Over the next few weeks we will be reviewing the performance of each team over the course of the 2019 Formula 1 season, and in this article we are looking at Red Bull.
This season has been a tale of two halves for the Milton Keynes based team. Red Bull were clearly a step behind both Mercedes and Ferrari at the start of the year, but they made great strides as the season went on, and finished with arguably the second best car on the grid.
Red Bull’s gamble to switch to Honda engines for this year also paid off, with Max Verstappen scoring their first victory since their return to the series in 2015, and the Japanese engine manufacturer have finally got on top of their reliability issues that plagued their seasons with McLaren.
With Daniel Ricciardo leaving, Verstappen had no choice but to step up to be the sole lead driver at the team, and he has relished the role, becoming a more mature and complete driver and he managed to win three races, at Austria, Germany and Brazil.
The second seat has been a bit of an issue for Red Bull, with the energy drink giant struggling to replace Ricciardo. They put Pierre Gasly in to the second seat for the start of the season, but he failed to live up to expectations, finding himself regularly stuck in the midfield and unable to overtake rivals, whilst also being half a second slower than his team-mate.
After the Hungarian Grand Prix, Gasly was dropped and replaced by rookie Alex Albon, and while many thought it was a career ending decision for both drivers from Red Bull, the move paid off, with Albon excelling in race battles, and was unfortunate not to take his maiden podium at the Brazilian Grand Prix.
Red Bull still have a lot of work to do in order to become real title challengers once again, but by the end of the season, they looked like the only realistic challengers to Mercedes, so it is all to play for in 2020.
Verstappen has been one of the most consistent drivers on the grid in 2019, failing to finish outside the top five in the first 12 races.
He also took three victories, securing Honda’s first wins since their return as an engine supplier, and he has excelled as the team leader, adding a new found maturity to his race performance.
The Dutch driver didn’t make as many wild moves as we have become accustomed to, but the moves he did make were executed perfectly, like the pass on Leclerc for the win in Austria.
If Verstappen had a championship winning car, he would no doubt take the fight all the way down to the wire, and the battle against Hamilton in Brazil gave the world a glimpse of what that fight could be like if the pair can race head-to-head on a regular basis.
The thought of that battle brings plenty of excitement, so let us hope it finally happens next year, before the regulations change and juggle up the field.
It is hard to think that Albon had never sat in an F1 car until his debut with Toro Rosso at the opening test in Barcelona, and the British born Thai driver has had an excellent first season.
He impressed during his time with Toro Rosso in the early stages of the season, but when he was called up to Red Bull to replace Gasly, it looked like the challenge would be too much for him.
But once again, Albon has proved his doubters wrong, displaying some brilliant racecraft, most notably making a brilliant move around the outside of Ricciardo at Spa on his debut with Red Bull, and had it not been for Hamilton crashing into him in the closing stages of the Brazilian Grand Prix, Albon would have finished in second place.
He still needs to work on his overall pace, as he found himself regularly around three tenths slower than Verstappen, but this will come and with some continuity, Albon has shown that he has plenty of potential.