The car everyone has been waiting to see broke cover this morning in Jerez, ahead of the second official F1 test.
On paper, Red Bull are favourites for the championship this year because they had the fastest car at the end of the season and had taken a direction in design and philosophy that other teams have clearly copied with their 2010 cars. The new Red Bull is an evolution of last year’s car and as long as Adrian Newey and his team have got their sums right and haven’t built in any reliability issues, this should mean that the new Red Bull car should enjoy a small margin over the others. Time will tell.
In the unchanged driver line up of Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel, the team has a strong combination capable of winning both championships. Webber is the idea team mate for Vettel because he is fast enough to be a number one driver in his own right, which pushes Vettel to the absolute limit. Although Vettel outqualified Webber the majority of times last season the margins were often very small.
Critically, both drivers showed last season on a number of occasions that they have what it takes to dominate a race weekend; Vettel did it in Silverstone and Suzuka particularly while Webber was untouchable at the Nurburgring. This will be vital this year if they are to press home any competitive advantage they may enjoy and bring home the championship.
Although Vettel also made some expensive mistakes last season, which cost him a shot at the title, he was the more consistent of the two. He is expected to grow as a driver from these experiences and we should see a relentlessly strong Vettel, a real competitor for the Hamiltons, Alonsos and Schumachers of this world. And this has to be the year when Webber adds consistency to his list of attributes. Somehow it is a quality he has struggled to show in F1. With a car capable of winning races, he has to find a way to rack up big points every weekend, regardless of what his team mate is doing.
The car looks very impressive; sculpted, toned and well-developed with a sensational front wing. Last year’s car was the fastest car built to the spirit of the regulations (ie no double diffuser) and the team did extremely well to incorporate quickly the double diffuser into its design and make their car the pace setter. But it wasn’t perfect; Newey decided not to change the gearbox or suspension and fitted the updated diffuser around them. This year the rear end of the car has been designed around the double diffuser and knowing Newey it will be an extreme interpretation.
Although the team lost some valuable development time last Autumn when they thought there might be a chance of getting a Mercedes engine, they have a potential advantage this year in that the Renault is the most fuel efficient engine in the field, although it is apparently quite close with the Mercedes. This will help them on lap times in the sense that they will have to carry less fuel to cover the race distance than their competitors. If the front of the field is tight, it could make a difference. Against that the Renault gives something away in outright power to the Mercedes, but this did not seem to hamper Red Bull’s competitiveness much last season.
This year there is a premium on preserving the tyres and this is one area where the Red Bull car will need to have improved from last season. In comparison with the Brawn it was a little harder on its tyres, which helped in getting the raw pace in qualifying, but this year will not be helpful on long runs with a heavy fuel load.
They say that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery and Newey admitted satisfaction at seeing many teams emulating his ideas from last season. But that smile on his face will only last as long as his car stays in front.