Red Bull Singapore stumble was good for F1
By Mat Coch
Wednesday 20th September, 2023 - 2:16pm
The struggles faced by Red Bull over the Singapore Grand Prix served to highlight a number of points its dominance had otherwise masked.
Having won the opening 14 races of the year, neither Max Verstappen nor Sergio Perez reached the podium in Marina Bay.
The entire weekend proved a struggle with neither car inside the top 10 in qualifying after it “overshot a little bit” after making changes following Free Practice 3.
With cars heading into parc ferme once they roll out of the garage for Qualifying, those decisions were baked in.
Knowing that, Red Bull reverted to a more ‘known’ configuration; swapping out a new floor for a previously used one – to rule it out as much as anything else.
Post-race, team boss Christian Horner confessed the floor had probably not contributed to the team’s woes, an intriguing statement when considered alongside remarks made by Paul Monaghan pre-race.
The squad’s chief engineer did his best to ease concerns about the team’s lack of performance through to qualifying but conceded there were issues and accepted culpability.
“Nothing fundamental,” he explained of the team’s battles.
“But some errors we made along the way. Some problem we’re correcting next year.”
One of the strengths of the Red Bull RB19 hasn’t been standout performance in one particular area, but a lack of weaknesses across the board.
It’s a car that had worked at every circuit to that point, fast or slow, and had both good levels of downforce, high efficiency, and low degradation.
But none of that mattered in Singapore as it all unravelled – a negative for those in Red Bull blue but a positive for everyone else.
The Singapore stumble demonstrated that, while Red Bull has dominated the year, it has not been taking it easy. It has had to push.
Last weekend was a misstep, and not even an especially large one, but it was enough to open the door for three teams to out-perform it.
And that is a point that speaks to two factors; firstly just how close the field is, and how close to the limit Red Bull has had to operate to achieve what it has.
“We understood a lot more in the race,” Horner said of his team’s Sunday performance.
“The pace of the cars became much more back to what we expected.
“We knew coming [to Singapore]… we expected to have closer competition, but I think it took us a bit by surprise just how far out we were on Friday.
“We were just not in the right operating window for the car, particularly over a single lap.
“When you’re not there, the tyres feel horrible, everything doesn’t work.
“So I think we got a very good steer in the race, I think that we saw, particularly in the last stint, that Max’s pace was very, very strong.”
But strong pace alone is not enough, certainly not around Singapore where overtaking is difficult.
Red Bull’s weekend was compromised early and it never fully came to grips with the issues.
While Horner claims his team has a better understanding of the cause now than it did, the root cause is unlikely to have been simple.
Two new technical directives were introduced last weekend, which could have impacted Red Bull more than others, though Horner argues there was no impact on his team.
Resurfacing of the about a third of the track had also taken place, making the compromise between new and old asphalt more tricky.
Then were was the heat, upgrades for other teams, and suddenly you’ve got a car that has dominated the season starting in the midpack.
The way the race panned out also cruelled Red Bull’s hopes – the Safety Car emerging at the worst possible moment, and then the Virtual Safety Car only a lap or two too late.
But it’s an encouraging sign for the sport; the team to beat in Formula 1 is being pushed to extremes to deliver and has proven fallible.