‘Significant deficit’ threatens Red Bull hopes of undefeated F1 2023 campaign

Thomas Maher
Red Bull's Max Verstappen at the Hungarian Grand Prix. Budapest, July 2023.

Red Bull's Max Verstappen at the Hungarian Grand Prix. Budapest, July 2023.

Red Bull’s Christian Horner has said the budget cap punishment meted out to his team is now being fully felt on the RB19.

The effects of Red Bull’s wind-tunnel time deficit are being felt going into the second half of the F1 season, with Christian Horner revealing no further major upgrades are planned for the RB19.

Having introduced an upgrade package to the RB19 in Hungary, the scene of Max Verstappen’s most dominant win of the year so far, Horner said the extent of their wind tunnel time deficit means no further updates can be brought to the car.

Why can’t Red Bull introduce more upgrades?

While the season may only be at the halfway point, the teams must all start weighing up the point at which they switch their development to their 2024 cars. This crossover point will be different for each team, and is generally a decision taken on their own performance level with the current car, their position in the championship standings, and how important every point scored is during the current championship.

For Red Bull, winning both titles seems all but certain at this point of the season, having won all 11 of the Grands Prix so far this season. The possibility of winning every single race to become the sport’s most dominant team ever is a possibility, but a hurdle to be overcome is that the evolution of the RB19 will significantly slow in the latter half of the year.

Given they entered the year with far less wind tunnel time than anyone else, the Milton Keynes-based squad are now shifting their focus to 2024.

According to F1’s Aerodynamic Testing Regulations (ATR), a sliding scale of wind tunnel time applies across the field. The more successful a team in the championship, the fewer hours they are given to test out ideas and concepts in the wind tunnel.

This means that, in the first half of 2023, Red Bull received the fewest hours, with Williams getting the most as a result of finishing last in the 2022 season.

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But Red Bull’s pain didn’t stop there. Having been found guilty of a Minor Overspend Breach of the Financial Regulations for 2021, they were hit with a huge monetary fine and, on top of that, a further 10 percent reduction in their already truncated wind tunnel hours.

As a result, Hungary’s big update will be the RB19’s last major change of the season, as Horner explained to the media when asked how the upgrades had performed.

“They did what they said on the tin,” he said.

“From that point of view, it’s sort of box ticked. With the handicap that we have, we have to really swing our focus over to next year, because we have a significant deficit on wind tunnel time compared to our competitors.

“We have to be very selective about how we use it.”

Asked whether any upgrades at all will be brought to the car between now and the season finale in Abu Dhabi in November, Horner said: “We will have a few circuit-specific things but nothing that hasn’t been done already,  or already committed through the research and development.”

Have Red Bull weathered the worst of the wind tunnel penalty?

While the strong platform that the team have enjoyed with the RB19 from day one means that no obvious performance loss has been visible externally, Horner said the amount of wind tunnel time compared to other teams means it’s been a case of having to be very certain about the components that are brought into the tunnel for correlation against their data.

Asked whether Red Bull have now weathered the worst of the 10 percent reduction penalty, Horner said it will carry through into the initial development stages of the 2024 car.

“We have that penalty until October this year,” he said.

“So, particularly in terms of the number of runs that you can do per week, we’re significantly down compared to second and third place and massively down to teams in fourth and fifth.

“If you compare to McLaren and the amount of runs they can do in a wind tunnel versus ourselves, it’s a huge, huge difference.

“So we have to be very, very selective in the running that we’re doing. That’s where the engineering team back in Milton Keynes are doing an incredible job in the way that they’re effectively and efficiently developing the car.”

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