Red Bull Regrets Pirelli Pre-Season Tests

Red Bull’s F1 Team Principal Christian Horner looks back on the team’s decision to participate Pirelli’s pre-season tire testing with a pang of regret.

There was a hint of opportunity and advantage in getting some running on the 2017 Pirelli compounds before the seasons started. That’s precisely what Red Bull did when Pirelli approached them for a slot in the bout of winter testing that also involved the likes of Ferrari and Mercedes. With both top-tier teams present, Red Bull would have been foolish to pass up such an opportunity to learn from its foes.

MONTMELO, SPAIN – MAY 12: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB13 TAG Heuer on track as marshals watch on during practice for the Spanish Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Catalunya on May 12, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)

Alas, it was an opportunity that may have ran itself afoul as Red Bull’s Team Principal Christian Horner puts into perspective:

“The regulation change was reasonably significant over the winter, and I think actually running the Pirelli mule car hurt us in a few ways.

A few things changed late in with the tires that we potentially were designing the car around. I think that may have perhaps influenced our development direction.

I wouldn’t say it backfired, but it definitely led us in a direction that wasn’t conducive to the tires that were ultimately nominated.

The simple facts are that Mercedes and Ferrari did a better job of interpreting those regulations than we did over the winter. We then found ourselves on the back foot in winter testing.” – Christian Horner

There’s no question about it that Red Bull is nowhere near the size or capabilities like the F1 juggernauts of Mercedes and Ferrari, although they are financially gaining. The team have had moments in the season already that have shown they’re eager and ready to start nipping at their heels.

MONTMELO, SPAIN – MAY 14: Daniel Ricciardo of Australia driving the (3) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB13 TAG Heuer on track during the Spanish Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Catalunya on May 14, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

However eager they may be,  they’ve got the obvious performance gap to close. With a first wave of significant upgrades in Barcelona, but were still over a minute down on the race winner Lewis Hamilton. With their development path pivoted and the car’s aero significantly improved, the team has only one last major area to tweak: the engine itself.

“We didn’t do anywhere near as many miles as we wanted to, because we were sat in the garage for a lot of the time with engine issues, so it was only really after Australia that we got to see a picture, and we’d got quite a bit of performance to find.

The characteristics the drivers were describing from the car, it wasn’t a well-balanced car. A huge amount of effort has gone into understanding the areas of weakness and addressing those. The first step to that was the upgrade we introduced in Barcelona.” – Christian Horner

MONTMELO, SPAIN – MAY 14: A member of the Red Bull Racing pit crew in the Pitlane during final practice ahead of the Spanish Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Catalunya on May 14, 2016 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)

Horner’s been at this long enough to know that the moves which will determine the outcome of the championship don’t happen overnight. Should Red Bull prove that their “start on the backfoot” was merely due to a misinterpretation of data, the top dogs may find the customer team more than they bargained for. There’s a huge amount of ground to make up.