Mid-season break a chance for dominant Red Bull to turn focus to 2024

Christian Horner admits resources have to be managed given Red Bull face a development disadvantage and a further 10 per cent loss in R&D time

Red Bull chief Christian Horner admits there will be no significant upgrades to his cars in the second half of the 2023 season. AP
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Christian Horner has vowed Red Bull’s crushing domination will continue in the second half of the season without upgrading their record-breaking race machine.

As Formula One heads into its mandated mid-season break he also revealed his design team are already turning their attention to 2024.

The architect of Red Bull’s remarkable winning streak was speaking after lead driver Max Verstappen romped to his eighth successive victory in Belgium on Sunday.

Among a raft of other headline-making statistics it is the first time an F1 team has won 13 races on the trot.

The Dutchman also won the Saturday sprint race and teammate Sergio Perez notched up his best result in seven races, giving the team their fifth 1-2 of the year.

“We’ve won 20 of the last 21 races,“ said Horner. “To go in, unbeaten, to the summer break is mind-blowing.

“Everyone deserves a well-earned break to recharge their batteries and then come back hard. Let’s see if we can keep this amazing momentum rolling for as many races as we can.”

But in the same breath he admitted that aside from race-specific tinkering there will be no more car improvements this year.

Resources have to be husbanded carefully given Red Bull face a development disadvantage as champions and a further 10 per cent loss in R&D time courtesy of their $7 million fine for breaking the spending rules in 2021.

“We have six months to come up with another car [design] and with a lot less wind tunnel time so we’ve got to be selective how we utilise our resources,” Horner added.

He, more than anyone, in this revelatory, record-breaking year, will know the price of not having half an eye on the future.

In 2013 Red Bull’s four-year title-winning spell ended with a flourish as his lead driver Sebastian Vettel went on a record nine-race winning spree even Verstappen, on this remarkable form, is yet to match. The German won every round in the second half of the year.

But the winning habit disappeared as quickly as it had appeared. The endless glory folded into a dark chasm the following year.

Mercedes’ harvesting technology wiped the floor with the rest in a 2014 domination that was to last until the controversial end to the 2021 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, when Verstappen was crowned champion for the first time.

In 2014, Red Bull also lost their champion racer to Ferrari, and they did not truly return to that kind of form for eight long years.

The rule changes for 2024 are hardly in the same bracket as the hybrid re-jig but Red Bull face a difficult task juggling a season’s relentless pace while designing the 2024 car with less capacity than the rest.

Much as all team bosses refuse to admit it, the mid-season break is also the starting gun on driver contract shenanigans and the often rabid speculation it brings.

That is sure to include Horner’s number two driver Perez despite being contracted to the end of next year.

The year has exposed Perez’s qualifying frailties sufficiently to suggest he is capable enough in a dominant car but definitely not the man for the tight title fight sure to come in the next few years.

So Red Bull will surely be casting covetous eyes over the likes of Lando Norris and rookie Oscar Piastri at McLaren who confirmed his promise in Saturday’s sprint race in Belgium, briefly leading. The fact the Australian Piastri is managed by Red Bull’s former racer Mark Webber will only fuel speculation.

Meanwhile, ailing French outfit Alpine have this week been linked with Mattia Binotto, Ferrari’s former technical boss axed over the winter.

The Renault-owned team parted ways with a trio of key figures over the Belgium weekend including team principal Otmar Szafnauer, sporting director Alan Permane and chief technical officer Pat Fry after a disastrous first half of the year.

It followed the ousting of unpopular CEO Laurent Rossi, a target of one of the sport’s most savage attacks, all the most surprising for having come from (usually) mild-mannered four-time champion Alain Prost.

He described Rossi as ”a beautiful example of … an incapable leader who thinks he can overcome his incompetence with arrogance and lack of humanity towards his troops.”

Prost, who had quit Alpine's F1 project in January last year over differences with Rossi, blamed increasing corporate interference from the parent company.

While Horner has been so successful his biggest worry is not his rivals but the looming financial juggling act. He will no doubt be heartened to hear Prost holding out Red Bull’s management structure as the ideal way to run a team.

Updated: July 31, 2023, 3:19 AM