Red Bull are facing a problem that almost every successful band has been challenged with – the difficult second album.
Of course, the RB20 will not be the second car off Red Bull’s production line but it does have some mighty shoes to fill.
Its older sibling, the RB19, has cemented itself in F1 history. A car that powered the team to all but one win in 2023, broke nearly every record going and made winning both championships look like a procession, so… the big question is: how do you follow that?
Red Bull are adding to the Mona Lisa
The question of ‘how on Earth do we follow that?’ was first asked internally during the 2023 summer break.
Such was Red Bull’s dominance that they could afford to take one eye off 2023, bringing just one major upgrade to the car for the rest of the year, and focus on 2024 in an effort to keep their rivals at arm’s length.
The RB19 was clearly a car close to perfection which makes you wonder: how much more improvement is there left to be found in the regulations?
The changes brought in for 2022 were quickly mastered by Red Bull which is not an unusual trend in the history of F1.
During Mercedes’ eight-year dominance on the Constructors’ title, their biggest gap between themselves and P2 came in 2014, the year the regulations changed, and 2016. A closer look at the Mercedes’ timeline shows that generally, their gap between P2 got smaller as the years went by.
It stands to reason then that there is a ceiling within these regulations and even someone as gifted as Adrian Newey will find it hard to make such huge gains as the years go on.
But if you ask Newey himself, he will have a different answer.
Adrian Newey talks up Red Bull’s 2024 improvement
The benefit of having such dominance over your rivals is the flexibility it gives you in both time and design.
If worse comes to worse and your whole idea falls flat, you still have the base of a car that won in 2023 with ease.
But the time afforded to Red Bull has allowed them to explore other avenues. Granted they have a restricted wind tunnel allowance, 70% compared to Haas’ 115%, but the words of Newey suggest they have already made significant strides.
Eddie Jordan told Talksport last year: “I was at a function the other night with Adrian Newey, we are cyclists who cycle a lot together in Cape Town.
“Adrian feels that the evolution of what they’ve got at the moment is going to be so difficult for anyone to catch up with.
“So folks out there, please prepare yourself for a boring time or an exciting time depending on whether you are a Red Bull fan next year.”
Christian Horner concedes ‘big shoes to fill’ for RB20
While Newey is clearly positive about their chances, Horner was a little more cautious with his assessment.
“Only time will tell, I mean, the RB19 is the most successful car in the history of Formula 1, so [RB20] has got big shoes to fill,” he told PlanetF1.com.
“But there are always things that you’re learning in this business.
“RB19 still had elements that we could improve and the team have been working hard to do that and address that over the winter in the design phase.”
But what was most interesting from Horner was the feedback from the sim drivers.
“They are saying it’s evolution, not revolution – it’s a simulator, and still a virtual world,” he said.
“So, of course, you want a correlation between track and simulator, which has tended to be reasonable over the last couple of years.
“Hopefully, we’re making progress. But the stopwatch never lies and we’ll only see when we get to the track.”
How much can their rivals catch up?
The back end of 2023 suggested that teams such as McLaren, Mercedes and Ferrari were beginning to catch up to Red Bull but that did come with a big caveat – Red Bull had all but stopped working on their car.
The winter of 2023 into 2024 is shaping up to be one of the most interesting in F1 in decades as four teams look to reel in Red Bull and each have their arguments.
For Mercedes, they have James Allison back at the helm and have finally ditched the ‘zero-pod’ design that held them back.
For McLaren, they have two new senior signings, an in-house wind tunnel and a claim that they were the second quickest car towards the end of 2023.
At Ferrari, Fred Vasseur now has his feet under the desk properly and they too have promised a drastically different design in an attempt to catch Red Bull.
While Aston Martin, who provided a challenge at the start of 2023, will hope to learn from their mistakes last season to be a consistent competitor across the year.
So with four teams gunning for top spot, surely not all of them can fail, right? Chances are at least one of these will make a stride towards Red Bull, it is just a question of whether that stride is big enough to put some pressure on the brains inside Milton Keynes.
Max Verstappen seeks perfection while Sergio Perez fights off the pressure
The two Red Bull drivers enter 2024 off the back of very different seasons last time out.
For Max Verstappen, he is the reigning World Champion and in many people’s minds, the champion elect for 2024. At 26, he is approaching the peak of his powers and his ability was displayed for all to see last season.
And that season followed the pattern of Verstappen’s career so far. The Dutchman has steadily improved year on year until 2021 shot him into title contention. 2022 was then a more assured walk to the championship while 2023 was a crushing of the opposition.
What of 2024 then? Well the smart money would be on Verstappen to do it all again for there has rarely been such a symmetry between driver and car. When Verstappen eventually hangs up his helmet, he may well look back on the RB19 as the finest car of his career and provided Red Bull do not go wildly different, the RB20 should fit the Dutchman’s skill set just as nicely.
But the story could hardly be different for Sergio Perez. It was a year when his team-mate’s utter dominance actually relieved him of some pressure as it meant Red Bull could actually afford one half of the garage to make mistakes.
2024 looks set to be different. If Red Bull’s rivals do close the gap, even to a small extent, Perez’s underperforming will not be so easily swept under the rug.
He is into the final year of his contract and has Daniel Ricciardo breathing down his neck, meaning anything short of a notable step up in performance could have Red Bull swinging the axe even before the season is out.
Red Bull face their toughest opponent yet – themselves
The challenge for Red Bull in 2024 is not to beat the others but to beat their former selves.
You would be hard pressed to find someone willing to bet money that Red Bull will be toppled in 2024 but there are some who believe they will be in for a closer fight.
As for how close that fight will be, that is in the hands of Adrian Newey and the legendary designer has rarely failed to deliver.