This is a big season for Red Bull. That has been said before, but even Red Bull will understand that to have any chance of finally winning another Formula 1 world championship, it needs a strong start.
Last year ended on a high and, taking it at face value, Red Bull’s early-season woes seemed to have been overcome.
But as the saying goes, one swallow doesn’t make a summer.
In 17 races in 2020, Mercedes had 13 wins and 15 pole positions. Red Bull managed just two wins and one pole position, which tells a story.
Red Bull has to pressure Mercedes from the start to even up those numbers across the 2021 season.
We all know that Max Verstappen has what it takes to achieve pole positions and win races, but to win the constructors’ you need two drivers capable of that. To attempt to do that, Red Bull has looked outside of its driver scheme and turned to the experience of Sergio Perez.
You wouldn’t call Perez an out-and-out race-winner given he’s spent his F1 career in the midfield, but he has not had the tools to show his real talent.
He did win a race last year – as did Pierre Gasly, both fortunate victories – but Sergio is normally up there fighting for big points and that is what Red Bull needs.
Every podium finish he can score will give Red Bull more points, but more importantly it will reduce the points that Mercedes will take. I’m confident he’s going to be the equal of Valtteri Bottas at least.
So basically, it’s all down to Red Bull and Honda to give their two drivers the tools to achieve the objectives. For Red Bull, that’s the drivers’ and constructors’ championships and that outcome would allow Honda to head off back to Japan with its head held high.
We often say that ‘the devil is in the detail’. Based on what Red Bull revealed in its launch image, there’s not much of a change from last year’s car.
Of course if you don’t change much, you can’t get lost and avoiding doing that is the most important thing for Red Bull this season, especially as it’s adamant its 2020 car was on the right track once it had solved its initial problems.
Since the regulations came into play that reduced the front wing furniture in 2019, Red Bull has always run its car with a higher-loaded outboard end front wing. It appears to be continuing that trend into 2021.
Its front brake ducts have always been one of the most brutal examples in the pitlane, as other teams’ versions became smaller and more sculpted. Compared to last year’s version, it has tidied up the bottom half of them up just that little bit.
For the majority of last year, Red Bull ran with wider front wing mounts. For the last race in Abu Dhabi, it ran the narrow version on Verstappen’s winning car.
The team was an instigator of the high-rake set-up philosophy and a committed believer in it even as Mercedes went a different way. It will be interesting to see if Red Bull still follows that concept given the change in floor regulations for 2021.
— Red Bull Racing (@redbullracing) February 23, 2021
On top of that is Perez’s experience of when Racing Point changed from a high-rake car to a Mercedes-style low-rake solution. He might just bring Red Bull some more information on what advantages Racing Point found from going in this direction.
I’m pretty sure, as it’s a B version of last year’s car, that the chassis, the nose and the interface between between the two will be the same.
So I don’t think what we are seeing in these release pictures is by any means the final race version.
The same applies to the rest of the car. Red Bull has always tried to pull the wool over our eyes. I think it is best to wait until things start to get serious before we say too much about the finer detail of the RB16B.
On the way, let’s hope it doesn’t outsmart itself by trying to be too clever.
The Honda engine performance will also be vital. Honda is certainly confident it has taken a big step relative to 2020, which is significant because it’s not the Japanese way to shout about things. Usually, it’s all a bit more ‘secret squirrel’ and let the performance do the talking.
We won’t know if the confidence is well-placed until the season kicks off but my biggest worry is that reliability might suffer given the performance step.
With the limitation on engines and ancillary components in 2021, poor reliability can scupper a championship challenge very quickly.
There’s a lot more to see from Red Bull and Honda. Let’s hope there’s enough to come to produce what the fans really want, which is a good title battle.