Team: Red Bull Renault (Winner of the 2012 constructor’s championship)
2012 Drivers: Sebastian Vettel (281 points, winner of the 2012 driver’s championship), Mark Webber (179 points, sixth in championship)
2013 Drivers: Sebastian Vettel (Car Number 1) and Mark Webber (2)
New Car: The RB9. The argument (or is it blind optimism?) suggesting Red Bull’s advantage can’t be so big this year is based on the theory that rule stability allows other teams to catch up and copy Adrian Newey’s 2012 thinking. There’s just less and less scope.
That argument also assumes that Newey won’t have any new ideas. And while that seems unlikely, the RB9 does for once look like a simple, tidier evolution of its predecessor. The nose is beefier in response to a new flex-test regulation (which could almost have been targeted directly at Red Bull). Otherwise, the deletion of the nose’s letterbox slot aside, it’s business as usual. That said, the team went to great lengths to keep the car hidden in testing. Don’t rule out any surprises come Friday…
What Red Bull says about its 2012 season: “Close? Nah, we planned it that way. Kept the ratings up. No. Really…”
What Sunday Afternoon Club says about 2012: Red Bull won both titles in a car that possibly wasn’t as fast as Hamilton’s McLaren. Then again, it almost lost it to Ferrari, and that car certainly wasn’t as fast as the Red Bull. Before the ‘Asian Series’, which Vettel dominated thanks in part to a double DRS system introduced in Singapore, a third title for Vettel actually looked unlikely.
How to read that? Does it suggest Red Bull is fragile? Or that the team is a proper racing unit now, unlikely to be diverted by adversity? One that can still win even when it’s not dominant? Possibly all of these. The RB8 was off the pace to start with and showed itself to be fragile. When a racing car is fragile, it usually means the designer is pushing a little too hard, don’t forget…
Sebatian Vettel also looked rattled last year. And he isn’t such a sweetheart when he’s not winning, is he? Mark Webber has enjoyed another off-season where the team has gone out of its way to say how much it supports him. Like soccer chairmen do with managers. Somehow he manages to combine being someone who can blow Vettel away on his day while being a very obvious number two. It’s hard to imagine 2013 won’t be his last season with Red Bull, so he’ll be out to impress and that might not suit Seb.
But we’re clutching at straws here. There is no reason why Red Bull and Vettel should not start as favourites again in 2013.
What Red Bull has to do to impress the Sunday Afternoon Club this year: How do you improve on the last three season’s performance without making F1 unbearably dull? We won’t therefore be looking for Red Bull to dominate. Maybe they’ll get a tick from us if they can keep away from steward’s technical offices this year. Be nice to think of them as racers, not boffins, no?
If you pay any attention to testing… Sebastian Vettel was less than smiley this winter and was telling anyone who would listen that the car was not yet there. That’s not what people who watched the RB9 out on the track were saying. That the team ended up 12th (Vettel) and 14th (Webber) by stumps on the last day probably tells you how much attention you really should pay to testing. The car is quicker than that.
Who are Red Bull really racing this year? Ferrari we reckon. Possibly Mercedes. Not McLaren. We’ve already said this week that McLaren has a mountain to climb and in Button and Perez, don’t have the best guides. Is Mercedes’ pace real? We’ll find that out this weekend. That leaves Ferrari who we will come to tomorrow. That team and its man are more pumped than they’ve ever been and this time it looks like the car is fast from the get-go. Vettel will have one hell of a fight to make it four in a row…