The Red Bull B-team will enter their third season in 2008, but the car they will begin with will look strikingly similar to the model used at the end of 2007. This is because it pretty much is the same car, STR having recently admitted that they are indeed waiting for a hand-me-down from Red Bull Racing, as many fans had suspected. The team seem to be under the impression that this will prove to be a good move, and Ferrari and McLaren have tried this approach in the past. However, Ferrari and McLaren tried it with proven winners rather than a mere point-scraper.
Looking back the team’s second season since Minardi sold out to Dietrich Mateschitz of Red Bull fortune, we can see a fairly clear line of improvement during the season, even though the slight bump in the middle could have easily blown the team into a legal battle completely separate of the customer chassis row. The team started out 2007 with an approximate average of 15th place finishes surrounded by retirements. However, following Scott Speed’s leaving after his home race and altercation with team boss, the team seemed to pull together and embraced their new young talent from BMW, Sebastian Vettel. Although Vitantonio Liuzzi was obviously on edge for the remainder of the year, his performances too improved along with the car. A string of strong runs in the final few races of the year culminated in a sixth place at the rain-soaked Shanghai circuit, following Vettel over the line who finished fourth.
It wasn’t enough though and Vitantonio was replaced after the final meeting of the year. Instead, the Italian-based team have managed to sign multiple CCWS champion Sebastien Bourdais. Sebastien has been eager to break into Formula One for many years and despite a few attempts earlier in the decade, his tests with STR during 2007 were enough to convince the team that Bourdais should prove to be a wise move.
Despite his experience and proven abilities stateside, Formula One is a different kettle of fish and the transition for Bourdais will be one of difficulty. Many drivers have done it in the past, Jacques Villeneuve and Juan Pablo Montoya in recent memory, but they entered into reasonably strong and competent teams. Although Bourdais does have street and road circuit experience, the way the cars handle is quite different, and of course, poor weather doesn’t stop a Formula One grand prix.
In the other car is Sebastian Vettel, having already driven seven races with the squad last season, taking over from Scott Speed partway through. Vettel finished his year with a couple of great performances in the rain at the Asian races in Japan and China. The German was initially scolded for causing an accident under the safety car control in Japan, running in third behind Mark Webber in the Red Bull. However, Vettel was later found to not necessarily be at entire fault for the incident as Webber’s comments and an amateur video taken by a fan in the grandstand showed potentially dangerous driving from the leader of the race, Lewis Hamilton. In China the following weekend Vettel showed his talent in the wet with a fine fourth place, finishing ahead of Vitantonio Liuzzi and redeeming himself for his retirement in China.
With a change of drivers comes reinvigoration in the team, but nurturing talent takes management experience that bosses Gerhard Berger and Franz Tost don’t appear to have. Gerhard is a previous grand prix winner himself but looking at the way Liuzzi and Speed were handled causes me concern for Vettel and Bourdais.
Erm, doesn’t actually exist yet. STR intend to run the first few flyaway races of 2008 with the STR2B, a modification of the car they used during the last season. The reason is likely because Red Bull are busy developing the RBR4 and won’t be able to produce a second car until they’re happy with the first. It is also expected for the STR3 to be a direct descendant of the RBR4, once again walking the fine line between the customer chassis rules.
The only possible plus point from running last years car is that the stability in the rules over the winter should mean the lap times set aren’t massively different from last year. Having said that though, this line is often bandied around at this time of year and come the first race of the year we all realise just how much work the aerodynamic experts have done. The second plus point is the continuation of Ferrari engines. Unfortunately though the engine doesn’t make the car and depending on how the chassis works, the power and ability from the Italian unit may end up being wasted.
Hopefully they’ll continue from last year’s fine finish, but that will be difficult to achieve with a change in driver/s. It would be nice to say the team will mature and develop into a proper midfield squad, but I honestly cannot believe they will achieve this in 2008.