Fresh off the heels of an iconic 2021 season that saw the championship battle go down to the wire, all eyes were on Redbull heading into 2022 with many keen to see if they would come up short after expending what looked like all of their resources on their 2021 title fight. To our surprise they completely nailed the 2022 regulations and entered into an early rivalry with Ferrari as both cars had “a clear performance advantage over the rest” despite their differing design concepts. Witnessing Ferrari return to the front of the grid and go head-to-head with the reigning world champions felt like a breath of fresh air as many of us were hoping to see a continuation of the intense wheel to wheel battles that we had been starved off during Mercedes era of dominance which had been preceded by the Redbull era of dominance. However, this didn’t quite go to plan. We saw a plethora of mind-boggling mistakes, that we’ve unfortunately come to expect from Ferrari, this stunted their success throughout the season and allowed Redbull to jump ahead into a class of their own.
If we take it all the way back to Bahrain in 2022, there was no telling who would come out on top once we got racing but by the end of round 1, it was Ferrari who had the slight edge and Redbull’s repeated reliability issues lead many to believe that their season could be over before it had even begun. With both Redbull drivers being forced to retire early in the opening stages, it left the door wide open for Ferrari to consolidate an early lead as they went into Australia 46 points ahead of their closest rivals. So, how did that monstrous lead turn into a 146 point deficit come the end of the year? Through a myriad of strategy blunders, driver errors and miscommunication, Ferrari managed to throw away their chance of putting themselves in the championship challenging conversation. As the season progressed Redbull went from strength to strength and essentially became untouchable by the end of the year, as we approached the summer break it was already a forgone conclusion that they would take the title in 2022.
But what does Redbull’s 2022 efforts have to do with this year? Redbull’s dominance in the 2022 season sent an early warning to all other competitors as it quickly became evident that the gap they’d built would become insurmountable over the next year at least. In 2022 Verstappen had an average win margin of 8.697 seconds and in Japan he’d managed to pull out a margin of 27.066 seconds, whilst it’s not uncommon for teams to be able to develop a car that can close a gap of a few seconds over the year, a gap that is near enough 10 seconds on average let everyone know that Redbull would remain far out of reach for the coming year.
As the races rolled on Redbull looked impenetrable up until they were hit with the cost cap fiasco. The season has set into a comfortable rhythm and we had become accustomed to seeing Redbull take one victory after another, but the tables began to turn when we heard whispers of a possible cost cap breach, these whispers turned into full blown accusations which were subsequently confirmed by the FIA. The FIA found that Redbull were liable in breaking the cost cap and they were penalised as a result. Whilst this sent F1 into a frenzy, what I found to be the most interesting factor in this entire saga were the reactions from the surrounding teams. Surely if the team that is dominating receives a penalty that will reduce their ATR time in 2023, this would be a cause for celebration as it would allow Redbull’s rivals to claw back some precious development time. Well, not according to the rest of the grid. A majority of teams were almost despondent in light of this news and that told me everything I needed to know about Redbull’s championship chances for the foreseeable future.
The initial news got everyone talking as it sent shockwaves through the paddock and spread like wildfire across social media with many now beginning to question the legitimacy of Redbull’s performance. The FIA confirmed that Redbull had overspent by 1.6% and they were hit with a $7 million fine as well as a 10% reduction in ATR time over the next 12 months. Redbull’s closest rivals such as Mercedes and Ferrari were quick to express their dissatisfaction with the penalty noting that it was not enough to “compensate the overspend that was done”. This honest insight was a noteworthy point as it confirmed that the teams were aware that even if this penalty were to be implemented, Redbull had already climbed too far ahead in 2022 for a ‘slap on the wrist’ penalty to slow them down come 2023.
Fast forward to this year and we are faced with another season of Redbull domination, just as the teams had so accurately predicted in 2022 following the announcement of Redbull’s penalty. It’s difficult to believe that Redbull would’ve ever really been in doubt over their 2023 championship prospects, in spite of their reassurances. Redbull were under no illusion that this penalty would create any significant issues for them and we are seeing that come to fruition in 2023.