2020 F1 Season Review Part 5: Red Bull & Mercedes

Featured Image by Alberto-g-rovi (CC BY 3.0) on Wikimedia Commons

Following the conclusion of the 2020 FIA Formula One World Championship, we review the performances of each team that participated in the Championship. This is Part 5 of a 5 Part series. For Part 5, we focus on the 2 teams who finished at the top of the standings – Red Bull & Mercedes.

Aston Martin Red Bull Racing

Alberto-g-rovi (CC BY 3.0)

Team Personnel & Car Details:

Team Principal: Christian Horner
Race Drivers: Alexander Albon (#23, All Rounds), Max Verstappen (#33, All Rounds)

Car: Red Bull RB16
Designers: Adrian Newey (Chief Technical Officer), Pierre Wache (Technical Director), Rob Marshall (Chief Engineering Officer), Dan Fallows (Head of Aerodynamics)
Engine: Honda RA620H
Gearbox: Red Bull Technology 8 Speed + 1 Reverse

Season Stats:

Best qualifying position: P1
Best race: P1 (x2)
Constructors’ Championship position: P2 (2019 position: P3)
Constructors’ Championship points: 319 (2019 points: 417)
Points per driver: Max Verstappen (214), Alex Albon (105)

Season in a nutshell: Realistically, the best the team could have done in the standings. Points wise could have certainly been better for the second car…

Truthfully speaking, this was the really the only place that anyone expected Red Bull to be at the end of the Season. 2nd. But points-wise, Red Bull could, and should have done better. The points distribution was split 214/105. 214 for Verstappen, including 1 pole, 2 wins & 9 podiums. 105 for Albon, including 2 podiums.

From pre-season testing, it was clear that Red Bull would be finishing a clear second. Mercedes was outpacing every team, including Red Bull by a huge margin. Ferrari had effectively eliminated themselves with a weak Power Unit. However, it was clear that as usual, Red Bull was holding their cards close to their chest, and “sandbagging”.

Unlike most teams who set their fastest times on the softest tyre, the C5 Compound, Red Bull had not done so. Both drivers set their fastest laps on the C4 compound.

Max Verstappen was the standout driver for Red Bull this season, and the consistency he exhibited each weekend really showed how refined the Dutchman had become. He finished on the podium at nearly every race he finished, bar Turkey. A mix of 2nd and 3rds. Had it not been for 5 retirements, the Dutchman would have looked to set a new points record for himself. It should also be noted that only 1 of his 5 retirements were caused by an action of himself, in Sakhir, where he ran into a barrier trying to avoid a collision.

On the other side of the garage with Albon, it was generally a frustrating season, which held some promise in the first few rounds, before his form plummeted. 2 podiums were the only takeaway for the British-Thai driver, who will be sitting out the 2021 season, having been replaced by Sergio Perez for 2021.

All in all, Red Bull may come away from the 2020 Season being somewhat disappointed. 2 wins were all that the team received, but this was really the best that the team could expect. Especially given the sheer size of the gap between themselves and Mercedes then..

For 2021, Red Bull will be looking to balance it’s efforts between 2021 and 2022, with a greater emphasis on the latter, with the aim of putting up a fight against Mercedes for the long-term.

Season Score: 8/10

Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport

Renault R.S.20 / Daniel Ricciardo / AUS / Renault F1 Team
Alberto-g-rovi (CC BY 3.0)

Team Personnel & Car Details:

Team Principal: Zak Brown (Chief Executive Officer), Andreas Seidl (Team Principal)
Race Drivers: Lewis Hamilton (#44, R1-R15, R17), Valtteri Bottas (#77, All rounds), George Russell (#63, R16)

Car: Mercedes-AMG F1 W11 EQ Performance
Designers: James Allison (Technical Director), Mike Elliott (Technology Director), John Owen (Chief Designer), Kevin Taylor (Head of Engineering), Jarrod Murphy (Head of Aerodynamics)
Engine: Mercedes-AMG F1 M11 EQ Performance
Gearbox: Mercedes 8 Speed + 1 Reverse

Season Stats:

Best qualifying position: P1
Best race: P1
Constructors’ Championship position: P1 (2019 position: P1)
Constructors’ Championship points: 573 (2019 points: 739)
Points per driver: Lewis Hamilton (347), Valtteri Bottas (223), George Russell (3)

Season in a nutshell: Yet another year of domination for Mercedes.

For Mercedes, 2020 was a re-definition of the word “dominant”. The team won 13 of the 17 races, scored 15 of the 17 pole positions, while having at least one driver finishing on the podium at almost every race. On the technical side of things, Mercedes had effectively outdone, and one may even say, crushed any potential opposition right from the get-go.

From pre-season testing, it was already clear to everyone that Mercedes were almost certain to dominate the season. Across the 6 days of testing, Mercedes had managed to complete a whopping 903 laps, far ahead of any other team, with the nearest being Ferrari at 844 laps. Not only that, Mercedes had even managed to beat the whole field by a huge margin. 0.6 seconds on long-run pace, and over a second faster on one-lap pace. Then there was the DAS debacle, which saw the device banned for 2021, but still allowed for 2020, which was part of the reason for the W11’s sheer pace over the competition.

However, it should be said, that even without DAS, it was still clear how much faster the W11 was over it’s “competitors” on track. At the Portuguese Grand Prix, Mercedes removed the DAS system from both cars. Removing the DAS system really just showed how far ahead Mercedes were, over the competition on the Technical front. Lewis Hamilton took pole, with a 1:16.652. The fastest non-Mercedes was the RB16 of Max Verstappen. Verstappen was almost 4 tenths down on Hamilton. By the time the chequered flag flew, Hamilton had won the race with a lead of over 30 seconds on Verstappen.

In the world of Formula One, where time is measured in milliseconds, it may as well have been an eternity. Hamilton’s teammate Bottas finished 25 seconds behind him. How far behind was Verstappen? Another 9 seconds. Granted, the race was chaotic. But there was absolutely no denial that Mercedes was far ahead of the competition on the technical side of things.

So what happened in the other 4 races that Mercedes “lost”? Well, at the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix, the W11 struggled with it’s tyres. When it came to the Italian Grand Prix, the team made the mistake of sending Hamilton into the pits when it was closed. At the Sakhir Grand Prix, a messy double stack pit stop ruined what could have been a surefire 1-2, and the maiden win for Hamilton’s stand-in, George Russell. At Abu Dhabi, the team turned down the engines on both cars for “reliability reasons”.

All in all, Mercedes simply had a great season. Sure. On the Race Operations side of things, several major blunders. But these blunders were simply insignificant when it came to the big picture, courtesy of the Technical department. While Mercedes should work on preventing the blunders from reoccurring next season in the Race Operations department, the Technical Department, and the team as a whole, is fully deserving of the praise it is receiving.

Season Score: 9/10

Preview: 2020 Eifel Grand Prix

Featured Image by Wolkenkratzer on Wikimedia Commons

The Russian Grand Prix, held a fortnight ago, saw Valtteri Bottas & Mercedes emerge victorious, with teammate Lewis Hamilton in 3rd, rounding off the podium.

This weekend, we find ourselves in Germany, moving from the Sochi Autodrom in Russia, to the Nürburgring GP-Strecke, located in the outskirts of Nurburg. Valtteri Bottas starts from Pole, with teammate and Championship rival next to him.

Ahead of the lights going green later today, we have compiled a list of things to watch out for ahead of the race.

The Circuit – Nürburgring GP-Strecke

The Nürburgring is a permanent motorsports complex located in the town of Nürburg, Rhineland-Palatinate. The complex has a rich history, and is renown for it’s North Loop, better known as the Nordschleife.

The track features a total of 14 different configurations, utilising the 2 main layouts, the GP-Strecke, and the Nordschleife. Of the 14 configurations, the longest is the Combined Circuit, clocking in at 25.947km and utilising the Full Track, while the shortest configuration, the Müllenbachschleife, clocks in a mere 1.489km. For the Eifel Grand Prix, F1 will be using the 5.148 km long GP-Strecke, inclusive of the Mercedes Benz Arena.

The official lap record for the GP-Strecke stands at 1:29.468, set by Michael Schumacher in 2004. Yesterday’s pole time set by Valterri Bottas, stands at 1:25.269.

The Things to Watch Out for:

Overtaking

How much or how little overtaking will we see as Formula One returns to the GP-Strecke? F1’s previous outing at the circuit saw a total of 41 on-track passes.

Given the fast, flowing nature of the track, expect overtaking to be difficult around the narrow circuit, with dirty air in the wake of cars being the chief obstacle for drivers. However, the cambered nature of several corners around the track could provide overtaking opportunities for drivers bold enough to use alternate lines.

The main overtaking points are at the run down to Turn 1, ahead of the Mercedes Benz Arena Complex, alongside the Turn 13 chicane.

Valtteri Bottas

Can Bottas carry his momentum from Russia forwards? This is the question on everyone’s mind this weekend, after the Finn broke his 8 race win drought a fortnight ago. If the Finn can successfully carry his momentum forward for the rest of the season, he could breathe further life into his title battle with Hamilton.

Bottas arrives at the ‘Ring, with a 2 wins, 2 poles, and 161 points. His biggest rival, and teammate, Lewis Hamilton on the other hand, arrives with 6 wins, 7 poles, and 205 points. Ahead of Russia, the gap between the pair stood at 55 points, and now stands at 44 points. Should Mercedes continue achieving 1-2 finishes, Bottas would need to achieve the fastest lap and the victory, alongside the win for the next 6 weekends in order to overhaul Hamilton in the standings. Should he fail to achieve fastest lap, he will need to win every remaining race this season…

With just 7 rounds to go to the season finale, this leaves Bottas with little to almost no margin of error.

Bottas topped FP3 yesterday, and followed it up with Pole in Qualifying. If the Finn can carry his pace demonstrated in FP3 & Q3 forward into the race, he could certainly give his title hopes a further boost, by claiming both the victory and fastest lap. If Red Bull & Max Verstappen can prove a threat to Mercedes, they could certainly do Bottas a favour if the Finn is able to break free of Hamilton right from the start of the race…

Leclerc & Ferrari

Charles Leclerc’s 4th place starting spot on the grid today came as a surprise to the fans and media, and can perhaps be described as a wonderful surprise for the Scuderia. Leclerc’s performance comes after several poor race weekends for the Prancing Horses recently, held at tracks which did not suit the SF1000.

Leclerc’s teammate Sebastian Vettel failed to reach Q3, which may not have been a major surprise to many. However, Leclerc’s 4th place can certainly be something for the Scuderia to cheer about. Laurent Mekies, Scuderia Ferrari Sporting Director felt that Leclerc’s performance at the Nurburgring was an indicator that the team had made strides in the right direction in terms of car development, the team having introduced new parts this week.

Could potentially bode well for Ferrari, who could luck their way to the podium with Leclerc today…

Nico Hulkenburg

2009 GP2 champion Nico Hulkenberg has made yet another shock return to F1, replacing Lance Stroll, who had skipped FP3 after being hit with a stomach upset.

In his previous outings, Hulkenberg performed admirably, coming in 13th in Quali for the British GP, before storming to 3rd in Quali for the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix, and eventually finishing 7th. However, the German was thrown into the car without any FP3 run this weekend, and ended up qualifying down the order at the back of the grid.

Given the tight & twisty nature of the Nurburgring, it will certainly be a challenge for the Hulk to charge is way to the front, and many eyes will be looking at how he performs today.

Analysis: Red Bull’s 2022 Options

Featured Image by Artes Max on Flickr

Friday saw Honda’s shock announcement of it’s Formula 1 departure at the end of 2021, following 6 seasons of mixed success. Honda’s exit leaves Red Bull’s two teams, Red Bull Racing & Scuderia AlphaTauri without an engine for 2022 & beyond.

Today, we take a look at Red Bull’s 4 2022 engine options for it’s 2 teams, ranking them from the most likely to least likely.

4: In-House Engines

The idea of Red Bull producing its own F1 engines in-house, is not new, having been raised multiple times across the years. The concept’s origins date back to late 2010, when Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz stated in an interview: “And even the idea of developing our own engine, I think, is no longer so absurd”.

The possibility of seeing Red Bull go in-house with it’s engine was raised again in mid-2014, the first year of the Turbo-Hybrid V6 engines. Following years of success in the 2.4L V8 Formula, Renault found itself with a disappointing engine. Renault’s 2014 PU was saddled with many reliability problems during testing, and was also down on power.

According to Sky Sports, the Mercedes power units (4 teams) did 17,994 km of running, Ferrari did 10,214 km (3 teams), while Renault managed just 8770 km across its 4 teams. Following the 2014 Austrian Grand Prix, things came to a head, with Red Bull firing its first volley of criticism at Renault. Senior figures in the team, namely Team Principal Christian Horner, & Motorsport Advisor Helmut Marko had this to say: “The reliability is unacceptable, the performance is unacceptable and there needs to be change at Renault,” (Horner) & “If we don’t see a possibility to be on a same level with Mercedes then we will have to look for alternatives,” (Marko).

Famed Motorsport journalist Joe Saward also hinted at the possibility of seeing Red Bull produce its own engines, with Saward writing on his blog: “The next thing for [Red Bull owner Dietrich] Mateschitz will be to set up a cluster for the motorsport industry in Styria by building his own engines there… Don’t think I’m joking, by the way, Mateschitz is a free thinker, who puts his money where his mouth is.”

In early 2015, tensions between Red Bull & Renault saw rumours of Red Bull producing it’s own engine emerge once more, involving Mario Illien’s Ilmor company. Illien’s engineering company was then a consultant for Renault to help improve its performance. The rumour stated that Red Bull would build a dyno up and running at its factory by next September, suitable for testing the engine and gearbox entity.

In 2016, Marko admitted Red Bull had previously investigated the use of an in-house engine in 2014. He stated that the Milton Keynes outfit undertook a feasibility study, concluding that the effort would not be worth the cost.

In 2020, Red Bull finds itself looking for a new engine supplier once more, which led to Ralf Schumacher calling for Red Bull to produce it’s own engines. Schumacher stated: “A viable option could be to make your own engine. Red Bull has the power and possibilities, and in that case a partner with Honda, from whom you could take control and continue the whole thing.”

What Schumacher meant was this: Red Bull could acquire Honda’s F1 intellectual property, and then build the engine in-house, partnering with Honda’s consultant, Illmor.

What Red Bull Stands to Gain: Total Control of its engine supply, and full integration between the design of the car & engine for both teams.

Why Red Bull should pause: A significantly increased amount of spending will be required to produce a competitive engine in the coming years. In addition to the hiring of new staff, Red Bull will need to hire new staff, as Honda F1 engine staff will be transferred to assist in Honda’s electrification efforts.

3. Mercedes

Red Bull-Mercedes. In such a scenario, we could easily see 2 teams going head to head for both Championship titles. This certainly sounds like a pipe dream, doesn’t it? Except it nearly happened in 2016, and for the same reasons it didn’t happen then, it won’t happen for 2022.

In late 2015, as Red Bull attempted a divorce with Renault, a deal emerged between Niki Lauda, Helmut Marko and Dietrich Mateschitz. Red Bull-Mercedes, would not materialise for 2016, however, with Toto Wolff & Mercedes management putting a stop to the deal.

Officially, the deal collapsed as Mercedes did not want to make a deal behind the back of Renault. However, Mercedes Sporting Director Ron Meadows stated, following Lauda’s passing that the unofficial reason for the deal’s termination was that the team did not wish to share it’s engine with a direct competitor.

Why this is unlikely: As seen in 2016, would Mercedes really want to supply a direct competitor to it’s works team? Let alone a “B Team” that could eventually pose a threat to its de-facto “B Team” Aston Martin?

2. Ferrari

Long before Red Bull’s current partnership with Honda, and prior to Red Bull’s 12 season-long partnership with Renault, Red Bull was a Ferrari customer. This was many years ago in 2006, with the Ferrari 056 powering the teams’ 2nd car, the Red Bull RB2. Theengine supply was for 2 years, but became shortened to a single year, by “mutual consent”. Toro Rosso (now AlphaTauri) would end up taking over the contract in 2007, and run with Ferrari engines all the way until 2013, and later in 2016.

In late 2015, Red Bull’s relationship with Renault deteriorated significantly, which saw Red Bull seek out a new engine supplier, while demanding works-parity. Ferrari was not opposed to supplying Red Bull, but refused to provide works-parity.

The then-Chairman of Ferrari, the late Sergio Marchionne, stated in interviews that he was open to Ferrari working with Red Bull once more, albeit in a less than traditional manner. Marchionne insisted that he would not provide Red Bull with the same engines as the works team, and proposed a technical partnership which would allow Red Bull to plot its own power unit development path. This did not occur, but Ferrari would wind up supplying Toro Rosso with 2015-spec Power Units, without any factory support.

Why this is unlikely: Ferrari’s 2020 engine is significantly down on power compared to the competition. If Ferrari cannot claw back the lost Horsepower, it would represent a step backwards for the Red Bull teams. In addition, will Ferrari really want to power a competitor? A competitor that played a role in inciting the FIA Investigation, which saw the Ferrari Power Unit down on power for 2020?

1. Renault:

Could Red Bull be forced back into the arms of Renault? If anything, this looks to be the most likely scenario for Red Bull’s teams, although no contact has been made. With the high cost of running it’s own in-house engine program, and both teams looking unlikely to see supply from Ferrari or Mercedes, Renault is Red Bull’s sole option.

Renault has already indicated it is willing to supply both Red Bull teams, with Renault Sport Managing Director Cyril Abiteboul stating the firm was willing to fulfil its obligation to supply where needed. Appendix 9 of the FIA Sporting Regulations obliges the manufacturer with the fewest partner teams to supply a competitor that has no alternatives for engine supply.

Barring any changes ahead of 2022, Mercedes will have four teams and Ferrari three, whereas currently Renault’s only commitment is to its rebranded works Alpine outfit.

Previously, the Red Bull-Renault partnership saw much success, with the partnership seeing 4 Constructors Titles and 4 World Drivers’ Championships between 2010-2013. However, with the introduction of the Hybrid Era engines, the relationship quickly soured between the two parties. By 2015, the partnership had nearly collapsed, with Red Bull unsuccessfully attempting to seek out an alternative engine supply for the 2016 season. Red Bull would continue to use Renault power under the TAG HEUER badge, until 2018, before a less than amicable split occurred that year.

Since 2018, Renault’s engine has improved by leaps and bounds; with the decline of Ferrari power, they have now effectively become the 2nd best power unit on the grid. Renault are seeking a customer team to boost revenue, and to increase on-track mileage for R&D.

Should Red Bull reconcile with Renault for 2022 onwards, things could go either way. It could be a successful partnership, or be another repeat of the 2014 & 15 seasons for Red Bull & AlphaTauri..

Preview: 2020 Russian Grand Prix

The Circuit – Sochi Autodrom

Pitlane02 / CC BY-SA 3.0

This weekend’s Russian Grand Prix will be held at the Sochi Autodrom. The track, formerly known as the Sochi International Street Circuit and the Sochi Olympic Park Circuit, is a semi-permanent race track in the Black Sea resort town of Sochi in Krasnodar Krai, Russia. The track snakes round the Olympic Park utilised for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, with the starting grid being located in the northern section of the area, just south of the Imeretinsky Kurort railway station.

The track features 2 configurations, the semi-permanent Grand Prix Circuit, and the permanent short circuit. The Russian Grand Prix will be held on the semi-permanent layout, which features 18 turns and has a length of 5.848 km, including 2 DRS Zones, located on the start/finish straight, and the curved backstretch.

The official lap record stands at 1:35.761, set by Lewis Hamilton in 2019, while the outright fastest lap was set by Valtteri Bottas in 2018, with a 1:31.387. The Formula 2 Lap Record stands at 1:46.476, set by Nyck de Vries in 2018.

The Things to Watch Out For:

Albon’s fightback

Ahead of the race, it was announced that Alex Albon would be taking a 5 place grid penalty owing to a gearbox change, which violated the 6 race per gearbox rule. This deals a further blow to Albon this weekend, the British-Thai driver having qualified in 10th, a lowly result for a Red Bull driver.

Not only was Albon over a second behind teammate Max Verstappen in Q3, who is set to start the race in P2, Albon was consistently outpaced by the AlphaTauri of Pierre Gasly across qualifying. Albon has to demonstrate solid race pace & results, if he seeks to retain his seat with the team for 2021.

While Red Bull has pledged it’s support for Albon, the pressure is undoubtedly mounting on him once more, and Gasly beating him in an “inferior” AlphaTauri is not a good sign for him. A pledge of support at Red Bull could well be a meaningless PR statement, as Pierre Gasly found out last year, and Albon needs to produce an excellent race today.

Overtaking

How many or how few overtakes will we see today? The past few races have seen a large number overtakes due to various factors that added much spice to the on-track action, even on circuits where overtaking has, or was expected to be poor. The Sochi Autodrom happens to be a track that falls into this category, with the 2017 edition of the race seeing just a single overtake.

Valtteri Bottas

The Sochi Autodrom is a place that holds a mix of good and bad memories for Valtteri Bottas. The track was where Bottas scored his first fastest lap, in the 2014 edition, and his first victory, in 2017. The track was also the site of a controversial team order, which saw Bottas being asked to cede his lead to Hamilton, an order the Finn did not expect.

Bottas arrives in Russia, with a single win, 2 poles, and 135 points. His biggest rival, and teammate, Lewis Hamilton on the other hand, arrives in Russia with 6 wins, 7 poles, and 190 points. The gap has been growing at nearly every race, and Bottas is aware his title chances are steadily decreasing as he continues to finish behind Hamilton each race.

Bottas starts the race on the backfoot compared to Hamilton, with the Finn starting on the second row of the grid.

Russia has been a place where his happiest, and darkest moments in the sport have occured. Can Bottas add yet another happy memory in Russia, by using Sunday’s race to breathe life into his title charge? We shall see later today.

Preview: 2020 Italian Grand Prix Weekend

Featured Image by Takayuki Suzuki on Flickr

Formula 1 & Formula 2 returns to the Autodromo Nazionale Monza this week, with this weekend serving as the 8th round of both championships. Ahead of the race action on Saturday & Sunday, we have compiled a list of things to watch out for in both categories.

Continue reading “Preview: 2020 Italian Grand Prix Weekend”