The long straights of Spa and Monza were always going to favour Ferrari more than Red Bull. Over the remaining races the impetus should swing back in Red Bull’s favour, beginning at Singapore, a track where they have consistently been strong in the past.
Red Bull slipped back from their rivals at the beginning of the season. Comparing their performance year-on-year, the team wasn’t as competitive as it had been 12 months earlier. But since the Austrian Grand Prix, thanks to gradual improvements with its Honda power unit and aerodynamics, Red Bull has made impressive gains year-on-year, even at tracks not usually considered their strongest.
The graph below shows how Red Bull’s pace deficit has changed year-on-year. The progress it has made since its home race is unmistakable:
Looking ahead, Red Bull enjoyed some of its most competitive outings of 2018 over the final third of the year. These included not only Singapore but Mexico, where they took pole position.
The team used the last two races to fit Honda’s latest spec four power unit and digest the associated penalties. From here on in they should be fighting at the front again, though Max Verstappen is wary not to get carried away.
“I find it really difficult because sometimes it looks like we are more competitive than [at] other tracks,” he said. “So I don’t want to say that from now onwards every track we go we can benefit.”
However he admitted that even at Monza, where the shambles during qualifying meant the team’s true potential wasn’t seen, showed an encouraging step forwards for the RB15.
“A fresh engine for sure helps a lot,” he said. “Even my lap on [Saturday] morning: I only had a tow into turn one, the rest of my lap I was on my own, some of the guys around me had a tow all over the lap. So we looked really competitive.
“In a way I was a bit disappointed to take a penalty but of course I didn’t know this was going to happen that we would be so competitive because I think if we look to last year we were one-and-a-half seconds behind in qualifying which is of course massive. I think we definitely made some good steps forward this weekend with the engine and the car all weekend seemed to be performing really well.”
Now come the tracks where Verstappen knows the Red Bull should be a more competitive prospect. Whether the team can close that 85-point gap to Ferrari will rest on Verstappen returning to his superb pre-summer break form – and whether Alexander Albon is up to the task he was hired for as Gasly’s replacement.
While Ferrari have the points advantage, the form guide suggests they’re going to be fighting a rearguard action against Red Bull over the final rounds. While the championship titles may be destined for the silver team, the fight for the runner-up spot looks like being the most absorbing contest of the final third of the season.
Quotes: Dieter Rencken