If ever one team looked as they were carefully orchestrating the puzzle pieces into place with high-precision, then Red Bull Racing would surely match the bill. From the team’s first season in 2005 onwards Red Bull have steadily improved, enjoying a few flash-in-the-pan results and gaining some key staff while a masterplan is followed. In 2006 Adrian Newey arrived from McLaren and a deal was struck to run Ferrari engines. In 2007 the team ran Renault engine units and apparently courted Fernando Alonso when he became available. But despite all this, last year was perhaps a year of treading water for the squad as reliability troubles hit the team and stopped them in their tracks.
The worst problem facing the drivers in 2007 was the gear box which failed with some regularity and left the drivers missing gears or worse still, jammed in one gear. Coupled with a few odd errors from the drivers and the end result was fourteen retirements from 34 grands prix participated (17 each).
The season ended with 24 points which placed the team in a career best of 5th in the constructors, 6th if you re-include McLaren who were disqualified from the championship. The best year in terms of position, but not in terms of points gained. While the car wasn’t the most reliable though, when it held together it did show some signs of real pace. On more than one occasion both drivers had been in mid-point positions and holding their own before a part let go, or another driver clouted them. The flashes of speed indicate the car is going in the right direction, and Red Bull certainly have a strong design and engineering department with Newey and Geoff Willis at the factory.
Red Bull have retained both their drivers from 2007; David Coulthard and Mark Webber. Coulthard, a veteran of 228 grands prix will start his fourth year with the team in 2008, his fifteenth in the sport. 2007 saw the Scot equal his points tally from 2006, 14, a career low also matched by his first season back in 1994. Coulthard has shown that age doesn’t necessary affect performance and motivation though, and while the car has certainly tested his patience Coulthard is still persevering and driving well.
Partnering Coulthard will be Australian driver Mark Webber. Webber came to the team last year and has a reputation for a no-nonsense approach; some of his descriptions of the gear box last season would agree with this statement. Again like Coulthard, Webber had a difficult season in 2007, although he did manage to better his previous effort with the Williams FW28. A podium at the rain-soaked European Grand Prix netted Webber the majority of his overall haul.
Consistency is a helpful key and Red Bull have done well to keep one of the most experienced line-ups on the grid. I think only Honda have more experience in their drivers, and the wisdom found in Red Bull will help them as they try to develop the new RB4 and push further up the grid. The experience will also come into play with new rules regarding electronic aids. Both Coulthard and Webber have experience of driving Formula One cars without traction control, something that should help the team, particularly in the first few races.
Like its predecessor, the RB4 has shown signs of real pace during testing. On more than one occasion David Coulthard and Mark Webber have looked ominously good and managed to set corresponding lap times. However, the key to the squad’s fourth campaign will be reliability. The RB3 had speed, but the car kept falling apart. Whether this came from an overly-aggressive development strategy or just plain bad luck is not really known, but it will have to be resolved if the team intend to press ahead and take the challenge to Renault and BMW.
Also of note regarding the car would have to be the fin they are currently running on it. Much like a dorsal fin on a fish, the RB4’s engine cover has been extended with a horizontal fin that stretches back towards the rear wing. It has been suggested that this device cold help the balance of the car under braking, especially now the standard ECU’s have reduced engine-braking. Whether or not this device will reach the Australian Grand Prix in March is yet to be seen, but it has made a return to testing this week, the last session before flying out to Melbourne.
Predicting Red Bull is actually quite tricky, mainly because we didn’t really get to see how fast the RB3 really was. Therefore, trying to assess its predecessor is nigh-on impossible. I would have to say that if the reliability problems are sorted, and testing isn’t really giving a conclusive answer at the moment, they wouldn’t be too far behind Renault and BMW. If, however, the gear box is still misbehaving then it is likely the squad will very quickly fall back into the Toyota/STR/Force India area. With the level of expertise the team has, both at the track and in the factory, I would have to lean towards a good year for Red Bull in 2008.