Last season saw huge upheaval, some remarkable moments and signs of optimism at Red Bull and its junior sister team Toro Rosso.
Red Bull started 2016 with Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kyvat as their drivers and only four races into the season – and after a series of controversial crashes – the Russian was demoted to Toro Rosso and replaced with the up-and-coming Max Verstappen.
Faced with new rules and assisted by a stable driver line-up, what can Red Bull and Toro Rosso achieve in 2017?
That Red Bull managed to finish the 2016 campaign in second was a phenomenal outcome.
The team went into the season on the back-foot having only secured an engine deal with Renault in December, while questions lingered over the ability of the engine to compete head-to-head with Mercedes.
But the French engine manufacturer took a huge leap forward going into the 2016 season and, coupled with their already renowned aerodynamic performance, Red Bull easily finished in second and heralded a warning to the other teams about their ability to compete in 2017.
Unusual for Red Bull, they offered few aerodynamic upgrades indicating that they had an eye to 2017 early in the season. Their only big aero improvement came by way of a new splitter winglet fitted to the RB12 in the pre-season rather than using the “bat wing” made popular by Mercedes.
Instead, Red Bull focused on ways to maximise efficiency and deploy as much energy as possible on each lap. If the Renault engine can continue to develop at the same pace – and add more horsepower – the Red Bulls will be more competitive on high speed tracks like Baku and Montreal.
Adding to their title hopes is the X-factor brought to the team by their drivers Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen.
Ricciardo had a solid 2016 earning a win in Malaysia and missing out in Monaco only due to an error on a pit stop. His experience and strong qualifying pace will be invaluable come race day.
Asked about Red Bull’s prospects for the coming said, Ricciardo said: “2016 was really encouraging for the whole team. We found ourselves fighting again for wins, podiums and pole positions. It was a great step closer to where we want to return to. And from what I hear about the new car, I would definitely risk a bet in our favour.”
One the other side of the garage is the highly impressive Max Verstappen. After taking a seat at Red Bull mid-way through last season, the young Dutchman took little time to demonstrate his courage, enthusiasm and speed. At times polarising for his robust defending, there is no doubt that Verstappen is one of the hottest names on the Formula 1 circuit and fast becoming a star.
An improved engine, rules that favour aerodynamics and the best driver line-up means that the Milton Keynes based team will be challenging Mercedes this year.
Red Bull’s sister team Toro Rosso finished 2016 in sixth place – a highly respectable result given the driver changes after the Russian Grand Prix and their engine fragility.
Toro Rosso ran Ferrari’s 2015 engine and was regularly a step off the pace. Despite a stand-out chassis, the Toro Rosso cars were always going to fall away as the season went on and their fortunes weren’t aided by Kyvat’s mid season woes.
After re-joining Toro Rosso, Kyvat looked a shadow of his former best often cutting a despondent figure at post-race media briefings. The upside for Toro Rosso was the consistent and strong performances of Carlos Sainz. The Spaniard remained focus despite being overlooked for a promotion and resisted the temptation to jump to another middle of the pack team like Haas or Renault that had openings.
Toro Rosso will be switching the Ferrari engine for a Renault engine this year meaning that they may well drop off the pace a little further. But that isn’t deterring team boss Franz Tost who is implementing a gruelling around-the-clock schedule to get their cars ready for testing in Barcelona on 27 February.
“From the production side, we will have to work 24/7 for a period.”
“From the middle of January to the middle of February, we will run three shifts per day. It’s a very short period because it’s quite cost intensive.”
“As long as you can stay in the windtunnel and do research and development, there’s more performance you can come up with.”
“This is the difference with a small team, once we set up the deadline we must say ‘stop now’, because otherwise we don’t drive.”
“We need to have the decision about the drawing release on a certain date and then they know it’s absolutely latest, it’s not possible any more because we’re on the limit.”