For all of the rhetoric that pre-season pacesetters Ferrari were ‘sandbagging’ at Barcelona, the outfit whose standing proved most difficult to gauge was Red Bull, with competitors none the wiser concerning their true colours until qualifying at Melbourne.
Should the RB13 surface at the head of the timesheets in Australia, chief technical officer Adrian Newey must boast infinite self-belief.
Though the chassis appeared handy across eight days of testing, it didn’t tangibly rival Ferrari’s and Mercedes’ ‘optimal’ pace,
Short of their own sleight of hand, or considerable upgrades accompanying the freight Down Under, the Milton Keynes operation – forecast by many to reassert itself as the team to beat under the new regulations – has displayed little to suggest that dominance beckons.
Daniel Ricciardo led the public to believe that “Ferrari is the closest challenger to Mercedes”, with the Australian remarking that “we got a little confused with some set-up things”. Perhaps an ambitious misstep which could prove invaluable once underlying issues are resolved in due course?
Worthy of note is that the sport’s previous switch in aerodynamic regulations, in 2009, ushered Red Bull’s arrival as a force. Yet outright superiority didn’t manifest immediately, and they had to wait a further 12 months to claim titles.
Despite its absence from the opening test in 2010, the RB6 rapidly established itself the class of the field amid several contending outfits, and while unreliability plagued its campaign, they were ultimately worthy victors.
As it stands, 2017 could present a similar scenario test of endurance.
Much has been made of the relentless ‘arms race’ which Mark II of the hybrid era promises, with upgrades anticipated at each event. It could come to pass that the RB13 isn’t a world beater from the outset, though finds itself in contention by the time the European season commences in May.
Newey is undoubtedly enjoying the restored aero emphasis, though it’s not beyond his character to wait until he’s pioneered and perfected a concept prior to implementation. It’s conceivable that incremental innovations might feature in its short-term stead at his behest.
Engine supplier Renault, boasting a fundamentally new power unit architecture this season, is yet to reveal its own hand, following technical gremlins incurred by the factory outfit alongside Red Bull and Toro Rosso throughout testing.
Reprisals of the maligned scapegoat antics in 2015 are never far from mind, though Max Verstappen has been reluctant to apportion accountability on the outfit’s fortunes, displaying faith in the French manufacturer to deliver solutions in time for Australia.
“That is what we use testing for, to test all the bits,” the Dutchman stated.
“I am quite confident Renault can solve the issues for Melbourne.”
If Milton Keynes can find the patience to allow Viry-Châtillon to address the concerns and appreciate its efforts, any issues should take care of themselves. Rest assured, these hurdles are no patch on the nightmares being endured by the McLaren-Honda collaboration.
What can’t be dismissed is an incendiary reaction should Red Bull inexplicably flounder at its own hand in coming months, similar to its hostility upon being dethroned by Mercedes in 2014. They were a primary of advocate for the regulation overhaul, and the impending, unprecedented development-race will afford precious little time for lamentations and soliloquising.
Milton Keynes and Adrian Newey have displayed that pre-season trajectory equates to nil once it counts. The sport’s new direction dilutes any notional pecking order.
To that end, it’d be unsurprising if Red Bull emerges with a winning package to the chagrin of its opponents.