How Red Bull beat Mercedes, upgrades, analysis, changes 2022
Max Verstappen has returned to the lead of the 2021 Formula 1 title race and looks well positioned to be the man who will finally end the reign of terror of Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes.
Hamilton has won six of the last seven world titles, while Mercedes has not failed since 2013 to win the constructors’ championship.
Mercedes are still the favorites to win the tag team title again this season, but Verstappen appears to be in the box seat to wear the drivers’ crown for the first time.
So how, after such a long period of domination, did Red Bull finally oust Hamilton and Mercedes?
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The 2021 season was set to be the first of the new era of F1, where significant changes will be made to technical and sporting regulations, including a focus on reducing costs.
But due to the coronavirus pandemic, teams felt a heavy blow in their back pockets, which inhibited their ability to prepare for the radical overhaul.
As such, F1 agreed to postpone changes for a year until 2022 due to financial difficulties – but there was a catch.
A decision has been made for a few rule tweaks in 2021 which – while they may seem minor – have in fact had a major impact.
The changes were aimed at reducing costs and improving safety by reducing stress on new tires.
Part of the rear floor – pivot to the rear downforce – has been removed, while changes have been made to other key aero components.
While less downforce means less grip, less grip means cars can’t turn as fast, reducing stress on the tires.
These changes impacted all the teams, but it immediately became apparent that they had less of an impact on Red Bull than Mercedes due to a difference in philosophy.
Red Bull is known to have a “high slope” philosophy, which means that the rear of their car is noticeably higher than the front. The high rear spoiler picks up more wind, and therefore more drag, while pushing the car into the ground, otherwise known as downforce.
The extra downforce stabilizes the cars, giving them more grip which allows drivers to enter corners faster.
Mercedes’ car, however, is flatter from front to back, known as the “low-lean” design. As such, it inherently has less rear downforce, with the trade-off being faster straight-line speeds due to less drag.
Since the rule changes affected the rear aerodynamics of the car, Red Bull was best equipped to weather the storm.
Aston Martin (formerly Racing Point) is another team with a low rake concept that was swallowed up by the midfielder in 2021 after a strong performance in 2020.
Team boss Otmar Szafnauer said it was “stressed last year by low rake riders that this would have a bigger effect than high rake riders. And we were right.
2021 vs 2022
Mercedes suddenly found herself in an unfamiliar position, but the alarm bells quickly died down.
While Red Bull seemed to start the season with the most powerful car, the team continued to find a way to trip over themselves; be it Verstappen going over the edge of the track in Bahrain or a strategy problem in Spain.
Hamilton won three of the first four races and suddenly Mercedes felt more at ease with their seven-time world champion fending off the brave Verstappen.
In a massive gamble, Mercedes turned all attention – and funds – to development for 2022 and beyond and overlooked its 2021 challenger.
The reason wasn’t because Mercedes is so arrogant that it doesn’t feel like it needs to modernize its car in 2021, but rather that new regulations and cost-cutting measures forced it to make a choice. .
F1 introduced a sliding scale of aerodynamic test times in this year’s regulations. Simply put, this means that the best teams can spend less time in the wind tunnel than the worst teams.
Wind tunnel runtime is crucial to improving a car’s aerodynamics, but, with limited working time, Mercedes felt that prioritizing 2022 would be the best use of its small window.
Additionally, a spending cap has been put in place this season, limiting team spending to A $ 195 million to try to level the playing field more evenly.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said earlier this year the team simply couldn’t justify spending the 2021 development cap, given that the teams will get their money’s worth spending it on the challengers. of the next generation.
“We have new regulations not only for next year but for the years to come, a whole different concept of car, and you have to choose the right balance,” Wolff said.
“It wouldn’t make sense to put off a week or two (or) a month on the current car, because the gains wouldn’t be close at all to what we’re making on the 2022 car.”
Meanwhile, Red Bull pursued a steady stream of improvements and won five consecutive races between the Monaco and Austrian Grands Prix.
Mercedes, perhaps unsurprisingly, secretly had an upgrade underway after all, but one that dated back to its 21 tunnel schedule and wasn’t ready until the British Grand Prix.
The improvements largely centered around reshaping the car’s floor and a reworked bargeboard area to improve downforce.
They seemed to be working well as Hamilton shattered Red Bull’s streak at Silverstone with his fourth win of the season, while also being faster at the Hungaroring.
The upgrade, according to Mercedes, is definitely the last in its 2021 campaign.
Red Bull, however, continued their aggressive strategy after already responding with improvements at the Belgian and Dutch GPs, both won by Verstappen.
Team boss Christian Horner said ahead of the races that it was “not in our culture” to give up on 2021 development, and said he believed Red Bull had struck the right balance. .
Ask by Motorsport.com if he had concerns about a ripple effect for 2021, he said: “To be honest, I don’t think so.
“We already have enough people working on next year’s car as well.
“We can talk about it for a long time, but personally I also don’t know how good or bad it will be next year.
“Nobody knows, so I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.”
Quite simply, Red Bull has a rare chance of winning in 2021 – Verstappen would be their first world champion since Sebastian Vettel in 2013 – and he’s not ready to let it go.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR THE NEXT YEAR?
It depends on who you believe.
Horner and Verstappen don’t think, at least publicly, that Red Bull will be late next year despite investing in 2021.
Still, it seems likely he won’t be as well prepared as Mercedes, while Red Bull doesn’t have the best track record until new eras of F1.
The last seismic upheaval came when the hybrid turbo power units were introduced in 2014. The change stopped Red Bull net after Vettel won four straight titles, and it wasn’t until the team abandoned the units. Renault power for Honda. that a significant improvement has been made.
Merdedes joined F1 as a factory team in 2010 and spent seasons preparing for the hybrid era, in which he never failed to win the title.
F1’s attempts to level the playing field, mostly through a spending cap that will become stricter, mean Mercedes, in theory, won’t get away as easily as it did in the hybrid age.
Nonetheless, his extreme focus on 2022 is a worrying sign for the teams moving forward, especially Red Bull.
BUT WILL RED BULL WIN AT LEAST THE TITLE THIS YEAR?
Verstappen is now definitely the favorite to do so.
He’s won six races in the last nine Grands Prix – a period in which Hamilton has won only once.
That said, for all of Red Bull’s dominance, Verstappen still only holds a narrow three-point lead in the championship. Hamilton skillfully found a way to limit the damage and take a chance when it happened.
Mercedes’ hopes are far from dead and buried. Red Bull’s Honda powertrain, as improved as it is, is still weaker than Mercedes’ which continues to excel on low-drag tracks.
Silverstone is a prime example of a place where Mercedes can continue to dominate, while it was also strong in Hungary.
The next race will be at Monza, the fastest track on the calendar where Hamilton also has a strong chance of winning. Meanwhile, Russia and Abu Dhabi also feature monstrous straights where Mercedes can still show their muscles against Red Bull.
That said, the majority of the remaining tracks – like Brazil, Mexico and Turkey – should play Red Bull’s game and give Verstappen enough opportunities to rack up the wins he needs.
With 25 points at stake for every win, the key will be to avoid further retirements that could ultimately decide the season.