How Red Bull's 1,000-strong team drives Max Verstappen to F1 success

Attention to detail has helped the UK-based team and its Dutch driver secure mutliple race wins and a world championship

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When Max Verstappen won last December’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix to become Formula One World Champion, the Dutch driver achieved an ambition 15 years in the making, starting from when he began racing karts.

But the 24-year-old’s triumph in the 2021 title race owed as much to the 1,000 or so people who work for his team, Oracle Red Bull Racing, as it did to his talent, outstanding though it is.

Tools moulded to specific hands

In a sport where victory can come down to tenths or hundredths of a second shaved off during qualifying, pit stops and races, Red Bull have become masters at accumulating marginal gains to achieve success.

This is evident at the team’s “Red Bull Technology Campus” in Milton Keynes in England: a leafy district that, as the name suggests, looks more like a university complex than an industrial estate.

For an example of the extraordinary attention to detail here, just take the “gun” used by the pit crew to loosen and tighten wheel nuts during tyre changes.

The gun is of a standard type used by other F1 teams, but in its quest to ensure pit stops are as smooth and fast as possible, Red Bull has produced a casing that fits exactly the hands of the actual mechanic operating it.

No wonder, then, that Red Bull – which is owned by the drinks company of the same name – holds the world record for the fastest ever pit stop: just 1.82 seconds.

Shaving seconds

The factory’s paint shop offers another case in point. While most F1 teams apply logos and names to their cars with stickers, Red Bull paints them on, as this ensures that panel surfaces are absolutely smooth.

Other attention to detail comes in the way the cars are tweaked from one race to the next. There are around 1,000 design changes between races so that, by the end of the season, the cars are about two seconds a lap faster than at the beginning.

There are hundreds of sensors spread about the car sending back data, and this is analysed to help make improvements during a race weekend and between races.

Red Bull’s title sponsor, the American technology giant Oracle, provides services that help the team analyse this and many other forms of data.

Oracle came on board as a supplier of cloud internet services – IT services delivered over the internet – in March 2021.

Part of the tie-up involves the team running millions of race simulations to work out the best strategy in terms of, for example, which tyres to use and when to change them. What happens if a driver spins or the safety car is brought out? “As a strategist, having these simulations is important because we can pre-empt all of these possibilities,” said Will Courtenay, Red Bull’s head of race strategy.

“The real strength of the simulation is that it can look at so many possibilities that the human brain cannot do.”

But race-day elements play a role, so if, said Mr Courtenay, Verstappen comes on the radio saying, “I’m just hanging on, in a minute I will struggle,” the team may bring him in for new tyres despite what the optimal strategy seems to be.

A stellar history

Oracle Red Bull Racing can trace its history back to 2004, when Red Bull bought the Jaguar team, which was the successor to Stewart Grand Prix.

Since its inception in 2005, what is now Oracle Red Bull Racing has won five drivers’ championships – one for Verstappen and four for Germany’s Sebastian Vettel – and has triumphed in the constructors’ championship four times.

This season could add to the tally, as Verstappen currently sits atop the drivers’ championship, his team mate, Mexico’s Sergio Perez, lies second, and Red Bull are in pole position in the race for the constructors’ title.

Inside, the buildings at Red Bull’s factory feel – apart from the large photographs of drivers such as Verstappen and Vettel holding aloft trophies or spraying bubbly – more like a large-scale laboratory than an oily car workshop.

Immaculate white corridors link the electronics department, the operations room – a series of banked workstations with echoes of the control centre for a space mission – the paint shop, the 3D printing department, and much else.

The composites department is equipped with vast room-sized autoclaves, which bake components made from carbon fibre, a material that is both light and extremely strong.

Constructed on-site

Almost everything is made in-house, although, as with other teams, the wheels come from an outside supplier, BBS. Cardboard boxes containing brand new wheels are stacked in one of buildings.

In the race bays, crew practice pit stops on the car for half an hour, twice a day. The car used for this has an electric motor to prevent the ear-splitting noise – and the fumes – of a real F1 engine from spreading through the factory as it moves into position for the tyre changes.

As well as being important for the development, operation and improvement of the car, cloud technology helps the team strengthen engagement with fans, such as through personalising the website for the individual browsing it.

“How do we take this amazing sport into people’s homes? How do we take the excitement and make people feel part of it? It’s giving fans back something that they wouldn’t otherwise experience,” said Emma Sutton, chief customer officer at Oracle.

Cloud technology is key also to modelling Red Bull is carrying out as it develops an all-new engine for the 2026 season onwards. These Red Bull Powertrains units will replace the current rebranded Honda engines.

On the far side of the Red Bull campus a new building is being finished to house the additional 200 or so staff who will work on the engine.

Engine modelling involves computational fluid dynamics – the subject that deals with how fluids, including air, move – and require significant computing power.

James Taylor, head of thermodynamics at Red Bull Powertrains, said a team had been assembled from “a breadth of industries” to develop the engine, which will be completely new.

“It’s completely from scratch, a completely fresh design. It’s a massive challenge,” he said. “There’s no carry over from the Honda.”

Developing an engine that is competitive against F1 power units from Ferrari, Renault and Mercedes is no easy task.

But given Red Bull’s impressive haul of silverware to date, few would bet against the team extending its success into engine manufacturing in this decade and beyond.

Updated: June 26, 2022, 7:50 AM