2017 expectations vs reality
After coming second in the constructors' race in 2016 and with the recruitment of an exciting young talent in Max Verstappen, 2017 was gearing up to be one with high expectations for Red Bull Racing. However, pre-season testing was enough evidence to predict that the team would struggle to keep up with the strong pace of Ferrari and Mercedes.
Red Bull had strong driver performances with frequent podiums and even a lucky win for Daniel Ricciardo in the first half of the season at Baku, but the Renault power units in the back of their cars were full of reliability issues and not able to keep up with the front runners. Max Verstappen had to retire his car five times in the first half of the season alone, and though two them were due to avoidable racing incidents, it was mostly a case of reliability issues.
Though the team significantly had better performances in the second half of the season in terms of pace, reliability issues continued to be a recurring theme as Ricciardo had his share of engine trouble and grid penalties towards the end of the season. 2017 would be a year they would like to forget quickly as they have a lot more exciting development paths to explore in the years to come.
Development record and constructors performance
Speaking of development in 2017, Red Bull came up with a very promising and envious aerodynamic design, including an interesting nose concept comprising an air vent at its tip. Some questioned its legality but Red Bull were certain it met all FIA regulations. That was just the start as their aero upgrades throughout the season were on a par, if not better on some occasions, to Ferrari and Mercedes. What predictably let them down was the Renault power unit.
As a constructor it is never ideal to see one of your drivers not finish a grand prix. In Red Bull's case this happened far too many times. Max Verstappen registered a DNF seven times while Ricciardo failed to see the chequered flag six times during the year. To put things in perspective, the team won more times than last year but were still third in the constructors' standings by a massive margin of 150 points.
Team principal Christian Horner summed it up best. “If you look at the number of points we have given away through unreliability, it’s close to 160,” he said. “Engine reliability has hit us really hard.”
Beyond reliability, pace was also always an issue for the team, especially during qualifying when Renault was just not able to keep up with the engine modes that Ferrari and Mercedes brought for a flying lap. Though Renault will not be the engine supplier for Red Bull in 2019, all eyes remain on the French engine supplier to develop and match up to Ferrari and Mercedes in 2018.
Driver head to head
Qualifying: 13–7 Verstappen
Racing: 12-8 Verstappen
Though the above numbers suggest that Max Verstappen has been the superior driver in this pairing, one could still argue that Red Bull Racing have the strongest driver lineup on the grid. Though Ricciardo lost out in the head-to-head battle, he ended up scoring more championship points than the Dutchman, proving that on his day Ricciardo can easily be one of the best on the grid.
The driver statistics also need to be taken with a pinch of salt as most of the drivers' DNFs were due to no fault of their own, albeit resulting in one driver with far lesser championship points that the other.
In general, both drivers were a massive saving grace in terms of their driver ability. While Ricciardo proved repeatedly that he is an overtaking master, Verstappen showed incredible maturity in Mexico and Malaysia to hold his own and take his career win tally to three.
Though Max Verstappen has signed on with Red Bull Racing until 2020, it is still uncertain what Daniel Ricciardo's plans are post-2018 when his contract with the team expires. One would expect that he will wait on his decision depending on how Red Bull do in 2018. Regardless, both drivers have credentials to compete with the best of the best.
Best and worst weekends
For any team the best way to judge this is based on points, but in Red Bull's case it gets a little more complicated when it involves two highly competitive drivers.
Their best weekend was in Malaysia. Max Verstappen started from third and took the lead from Lewis Hamilton with a smooth overtaking move. After that he controlled the race to perfection to hold on to his lead and comfortably finish 12 seconds ahead of the eventual 2017 world champion.
Meanwhile, Daniel Ricciardo drove an error free race to ensure that both Red Bulls made it to the podium. During his run the Aussie also fended off Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel, who was on a mission to take up the final podium place. Again, full credit goes to the drivers for putting their best foot forward.
The team's worst weekend was also on account of its drivers. The Hungarian Grand Prix saw Max Verstappen get off to an awkward start as he crashed into his teammate in turn two and eventually ended the Aussie's race.
Considering that the Hungaroring is a high downforce track, Red Bull were well and truly a favourite to contest for the podium, if not the win. Verstappen never really had pace after the incident to keep up with the Ferraris and the Mercedes and eventually managed just fifth place. Though the teammates moved on from the incident with little to no animosity, it was a weekend that Red Bull would especially like to forget from the 2017 season.
Looking to 2018
It was announced in late September that Aston Martin would become a Red Bull title sponsor for 2018. The technical partnership would also see a new 'Advanced Performance Centre' being established at Red Bull Racing’s campus, enabling a closer working relationship between the two parties on both F1 and road car technology.
This was by far the most exciting piece of news to come out of the Red Bull paddock; the team have struggled in the hybrid era and their engine partnership with Renault has not been the most fruitful one. Though Renault have promised to make significant upgrades to help Red Bull have a stronger 2018, it will be more interesting to see how the Aston Martin and Red Bull relationship develops over the next few years.
Red Bull have all the ingredients to come out strong in 2018. It will all be down to Renault to supply them with a reliable and strong power unit that can challenge the Mercedes and Ferrari. For Red Bull's sake this will be crucial, especially with McLaren having signed on to Renault to have a better performance in 2018. Regardless of how they do, Red Bull have been and will always remain one of the most exciting teams to watch out for on the F1 grid.
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