Red Bull Racing came into existence late in 2004 with ambitions to challenge for grand prix victories and world championship titles – but this is not the work of a moment and at the time the team had neither the facilities nor the depth of experience to challenge the best in the business. Under the guidance of team principal Christian Horner, himself new to F1, that was to change.
Over the next four seasons solid foundations were laid on which later success was built. The team recruited in both quantity and quality, steadily expanding in numbers until it was capable of going toe-to-toe with the most illustrious names in racing. Many of those recruited came with proven championship-winning pedigree – but the growing team wasn’t looking solely outward, it also promoted from within: Red Bull Racing was a young team in every sense.
Behind the scenes, progress was rapid but on track the upward curve was less pronounced. The team finished seventh in 2005 and 2006. The initial driver line-up was a mix of youth and experience: David Coulthard provided the latter, while Christian Klien, Vitantonio Liuzzi and Robert Doornbos were the former. Coulthard scored the team’s first podium, finishing third on the streets of Monaco in 2006.
For 2007 Mark Webber came onboard to join Coulthard . The team finished fifth in 2007 but disappointingly dropped back to seventh again in 2008 – but everything was going to change in 2009.
David Coulthard retired at the end of 2008 to be replaced by Sebastian Vettel. The young German driver was a product of the Red Bull Junior Team and already a race winner in a Milton Keynes-designed Toro Rosso. His arrival at the senior team coincided with a major reset in the sport’s aerodynamic regulations. The new rules provided a level playing field and gave Red Bull Racing’s technical team, led by Adrian Newey, the chance to shine. In the RB5 they produced a winner. Vettel took the team’s first grand prix victory, leading home Webber in a 1-2 finish at the Chinese Grand Prix, the third race of the season. The car would win five times further in 2009, including Webber’s debut F1 victory at the German Grand Prix. The team finished second in the Constructors’ Championship but, perhaps more significantly, it won the final three races of the season and went into the winter with confidence high, very much the in-form outfit.
The following year saw us achieve the ambitions laid down five years earlier. Driving the RB6, Webber and Vettel were the class of the field in 2010 and title contenders from the start. Their consistent podium finishes secured the team a first title, the Constructors’ Championship, at the penultimate round in Brazil. Both drivers went to the final race in Abu Dhabi with a shot at the Drivers’ crown. Vettel emerged triumphant, winning the race to become the sports’ youngest ever World Champion. It was his fifth win of the season and the team’s ninth.
The Red Bull RB7 and Vettel dominated 2011. He took 11 of the team’s dozen victories during the season, and fifteen of our 18 pole positions. He took his second Drivers’ Championship title in Japan with four races to spare. The Constructors’ title was confirmed a week later in South Korea.
The raw statistics suggest the RB7 was a far superior car to the RB6 – but many within the team would argue to the contrary. The RB7 was our first KERS-equipped car and our inexperience designing the hybrid system led to teething trouble that went on deep into the year. What really made the difference in 2011 was that Red Bull Racing had evolved as a team. There was maturity and confidence running through the organisation. Car development was rapid and successful, the manufacturing operation was highly efficient, in the garage the race team were an incredibly slick unit capable of rebuilding a car in record time and then performing a sequence of benchmark pitstops. The team had learnt how to win and it wasn’t about to stop winning.
Formula One, however, is ultra-competitive and the competition fought back hard in 2012. The first half of the season was an incredibly tight-fought battle. The first seven races went to seven different winners representing five different manufacturers and at the midpoint of the year, both titles were up for grabs. Red Bull Racing managed to kick on in the second half of the season and four consecutive victories saw Vettel emerge as a strong title contender. Those wins also propelled the team to a significant lead in the Constructors’ Championship. That title was clinched at the penultimate round in the USA, leaving Seb to take the title in Brazil at the season finale. He did so with what is probably the (second) most dramatic Brazilian Grand Prix on record, surviving a first lap crash complete with a spin and significant damage to the car. This left him dead last, facing the wrong way and with the prospect of a race back through the field in foul weather. Spectacular for fans; painful to watch for anyone in the garage.
History appeared to be repeating in 2013. The RB9 looked like the class of the field from the start – but somehow never seemed to produce the decisive advantage it promised. That changed after the mid-season break when Vettel went on the rampage, setting a new record for consecutive victories, ending the season with nine in a row. Both titles were secured in India, with three races to spare – which meant when F1 got to Texas it was a very relaxed crew that competed the sport’s first sub-two seconds pitstop, changing all four wheels on Webber’s car in 1.92 seconds.
Red Bull Racing are not the first team to win four double championships in a row, but the others had done so with decades of experience at the top of Formula One. Red Bull Racing’s rapid rise to the pinnacle of the sport was a very different ascent – and arguably more remarkable than the trophies themselves.
Success in F1 is, however, ephemeral, and the 2014 season saw reality bite. The new hybrid power units heralded a change in the established order. Saddled with a sizeable horsepower deficit the RB10 lacked the competitive edge enjoyed by its predecessors. Nevertheless, the car was still good enough to provide Daniel Ricciardo with his first, second and third Formula One victories.
Ricciardo had replaced Webber, the latter having decided to retire from Formula One at the end of the preceding season. Ricciardo, another product of the Red Bull Junior Team had made a name for himself at Toro Rosso – though few predicted the immediate impact he would have at Red Bull Racing. Ricciardo outscored his quadruple World Champion team-mate to finish third in the standings – but also narrowly out-qualified Vettel. While the team came down to Earth in 2014, its new driver was flying high.
Vettel departed at the end of 2014 and was replaced by another product of the Red Bull Junior Team, Daniil Kvyat. Like Ricciardo and Vettel before him, Kvyat had developed his skills at Toro Rosso before taking the step up. Not that the step was so great in 2015. Still plagued by a horsepower deficit, and struggling to get the car balanced, the team endured its worst campaign since 2008. Ultimately it would finish fourth in the Constructors’ Championship – though the second half of the season saw a return to form of sorts as the team fixed its balance issues and rose the top of the midfield. It boded well for 2016.
Red Bull did indeed move up the table again in 2016. The team finished second in the Constructors’ Championship and Daniel Ricciardo was third in the Drivers’ table once again – though the name on everyone’s lips was that of Max Verstappen. The young Dutchman was promoted from Toro Rosso to replace Kvyat after four races of the season. He got off to the best start possible, winning his first race for Red Bull Racing, the Spanish Grand Prix at the Circuit de Catalunya-Barcelona. Ricciardo added a second victory in Malaysia, having narrowly missed out in Monaco after taking his first pole position.
Being second best in 2016 was frustrating, albeit frustration tempered by the knowledge that a major regulation change was coming for 2017 and could, potentially, play to the team’s strengths. It didn’t particularly pan-out that way with the car struggling for early-season form. The team, however, excels at in-season development, and the RB13 was soon on the podium. Daniel managed a mid-season sequence of five top three finishes in a row, including victory at the inaugural Azerbaijan Grand Prix. It was, however, later in the year that the car started to look properly competitive, with Max taking victories entirely on merit in Malaysia and Mexico.
2018 produced similar results, albeit with higher highs and lower lows than the previous year. The RB14 was dialled in from the start of the season but a horsepower deficit and – perhaps more significantly – the lack of a competitive qualifying mode, hampered performance. Nevertheless, Daniel was able to steal an early season victory in China, thanks to the combination of an opportune Safety Car period and overtaking that was as clinical as it was joyous. Daniel went on to win in Monaco. On the circuit least sensitive to horsepower, he took his first of two 2018 pole positions and then hung on for victory despite an ERS failure. Sadly, power unit failures became a talking point in Daniel’s season, with many race weekends blighted by reliability problems. Like Daniel, Max finished 2018 with two victories. Thanks to his drive in Austria, we finally celebrated a home win at the Red Bull Ring, and he doubled-down with victory for the second year running in Mexico. Max finished the season in incredible form. He finished on the podium in the last five races, and looked like winning in Brazil, before an unfortunate collision with a backmarker.
The team finished the season with 13 podium finishes overall, of which four were victories. It set the fastest lap six times and started from pole twice – but while this seemed very much like business-as-usual, 2018 was undoubtedly a season of change. In June, the team announced it would end an 11-year association with Renault and would join Toro Rosso as a Honda-powered outfit for 2019. Six weeks later, news broke that Daniel Ricciardo, after a decade with Red Bull, and five seasons driving for the senior team, would be departing at the end of the year. Two weeks later, and in keeping with the practice of the last decade, Pierre Gasly was rewarded for his exceptional performance at Toro Rosso with a promotion to the senior team for 2019.
This season promises to be a time of great change for the Aston Martin-Red Bull Racing Formula One team.