I will be the first to admit that I thought Red Bull would be fighting for this year’s world championship, but it hasn’t happened. The car isn’t fast enough and it’s also not been reliable enough.
As the research below shows, at the mid season point, Red Bull has actually completed fewer racing laps in 2017 than McLaren Honda, incredible though that sounds.
But the area where the fans are most interested is the duel between the two drivers Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen. They pair collided in Hungary, which Verstappen took responsibility for and apologised to Ricciardo. It had been coming for some time and Ricciardo’s reaction in the heat of the moment was telling – calling Verstappen “amateur”, adding that “he doesn’t like people passing him.”
The photo at the top was taken as recently as Silverstone and shows that the pair can be easy in each other’s company, which is more than Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg could manage at Mercedes in the last few years.
But there’s no mistaking the tension that underlines it.
Ricciardo saw off the incumbent at Red Bull, Sebastian Vettel – who headed off to Ferrari in 2015 – and then got landed with Verstappen as a team mate. The teenager exploded into F1 and has since underlined his credentials as being fast, aggressive and controversial. Nothing has really changed, other than he has gained some more experience of how to set up and drive F1 cars. The net result is that Verstappen has been a shade faster than Ricciardo this season.
But Ricciardo has more points than Verstappen, largely due to reliability woes for the Dutchman and many examples of opportunism by the Australian, who had a great run of podiums and a win, through May and June. Verstappen has stood on the podium only once this year – he badly needs consolidation in the second half of 2017, a string of podiums like Ricciardo enjoyed as a minimum.
The general view in F1 is that this pairing is probably unsustainable long term and many more episodes like Hungary will hasten a move away for one of them. Both desperately want to win and both are clearly capable of being world champion in the right car. What they both need to do is get a situation for themselves such as Lewis Hamilton has at Mercedes and Sebastian Vettel has at Ferrari.
Both men are locked in for 2018, but I’d be surprised if one of them, more likely Ricciardo, doesn’t move. If I had to guess a destination for the Australian I would lean more towards Mercedes than Ferrari, but wouldn’t rule out McLaren if 2018 brings really significant progress.
Red Bull’s 2017 season in numbers
Red Bull has raced the fewest number of laps out of any team this year with 928 – 80 fewer than McLaren. Compare that to Mercedes and Ferrari, who have completed 1330 and 1287 laps respectively, it starts to paint a picture of Red Bull’s season so far.
Out of the 928 laps that the Red Bull pair has raced in 2017, 530 were completed by Ricciardo and 398 by Verstappen, meaning Ricciardo has been able to finish an average of 12 more laps per race than Verstappen.
With eight failures to finish in 2017 over these 11 races so far, chances to score points have also been few and far between. Ricciardo has been classified with three DNFs while Verstappen has had five.
When Ricciardo does finish a race, he averages a position of 3.4 while Verstappen comes in at 4.5.
Verstappen however has had the advantage in starting positions, because, including grid penalties, Verstappen starts races at an average of sixth on the grid while Ricciardo begins races at an average starting position of eighth.
There has been one podium but no race win yet for Verstappen and the Dutchman hasn’t retired from a position lower than fourth this year.
Verstappen’s brakes failed in Bahrain from fourth position; the Spanish GP collision with Kimi Raikkonen took him out of third place; his battery failed in Canada from second; he retired with an engine issue in Azerbaijan from fourth; and when he started fourth in Austria, a first lap collision retired him from the race.
Head to head in qualifying, Verstappen does lead Ricciardo 7-4, with Ricciardo having outqualified his team-mate in China, Bahrain, Russia and Austria. Yet in three of the races where Verstappen has outqualified his team-mate – Spain, Canada and Azerbaijan – Verstappen has failed to finish the race.
In the three races where both drivers managed to finish (China, Monaco and GB), Verstappen has finished behind his team-mate only in Monaco. Due to an incredible first lap in China, Verstappen, who started 16th, finished ahead of Ricciardo (he started fifth).
But when it comes to gaining positions in races that the Red Bulls manage to finish, Ricciardo gains an average of four per race while Verstappen makes a net gain of two positions, including his 13 place gain in China and Ricciardo’s 14 place haul in Britain.
When it comes to laps led over his counterpart, Ricciardo falls short with 68 – not including Spain, Austria or Hungary where there were retirements before lap one – while Verstappen has led 186 laps over the Australian.
In just the three races where both RB13s saw the chequered flag, Verstappen still leads 124 laps over Ricciardo, while Ricciardo has managed 62 laps led over Verstappen.
Verstappen does lead Ricciardo 2-1 in fastest laps run, but if you take an average of both drivers’ 10 fastest laps, Ricciardo leads that head to head 3-0.
Above all, however, Ricciardo, with 117 points, has 50 more than Verstappen in the drivers’ standings.
UPDATED: In an interview with Auto Motor und Sport, Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner said, “We will not catch Mercedes and Ferrari,” in a frank rundown of the team’s season so far.
“But, I want to collect more points after the summer break than Ferrari…perhaps win here and there,” he said.
Though Ricciardo is one point ahead of Kimi Raikkonen going into the Belgian Grand Prix on August 27, Red Bull is still 134 points behind Ferrari who have gained 318 so far, and Mercedes sits at the summit of the championship with 357 points.
Horner cited a difference between the team’s wind tunnel, CFD data and performance data found out on track during the March F1 test in Barcelona as the cause of Red Bull’s issues compared to its rivals.
“It took us until Melbourne to find the mistake,” explained Horner.
“Only then could we start the clean-up work and the development work on the car.”
Horner told AMuS that the problem took two months to fix but by then Mercedes and Ferrari had moved ahead.
“In the Spanish GP we saw some progress. After that, we got better at every grand prix.
“After 11 races, we have 6 podium finishes and one win. We are further away from our competitors than we wanted to be. At least we can now say that our chassis works well.
“It was mainly the wind tunnel which let us down. The larger model and the larger tyres gave us unsatisfactory results in some areas in our wind tunnel. The CFD and the wind tunnel produced different results.”
On whether Verstappen can recover from a tough start to the season, Horner said, “As a driver, he is still developing rapidly.
“The bad luck he had before Silverstone will make him stronger. In each of these races he was in a promising position.
“He has handled this frustration well, and that has only made his shoulders wider. He is still young at the age of 19.
“We must not forget that he only outgrowed the kart four years ago. I can promise you that he will deliver great performances in the second half of the season.”
Research: Samarth Kanal
What do you make of the Red Bull pair so far this season? Has one driver impressed you more than the other? Leave your comments in the section below