Evolution not revolution was Adrian Newey’s ethos as he once again aimed to provide Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber with championship winning machinery. The new RB7 had a lot to live up to as Red Bull took both championships in only their sixth season in 2010. Preseason testing showed that the Milton Keynes based squad had lost none of their pace as they adapted to the new Pirelli tyres, DRS and KERS systems that are mandatory for 2011.
If their rivals had any idea of the task that was ahead of them, they did as they packed up after the season opener in Melbourne. Red Bull clearly had something in reserve in qualifying as Vettel laid down the gauntlet by heading the field by 0.8 secs, the on screen graphics showed that neither driver used KERS during qualifying. In the race, Vettel started where he left off in Abu Dhabi with a lights to flag victory to once again show off his ‘victory finger’.
In 2010, Red Bull’s rivals were questioning the legality of their ‘flexi’ front wing and it seems the RB7 was creating the same level of interest from them. This time though, they couldn’t seem to nail what it was that made them so quick in qualifying. The question of whether they had KERS, start only KERS or no KERS also left the rivals baffled. The truth was that Newey’s no compromise design approach left little room for the KERS unit and sufficient cooling, resulting in a smaller unit being developed producing only three quarters of the output of the opposition. Their early season advantage was so big, they didn’t have to run the risk of running the troublesome system in the race until all the teething troubles were sorted.
While Vettel has enjoyed unprecedented success, winning six out of the first eight races, thing haven’t been the same for his team-mate Webber. After winning at Silverstone last year he told the team, “not bad for a number two driver” over the radio. Ironically, that is all he has managed to be so far. Although he sits second in the driver’s championship he is still to win a race with the fastest car over the first half of the year. The highlight of his year was his stunning drive from 18th to his first podium for third in China, starting on the slower prime tyre, he made little inroads into the pack ahead until he stopped for the faster option rubber. So impressive was his pace over the rest of the race, he ended up only seconds behind Vettel, who had started on pole.
With eight races left and Vettel in such a strong position, he can afford to finish third or fourth for the rest of the season and still take the championship. With Red Bull in an equally strong position in the constructor’s championship, the battle within the team is for Webber to try to get back on terms with Vettel. With talk of a one year extension being negotiated for the Australian, it would seem like he is lining up one last attack on the big prize.