If this is what Red Bull Racing’s return to championship contention looks like, it’s far from convincing.
The once all-powerful energy drinks-backed team has been a shadow of its title-winning self for more than four seasons, proclaiming all the while that it is a winner in exile, a sleeping giant waiting to be awoken.
But the cold, hard stats paint a darker picture. Since claiming its last title in 2013 Red Bull Racing has won just nine times. Mercedes, for the record, has won 65 races in the same time span.
Circumstance has of course had a hand in the team’s fall. Red Bull Racing, an independent chassis builder, relies on Renault for engines, and despite the French manufacturer powering the team to all four of its constructors titles in the V8 era, it has struggled with today’s turbo-hybrid technology.
Certainly power unit unreliability has cost RBR strong results and a lack of power has virtually locked it out of the front of the grid during qualifying, but Renault’s substandard form isn’t the whole story, with design flaws and strategic errors deserving much of the blame.
Look no further than the Monaco Grand Prix for proof. Despite being the least power sensitive of all the circuits, Red Bull Racing hasn’t scored a win in the famous principality since 2012. It came close in 2016, when Daniel Ricciardo scored RBR’s first pole in three years, but the team dropped the ball so comprehensively with its strategy and pit stop execution that the Australian finished a furious second to Lewis Hamilton.
It puts paid to a certain extent of Red Bull Racing mythology. There is no doubt that the chassis is good, but is it as good as the team wants to believe?
This weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix (27 May) will be the test, and with Mercedes and Ferrari already firmly established title protagonists, Red Bull Racing’s results in Monte Carlo could reveal whether it is destined to join them this season or spend another year biding its time.
“Hopefully I’ll also get some redemption,” Daniel Ricciardo said in the lead-up to the race, referencing his lost 2016 win. “The encouraging thing from Barcelona is that we were quick in the third sector, and that is probably the closest to Monaco, so hopefully that shows what we can do.”
His teammate, Max Verstappen, agreed that the circuit layout should minimise the package’s weaknesses.
“Monaco also doesn’t have any long straights, so I think it should be a good circuit for us,” he said.
There are some signs of relative progress to encourage the team. This time last season it already had an 89-point deficit in the constructors title standings, whereas this year the margin is only 73 points, including the 22 points lost in friendly fire at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
Doubly motivating for Red Bull Racing is that the 2018 Monaco Grand Prix will be its 250th race start, creating an opportunity to reflect on the team’s impressive history since buying the Jaguar team joining the grid in 2005.
Red Bull Racing holds a 22.5 per cent victory record across its relatively short tenure — ahead of McLaren’s 22 per cent and behind Ferrari’s 24.2 per cent, albeit with substantially fewer race starts than either — and only Ferrari, Williams, McLaren and the defunct Lotus team have won more than its four constructors championships.
Now in its 14th year, Red Bull Racing has made itself an indelible part of F1 history — but as the adage goes, you’re only as good as your last race, and no-one would deny the Austrian-owned team could do with stronger results.