[What has triggered confusion in Red Bull’s F1 chasing pack
Two races ago, Max Verstappen’s winning margin in Canada was a season-low 9.5-seconds over Aston’s Fernando Alonso (bar the safety car-ended Australian race), while Lewis Hamilton had chased the Red Bull home in Spain.
Last time out in Austria, Ferrari was the closest challenger at the front to F1’s current dominant team – albeit set to finish north of 24s behind with Charles Leclerc before Verstappen’s late third pitstop.
Speaking after the race at the Red Bull Ring, Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff claimed “we don’t know” why there have been so many recent swings in race pace between the three teams in question, adding that “the only stable factor is actually Max because even within Red Bull, Sergio [Perez] has these swings and it is not easy to understand”.
Speaking at Silverstone ahead of this weekend’s British Grand Prix, Alonso was similarly mystified, but theorised that differing track types – Barcelona is a high-speed, smooth venue compared to the near-street track Montreal layout and Austria being in between the two with its fast turns and hard kerbs – could offer an explanation.
“We were slower than Montreal, no doubt,” Alonso said of Aston’s Austria pace, where it finished fifth and ninth for the Spaniard and team-mate Lance Stroll.
“Also Spain was a little bit off pace. So yeah, it is something that we would love to understand. And everyone would love to understand.
“I think in Spain, Mercedes was clearly the second-fastest team and they were challenging Red Bull in a way, and they got much closer to Red Bull.
“In Canada it was Aston Martin that was the second-fastest and we were challenging Max in a way. And then in Austria it was Ferrari.
Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W14, Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin AMR23
Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images
“So, the last few races, we saw very different results for Mercedes, Ferrari and Aston, and we need to obviously understand it to avoid those weaknesses and those bad weekends.
“But, at the moment, we don’t have a clear answer. I think it’s track a specific [thing]. It’s something that we’re still investigating.”
Russell, meanwhile, pointed towards the dark art of mastering F1 tyres as the explanation – an issue that has been complicated by changing temperatures in differing weather conditions across sessions at the last three events.
“You’ve seen between all the teams this year big swings in performance, week on week,” said Russell.
“Even Red Bull to a degree – they have weeks when they’re finishing 40s ahead and then weeks where it’s only 15-20s ahead. So, they’re still having fluctuations.
“A lot of that comes down to the tyres. The tyres are really sensitive – really difficult to get in the window.
“But, I’m confident this will be a better weekend than last [for Mercedes].”
Russell also stated that having to compromise on ideal ride heights with ground-effect cars could be another reason why teams are finding it hard to replicate form at varying tracks, as “you can’t get the car in the right window for every corner type”.
He added: “I’m sure that’s potentially a factor.
“If teams are developing their cars in different windows, if you’re developing a slightly higher ride height or slightly lower ride heights there’s only [so much to be done for different layouts].
Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19, Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-23
Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images
“So, perhaps that is a reason for the fluctuation. We don’t really have the answers yet as to why that is.
“We’re just focusing on ourselves trying to make our car faster across the course of the season. But yeah, it’s challenging.”
Verstappen reckons “it depends just a bit on the track layout as well sometimes”, while explaining that from Red Bull’s perspective its gap to the field seemed to depend more on it nailing its set-up window or not – something that could also be limiting Aston, Ferrari and Mercedes.
“When you have a very tricky weekend with rain, and then it’s sunny, it’s drying, and you don’t have a lot of information,” Verstappen added. “Sometimes it’s a bit more of a hit or miss.
“So, sometimes results are a little bit misleading in terms of the gap. Because sometimes you nail the set-up a bit better than other weekends.
“Probably we were in a good window in Austria, and maybe other teams not so much and then the gap is a bit a bit bigger.
“In Montreal it was quite close. But then there we were a little bit off.”
Additional reporting by Jonathan Noble