The 2008 campaign was disappointing for Red Bull Racing to say the least. The car looked reasonably quick at many of the circuits on the calendar but either through accidents or mechanical problems, the team from Milton Keynes could only score 29 points. This was only made worse by the junior team, Scuderia Toro Rosso, scoring ten more and finishing ahead of the Red Bull squad in the overall standings. Can 2009 be any better?
One thing is for certain, Red Bull need to start showing some consistency in races, and carry this throughout a season. The RB4 chassis was certainly acceptable, and the Renault engine was fairly reliable, even if it was a little under-powered initially/apparently. Thus far, the RB5 looks to be okay as well, and the French engine manufacturer continues its relationship with RBR. Renault also intend to run KERS in the factory team at Australia, which could bode well for Red Bull who will surely get the device in following races assuming all goes to plan.
In testing, the car has looked like a fairly sturdy machine, occasionally setting good pace. The team appeared to struggle in the final group sessions, but it was in Barcelona and Jerez that all the teams had good and bad days. As a group though, Red Bull and STR have put in some good mileage during the winter, and even Mark Webber showed little sign of hesitancy after climbing back into the car in February after breaking his leg in November.
Sebastian Vettel really showed up Red Bull last year with his win in Monza. Although the photos showed team owner Dietrich Mateschitz smiling and applauding, underneath was likely painted with a different story, one of anguish no doubt; the better funded and generally faster team had been embarrassed by a young rookie. Of course, owning both teams allows staff to be moved easily between the two operations, and Red Bull have done well in promoting Vettel.
Despite his youth and wirey frame, Vettel is a great racer and his maturity in Italy when all around him drivers were spinning was impressive. It is perhaps too much to expect a repeat performance in 2009, but Vettel is a driver Red Bull will want to keep hold of. If Red Bull can start producing better cars, then surely it is Vettel who would be ideal at taking the squad into the future with greater successes.
Partnering Vettel is Mark Webber, the older, wiser and more experienced driver of the team. Mark had some great races last year, and really showed the car wasn’t all that bad when it worked. However, a few knocks and a few reliability issues made it hard for the team and driver to score with regularity, and this is where the consistency needs to be improved upon – Red Bull and Webber need to start scoring consistently.
The inter-team battle between Webber and Vettel will also be fascinating to watch unfold. Both drivers appear to get along, but I can see some fantastic battles emerging from the two as the season progresses.
I would love to say that Red Bull will improve this year, but aside from reclaiming their position ahead of Scuderia Toro Rosso, I cannot see much else happening. It would seem that Toyota have improved, Renault are claiming they can win, McLaren will be okay and Ferrari will likely continue their pace at the top, along with a closely following BMW. In fact, while Red Bull could gain a place from STR, they could then lose it to Brawn if the BGP 001 is as good as many think it is.