As Red Bull Racing takes pole position—and has since completed an emphatic one-two finish in the race—again for the Formula One Grand Prix of Monaco, the question inevitably arises: Why are they so damn fast?
Six consecutive pole positions, shared evenly between Sebastien Vettel and Mark Webber, underscores the team’s dominance in terms of raw pace. Only once has one of the team’s cars started from further back than the second row, and they have qualified first and second on three occasions.
Only a lack of reliability—and Webber's frustrated desperation to do well in Australia—has prevented Red Bull from repeating Brawn GP’s dominant start to the 2009 season.
The qualifying dominance has been significant. On occasion, the margin to their rivals has been half a second or more which, in F1 terms, is an eternity. In Malaysia, Webber was nearly one and a half seconds faster in changeable weather conditions.
So where does the speed come from?
In a field with four former world champions, it is hard to argue that the Red Bull drivers are what sets them apart. Sebastien Vettel is certainly a precocious talent and has the potential to be a future world champion, but that’s a long way from arguing that he is a better driver than Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso, or Michael Schumacher.
Journeyman Mark Webber has some talent—everyone in F1 does—and has eight years experience in a range of teams, but his impetuousness and occasional outbursts of emotion has seen him squander as many opportunities as he has capitalized on.
The Renault engine, while strong, isn’t ridiculously fast. The factory is using it in their own team car with limited success, securing points in four of the five races, complete with a podium in Melbourne.
Red Bull doesn’t even have an F-duct to point to as the reason for their success. Their car is up to 10km/h slower down the straight, making their overall pace so much more remarkable
Ross Brawn, the boss of Mercedes GP, shed some light on where Red Bull really makes it work. He is quoted on JamesAllenonF1.com as saying after qualifying for the Spanish Grand prix, “We can see where they are quick.”
He went on to explain: “It’s high speed corners and this is a track where there are lots of high speed corners. That’s their strength. It was also their strength last year but they had a weakness in slow corners last year. This year they are good in slow corners and had retained their ability in high speed corners.”
Perhaps this is due to the ride height adjustment system that everyone believes that Red Bull is running. There have been persistent rumours that they have a system that enable the car to be lowered with a low fuel load during qualifying, but which then adjusts to cope with the full fuel load on race day.
Red Bull chief, Christian Horner, strenuously denies having such a system, going as far as to say that if they suspected anyone else of having one, they would be the first to complain. Nevertheless, the rumours persist even though the FIA has given it a clean bill of health—or should that be because the FIA have given it a clean bill of health.
The reality is that they are probably the first team to get their chassis and suspension to work properly with the narrower front tyre and don’t have the same understeer problems that the other teams have.
Now, if they can get a working F-duct and improve their reliability they could be unbeatable. The other teams had better hope not.