The debate over the laps that brought down the curtain on the 2021 Formula 1 season will be eternal, but it shouldn’t downplay the work that Max Verstappen and his team, Red Bull, did to end Mercedes’ dominance.
In fact, the team sees the surprising turn of events in Abu Dhabi as further proof that 2021 proved, beyond a doubt, that in F1 you never have to give up.
Reflecting on how last year’s intense campaign has impacted their start of the new era in 2022, Red Bull boss Christian Horner says they have drawn some important conclusions.
“I think what it showed me is that if you want something bad enough, if you really believe in something, anything in life is possible,” the team’s chief executive told media outlets including Motorsport.com.
“Last year, nobody could have predicted it. Mercedes was coming off its most successful campaign, probably with the best car in its history.”
“It was a subtle change to the regulations over the winter, but probably 65% of the chassis, gearbox and suspension were carried over from what had been their dominant car. However, we were able to be competitive from the first race and from keep up that challenge, race after race, no matter what they throw at us.
“I think that showed me that you have to forget about all the noise. If you really want something and apply yourself, everything is possible.”
Red Bull ‘s success in the 2021 world championship was not without its risks, especially when the time came when the teams had to carefully weigh how far to develop the cars before moving on to focus on the 2022 ones.
If the 2021 car was developed for too long, the team risked being left behind in the work on the 2022 car, but if the change was made too early, the team would risk missing out on a golden opportunity for the title.
Late last year, Red Bull joked that it would only discover it hadn’t done enough for the 2022 car if Ferrari finished 1-2 at the start of the season.
But, while the dominance of the Maranello team may have been clear on paper, the reality was that Red Bull seemed to have judged things fairly well. His aggressive RB18 has proven to be a worthy match for Ferrari’s F1-75 in terms of pace.
Horner said he was never overly concerned that his outfit didn’t do exactly what was needed.
“I think I’ve always had great confidence in our team,” said the team boss. “We had the chance to go for the world championship last year and of course we’ve done our best.”
“We developed the RB16B until later in the year than our rivals were claiming, so we were relatively late to the 2022 car.
“But the effort put in during the latter part of last year, despite the distraction of fighting for the championship, to get to the first race, qualify less than a tenth from pole, take the lead three times in the race and In the end, [having] a reliability issue that cost us a lot of points, I think that was a testament to the effort the team has put in over the last 12 months and how we’ve balanced resources.”
“Inevitably, when you have such a big regulation change, the sooner you apply the resources, the better. But it’s always about balancing short, medium and long term goals. And the long term in F1 is two weeks,” he explained.
But, even though Red Bull seems to have got the balance in development, you can’t think for a second that things were easy for them.
Horner himself faced some tense moments in 2021, with the intensity of the title battle building towards the end of the campaign, as everyone in Milton Keynes struggled to make it to that final meeting in Abu Dhabi.
But the prize at the end was important, and not just because it got the Red Bull name back on a championship trophy for the first time since 2013. Perhaps more importantly, it finally ended Mercedes’ run, which It had been winning the drivers’ and constructors’ titles since 2014.
Horner added: “The thing to remember, Mercedes dominated, but they didn’t just dominate, they blew away rivals for seven years. No one came even close to posing a sustained challenge throughout the season.
“So getting up to the level where we had to operate to do it last year was huge pressure on the whole organization. And then on top of that you have a budget cap, and you have to deal with next year’s car. It was challenging. enormous”.
“And I think the way it was done was remarkable. In Austria we found out that our rivals were putting all their resources into next year’s car, and we were sticking with the current car.
“So I think the effort that has been put in, the ground that has been recovered, has been extraordinary.”
For now, the 2022 title fight looks like it could be a direct battle between Red Bull and Ferrari, but few are willing to write Mercedes off, despite their rocky start to the season. Horner himself knows exactly how strong silver arrows can be.
But if Lewis Hamilton and George Russell end up back at the front, and F1 has an exciting three-way fight, not even Horner would be too upset about the added complication of fighting a war on more than one front.
After the strains of head-to-head clashes last year, the Red Bull boss doesn’t think a six-car battle for glory is any more difficult to tackle.
“It’s easier, it’s almost easier,” he said. “Obviously last year it was a heavyweight fight, fighting between two drivers in every grand prix, and it was from the first race to the last.
“The intensity of the battle between those two drivers was extraordinary. Whereas if there are more drivers involved, there is more diversity.”