals, have kind of taken a good look this time and have probably come… I suspect there’ll be quite a few cars that look very similar to our car.

“Our car will be very much a third evolution of the ’22 car.

“So last year’s car was an evolution of the ’22 in the main points being the normal winter development in terms of aerodynamics, some understanding of what we need to do with the suspension to try to improve the car as well, and getting weight out of it because we never got down to the weight limits in ’22.

“This year’s car is the third evolution of that original RB18. Now, what we don’t know, of course, is [whether] the third evolution is too conservative while others have done something different. You just don’t know.”

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While Red Bull are playing it cool, it would take the most drastic of U-turns in fortune for the RB20 to not be in the victory hunt in F1 2024 as the external belief grows that their reigning and defending three-time World Champion Max Verstappen is unbeatable in Red Bull machinery. At least until the regulations are overhauled again for 2026.

Verstappen has given little reason to believe that he is there for the taking, hoovering up 19 of Red Bull’s 21 grand prix wins last season, with only that rare off-weekend in Singapore costing them the undefeated season.

With Verstappen at the wheel of the RB20, a challenger which Red Bull switched their focus to mid-2023, the task of just defeating this incredible driver-team pairing even once is difficult enough, never mind piecing together a title challenge.

However, should the likes of Mercedes, McLaren and/or Ferrari bridge the gap, then Red Bull’s true cause for concern would likely not revolve around Verstappen’s ability to hold firm, but rather Sergio Perez’s suitability to ensure that the Constructors’ Championship trophy remains in Milton Keynes.

Perez was able to weather the storm of various alarming slumps to limp over the line for the 2023 Drivers’ Championship runner-up spot, but with less than half the points scored of his team-mate, Perez represents a serious question mark regarding Red Bull’s ability to retain the Constructors’ crown should they face the stern competition lacking since the ground-effect era began.

Knowing he is fighting for his Red Bull and F1 future with a contract expiring at the end of F1 2024, Red Bull will hope this is enough to sustain the best of Perez which went missing after a strong start to 2023.

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