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Is Red Bull’s unbeaten run shaking off memories from 2021?

Red Bull in 2023 is a very different team when compared to the combative 2021 operation

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As Red Bull’s ruthless dominance continues, has its unbeaten run changed the team’s image? 

Christian Horner takes a selfie with fans after the Italian Grand Prix (Image Credit: Red Bull Content Pool/Getty Images)
Christian Horner takes a selfie with fans after the Italian Grand Prix (Image Credit: Red Bull Content Pool/Getty Images)

I argued last year that Red Bull and Max Verstappen had all the arguable hallmarks of pantomime villains. The comparison was necessitated by the media blackout suffered by Sky Sports after Ted Kravitz dared to raise the outcome of the infamous 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Fast forward almost twelve months from that somewhat ill-advised move, and the situation has changed. Red Bull is in a position of complete dominance, more so than last year. The argument of Verstappen having the best car only goes so far here. He and the team are currently utterly unbeatable, operating at a level of excellence that eclipses Schumacher, Vettel and Hamilton.

Watching Red Bull win every race is becoming monotonous for a few fans. Others say we are witnessing greatness. The latter cannot be denied. I have watched F1 through the new eras of dominance that have defined the sport since the start of the 2000s. Watching the likes of Schumacher and Alonso as a teenager, followed by Vettel as a twenty-something, was at points difficult to watch. All in their own way, steamrollered the opposition.

But all had chinks in their armour. Schumacher’s run ended abruptly in 2005, and he began to make errors in his later years. Alonso and Vettel made notable errors at the peak of their powers, albeit not often. Hamilton’s era featured the odd mistake as well. All saw peaks and troughs in popularity as a result of their time at the top.

The difference between Max Verstappen and the illustrious company he soon joins is that he performs perfectly during every part of a weekend. His Belgian performance was a crushing example of this. Starting a lowly P14, Verstappen took the lead before the halfway mark, finishing over 20 seconds in front of his teammate.

Is a perfect season on the cards?
Winning the Italian Grand Prix is the latest achievement in Red Bull's so far perfect season (Image Credit: Red Bull Content Pool/Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)
Winning the Italian Grand Prix is the latest achievement in Red Bull’s so far perfect season (Image Credit: Red Bull Content Pool/Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

A clean sweep of all races is no longer an ambition for Red Bull but a distinct and genuine possibility. Such is the opportunity, Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko has said, winning the remaining races is “becoming a goal”.

No team in the history of the sport has achieved a clean sweep. The Honda (now Red Bull Power Trains) power unit in the back of Verstappen’s car hides an irony in plain sight. A turbo Honda engine powered the 15 out of 16 race victories record held by McLaren in 1988. That it did not suffer the same curse as McLaren did at Monza in 1988 demonstrates the strength of Red Bull’s current operation.

Red Bull has mastered the new ground effect regulations in a way that completely eclipses the performance of Mercedes in 2019. Such is the level of engineering excellence that Mercedes’ achievement of ten consecutive one-two finishes has been bettered in 2023 by Red Bull’s unbeaten run. Verstappen’s ten consecutive victories alone have set a new record in F1, which will take considerable time and effort to beat.

Whether Red Bull achieves a perfect season or not, its current run of form is remarkable. To have lost just one race since the 2022 season is a testament to Christian Horner’s management of a team he has run since 2005.

Still the villain?

As the records continue to tumble, are Verstappen and Red Bull still acting like potential villains? In simple terms, no. The place they find themselves in is uncharted territory.

While Horner has dealt with crushing dominance before while winning championships with Sebastian Vettel, he and teammate Mark Webber clashed on multiple occasions. Webber knew the team was gravitating more towards Vettel but still put up a mighty fight.

Sergio Perez, by comparison, has been an underperforming support act to Verstappen since the introduction of the new ground effect cars in 2022. This statement is about as bad as it gets in F1.

Perez can match Verstappen at specific circuits but has mostly been off-pace all year. This works well for Verstappen, as he can dominate and have the team centred around him. He has seen off multiple teammates, ensuring Red Bull sees him as the future and best chance of success.

This is not villainous behaviour; the mindset of any racing driver is to be at the centre of a team. Upgrades aimed towards an individual diver help more of out of the car from that specific individual. Christian Horner vehemently denies this is the case at Red Bull, stating the team is building the fastest car.

The confidence of Verstappen and Red Bull is understandably sky-high at present. To hear him ask for a late pit stop in Belgium to give the pit crew practice speaks to his confidence and comfort in the team. A remark like this will polarise the fan base, but quite rightly, Verstappen does not care. He is simply enjoying never-before-seen success.

Pundits and fans alike do not pretend that anyone else will win a race. The expectation is for Verstappen to win, no matter the track. This is not a villain but a driver at the peak of his powers.

Horner also admitted the unbeaten run could be unpopular with the fans. This was a wise move, as it showed understanding and empathy. Not everyone wants to see Verstappen win week in and week out. Acknowledging this will silence critics who cite arrogance.

Horner himself also seems to have a somewhat softer approach to 2023, with far fewer jibes at Toto Wolff this year. While we are still treated to the odd soundbite, the most recent one citing jealousy from Wolff over Red Bull’s 2023 success, Horner has mostly been amicable this year. This may read incorrectly to some, but compare 2023 Horner to the Team Principal we saw in 2021.

Expletive radio rants
Max Verstappen and race engineer Gianpiero Lambiase in conversation (Image Credit: Red Bull Content Pool/Getty Images)
Max Verstappen and race engineer Gianpiero Lambiase in conversation (Image Credit: Red Bull Content Pool/Getty Images)

Expletive rants from Verstappen at his engineer have been a trademark of his since his promotion to the front of the grid in 2016. These have been few and far between in 2023. But the notable clash of Verstappen and race engineer Gianpiero Lambiase during qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix shows us they are still very much here.

The revelation by the team that Verstappen and Lambiase had counselling during the summer break shows that Red Bull understands the perception of this by the wider F1 community.

Red Bull stating this removes any hint of arrogance from Verstappen’s side. It shows a human element to both him and the team. The result is a softer image.

Are memories of 2021 fading?

Red Bull’s legacy from 2021 saw it become the arguable bad boy of F1. The cost cap saga last season did not help this perception. A media offensive tried to minimise this damage, with mixed results.

Helmut Marko continues to put controversial comments into the media, his latest about Perez requiring an apology. In this sense, the team is unchanged, and its second driver is still under constant pressure and critique, crucially from within the team itself. Verstappen’s performances this year will always exacerbate the gulf between him and his teammate.

But the push for a more friendly team has been a hallmark of Red Bull in 2023. The very public argument between Lambiase and Verstappen in Belgium could have been handled in two ways. Either state this is how Verstappen operates or look to mitigate it. The fact that the team opted to state the two had professional help shows a team wanting to seem more positive in the media.

Verstappen is understandably more relaxed this year. This is to be expected, given his performance this season. While ten consecutive race wins and remaining unbeaten in 2023 will not go down with everyone, we cannot change it. Nor can we deny the greatness we are witnessing.

Perhaps that is why Red Bull and Verstappen are not perceived as F1’s potential bad boys this year. Their success has been well-earned, and we are seeing a relaxed team. Success in itself is a curse. Ask Schumacher, Vettel and Hamilton during their sustained periods of dominance. Fans can quickly turn on you, and winning races can likely taste sour if the crowd routinely boos a dominant driver.

Red Bull has worked hard this year to ensure that while it dominates, it does not become a pariah of F1. Dominating has helped it shake off the memories of 2021 and last season. A stunt like boycotting Sky Sports is now unthinkable. That is a victory in itself.

Feature Image Credit: Red Bull Content Pool/Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

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