“Sometimes, to be honest, yes,” said Red Bull team boss Christian Horner when asked if he was surprised by his team’s large lead over the competition. Red Bull dominated the first two races of the 2023 Formula 1 season, dominating the action at will.
In Jeddah they had a 20-second lead over their closest pursuer, Fernando Alonso, and in Bahrain it was almost 39 seconds. Red Bull was so dominant that Max Verstappen in Saudi Arabia had no trouble moving from 15th on the grid back to second within half a race.
Horner remains cautious, however, because the balance of power between the teams will “change from track to track and from place to place”. He says it’s going to be “three or four races before we get a real pattern of what the actual form of the season is.”
The competition appears to be combative, but often emphasizes that Red Bull seems to be out of reach. Lewis Hamilton even said that he had never seen such a fast Formula 1 car. “Obviously that’s very flattering,” says Horner, “especially given the cars Lewis has driven in the recent past.”
He knows the RB19 is a “fantastic starting point” for the season, “and two one-two wins in the first two races is more than we could have expected at the start of the season.”
But he also warns: “We are aware that it is a very long season. There are still 21 races to go and six sprint races and we are aware that there are big updates in store for others in the coming weeks if we follow return to Europe. So there is still a lot to do and a long way to go.”
Handicap as a handicap?
One thing in particular could prevent Red Bull: the development handicap. As constructors’ world champions, the Bulls have the least development time of all teams in the first half of the season, plus a further reduction of ten percent because they exceeded the budget limit in 2021.
Main competitor Aston Martin was only seventh in 2022 and therefore has significantly more resources than Red Bull – at least in the first half of the year. The handicap will then be reassessed at the end of June and Aston Martin would have the second shortest time available as of today.
“I think like anything, it comes down to how you use it,” Horner says of the development handicap. Red Bull has now been working for almost half a year under the development further restricted by the penalty. “And of course it not only affects this year’s car, but also next year’s,” he says.
“Aston Martin has a lot of research time before it resets in the season,” said Horner. “But, as I said, it depends on how you use them.”
Aston Martin: Big gap to close
Aston Martin counterpart Mike Krack agrees: “It’s true that we have more development time,” he says. Incidentally, in numbers this currently means that Red Bull can only do 63 percent of the development of Aston Martin. But then comes the but.
“But we mustn’t forget that we have a huge gap to fill, and we also have to reckon with and respect that they won’t stand still in time because they still have some potential,” said Krack.
“We will try everything to improve our car, not with the big aim of closing a gap or whatever, but just to improve and continue our journey.”