With the RB16B and its combination with the Honda engine being much improved from last year, Red Bull has become a serious threat to Mercedes for the first time since the Formula 1 hybrid turbo era began.
But it wasn’t all easy for the energy drink giant, which had to face various political situations, but also a series of technical directives introduced by the FIA.
More than once Red Bull have expressed the feeling of being under constant attack, but for Horner this was simply proof that his team is doing their job well and starting to scare his rival.
“They put a lot of energy into it, more than you’d expect,” he told Motorsport.com about the intense pressure from Mercedes. “It was a clear strategy.”
“But I think it just shows that they see us as a threat. And I think you’re doing something right when people start pointing fingers.”
Whatever they faced in the paddock, in terms of racing things have been incredibly close between Red Bull and Mercedes.
With six wins in total against Mercedes’ four, the title battle swung in both directions, with the German manufacturer’s rival currently holding the lead after heavy crashes at Silverstone and Hungary, where Red Bull looked like have a machine capable of winning.
How much of the 2021 performance swing between the top two F1 teams is due to Mercedes being blocked by the new aerodynamic rules and how much Red Bull’s real progress is hard to pin down in exact terms.
It is clear, however, that Red Bull has taken a step forward after a 2020 season in which it has never really fought on par with the RB16. And Horner sees this progress as the culmination of several factors.
There’s the fact that the team solved the correlation issues that hit it in 2020, before the season ended, meaning it was no longer chasing a problem as it headed into winter.
Plus, with restrictive F1 homologation rules at the chassis level, having faith in the car going into the winter was a huge advantage.
“We obviously benefited from some degree of component continuity,” Horner said.
“The fact that we found the correlation, that we understood where our problems were and were able to address them, I think was the key element, certainly for the first six months of this year.”
Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB16B after the crash
Photo by: Jerry Andre / Motorsport Images
This year’s new aerodynamic rules also played their part, as they served to hinder low-rake cars like Mercedes and Aston Martins far more than high-rake cars. But it was never taken for granted that this would be the case.
“We were actually worried that the rules would have a big effect on the high-raked cars,” Horner said.
Also in the mix was the fact that Honda, in the wake of its decision to retire from F1, anticipated its more powerful and refined power unit that was originally only slated for 2022.
“I think it was a combination of things: that we were able to understand some of our problems, we were able to address a lot of them and just make a more complete package,” Horner added.
“I think that combined with the efforts of Honda, which brought the engine that was originally slated for 2022, being their last in Formula 1, it has allowed us to rejoin Mercedes.”
Honda’s situation is also particularly intriguing because, judging by the small gaps between Red Bull and Mercedes, it’s not impossible to suggest that without the updated engine, things could have been very different.
“I think from a packaging and energy use point of view, they have done a great job. And I think it’s on this compromise that Mercedes took a step back this year.”
Adrian Newey, Chief Technical Officer, Red Bull Racing, and Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing, 1st position, with the winning Constructors and Drivers trophies
Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images
What has been a different scenario for Red Bull this season than much of the hybrid turbo era is that they have won races in terms of pure pace.
Gone are the days when the team’s only hope of victory was the unique characteristics of the track, or a gamble of strategy. Now there have been races where she was simply the fastest.
“We have managed to win six races so far this year, which is a phenomenal record, more than we have won in the last two years, and I think being in the fight for the championship is exciting for everyone.”
“It has been seven long years in which we have had a marginal role. We have managed to win races by being tactically wary and taking advantage of the favorable tracks, but we have not been able to put together an important season.”
“Now we have the tools to do it, we have a chassis that performs extremely well, we have an engine that is doing its job, and we have a rider who is at the top and has experience.”
The lessons from the British and Hungarian Grand Prix are perfect proof of why nothing can be taken for granted in the title fight.
But for Horner there is one thing he knows that absolutely must happen in the second half of the season: it is that Red Bull must raise its level even more.
“We just have to do better than the first half!” He says. “We just have to keep doing what we’re doing.
“There will be some challenges on and off the track. But we just have to continue with the approach we have and try to maximize our performance as a team in every session, every qualifying and every race.”
“But inevitably, once you get to the end of the championship, the stakes increase. At the moment you think one race at a time. But the closer you get to the end, the more pressure increases …”.
Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB16B
Photo by: Charles Coates / Motorsport Images