Formula 1

Red Bull's finest F1 season could be 2014

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Few would have predicted Red Bull as best of the rest in pre-season (©GettyImages)
Few would have predicted Red Bull as best of the rest in pre-season (©GettyImages).

Despite four years of dominance Red Bull have been the surprise in F1 2014 as Mercedes have become the force to be reckoned with.

It was largely expected that this year was set to be the year of the Mercedes, the German carmaker had been building up to the new V6 era ever since they returned in 2010 and with their budget and standard of personnel anything other than the championship would have been a disaster.

Their level of dominance isn't a surprise either, considering how much more time and effort they put into their 2014 project, compared to those around them - and allied to the complexity of the new power units - they really were in the primmest of positions heading into this year.

Even Williams, a team who have been so far in the doldrums in recent years, and their rebirth, so to speak, is less of a surprise.

If you consider they have been working on hybrid units for several years and add that to a car with a streamline body and the best engine on the grid, then the shock of seeing Valtteri Bottas standing on the podium for the three straight races begins to go away.

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Anti-Red Bull rules

For Red Bull, however, there was nothing particularly positive about the huge raft of rule changes.

The banning of the blown diffuser, a concept the design team, including a certain Adrian Newey, had perfected over recent years had now gone and the areas for aerodynamic exploitation even fewer and further between.

Then there was their engine supplier Renault, despite it being their idea to switch to the new smaller hybrid power units, they had the smallest budget and the smallest workforce of the three engine suppliers.

Testing

The belief that Red Bull's reign in F1 was coming to an end seemed vindicated when, during pre-season testing, the RB10 was proving incompatible with its new Renault heart as the car overheated, miscommunicated and generally lacked any kind of reliability. Also when it did run times were depressingly slow.

There was the genuine thought heading to the first race in Melbourne that the team which had won the final nine races of 2013 would struggle to complete a race distance and even if it did, be well off the pace.

Ricciardo-led rebound

Incredibly, however, by the time the first race in Australia occurred things appeared much rosier.

The car was running relatively well and then on a wet Saturday evening Daniel Ricciardo almost put Red Bull on pole to the shock of everyone.

On Sunday, the man from Perth was easily able to run at the front and while Sebastian Vettel was forced to retire early on, problems for Lewis Hamilton meant Mercedes too were far from bulletproof.

Of course we would then find that Ricciardo's car had been breaking the fuel flow limit and he was subsequently disqualified, but either way the signs were good that when the car worked Red Bull were competitive.

Right place at the right time

Despite the surprise as to just how high up the grid they were, it did not mean their problems were over. Sebastian Vettel has continued to endure reliability troubles and on engine-dependent circuits the lack of power remains a key issue.

However, the ability to get the best from what they have has helped Red Bull somehow remain ahead of the Mercedes customer teams and when the works Silver Arrows finally hit problems it was Ricciardo in the right place at the right time to take the win in Canada.

Of all the circuits, Montreal was probably one of the least likely venues for the team to score a win, but what it did was not only prove the doubters wrong, who claimed they could not win in an engine-led era, but also fully vindicated their choice to bring in Daniel Ricciardo to replace Mark Webber.

Power problems

After their shock win, Red Bull had a slight dip as Williams emerged as the main rivals to Mercedes in Austria and Silverstone. But Ricciardo kept scoring the podiums and battling his way through and was again able to snatch the opportunity when it presented itself in Hungary to take a second win passing Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso in the process.

On the contrary, Sebastian Vettel has continued to struggle to adapt with the drop in downforce and loss of the blown diffuser while the lack of power from the Renault power unit continues to prevent Red Bull from consistently challenging the Silver Arrows.

Indeed the next two races in Spa and Monza may see the team drop down the order once more as the mighty Mercedes engine powers the customer teams back into contention but what happens after that, in the final flyaways heading to Abu Dhabi, could make this perhaps Red Bull's finest year yet.

Ricciardo could still be considered a long shot for the title but if Mercedes' recent unreliability and possible battles between Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton offer opportunities few would doubt the 'Honey Badgers' ability to capitalise.

Red Bull's best year?

It may seem daft to suggest this could be Red Bull's best year after four years of dominance but given where they were at the start of the year to where they are now, and potentially where they could be, it would be true to say the team has gained greater respect from this year than it did during the last four.

The only worrying part is for 2015, if Renault can get their act together and Red Bull can produce another great car, what's to say another period of, perhaps not domination, but increased success could be on the horizon?

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