The Austrian team has won one race of the first four; Mexican driver is sixth in the standings
By Yuri Coghe
Red Bull has admitted championship rivals Mercedes are faster at the moment.
The Austrian team had a promising start to the season as it’s finally back to contending for the drivers’ and constructors’ titles, showing up 14 and 29 points behind Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes, respectively. After the first four races of the 2021 season, however, they have only won once and were forced to see the silver arrows rise to the top of the podium on three occasions.
Speaking after the Spanish Grand Prix, won by Hamilton on Sunday, Red Bull driver Max Verstappen said they were lacking the pace to put up a fight to the Mercedes.
“I tried really everything to manage it as good as I could, looking after tyres and stuff,” said the Dutch driver, “but it’s just not enough when behind you, they’re just pushing you and you see there’s clearly a bit more pace.”
Verstappen was impressed with Hamilton’s pace to catch up to him and take the win.
“Already at the end (of the first stint) with the soft, (Hamilton) was faster. Then when we put on the mediums, he clearly had a lot more pace, he could just stay within one second. There was not much more we could have done. They went for another stop then I knew it was over. I was already struggling with the tyres. You could see every lap he was just getting closer and closer. So a bit of a sitting duck.”
“For Lewis to be that close on a track like this all the time, within a second and sometimes having DRS, I think it just shows that there was not much I could do out there to make a difference.”
Further listening: PODCAST l The Chicane Crew Podcast reviews the Spanish Grand Prix
Team principal Christian Horner made comments along the same lines, owning up to being behind Mercedes in the current pecking order.
“They just looked like they had a quicker car today. They were able to follow so closely. They had nothing to lose when taking that pit stop into the clean air,” said Horner.
“It is great we have made that step forward and are giving Mercedes a hard time. They have had it so easy the last five, six years. It is good for F1. We are not going to give up.”
Improving the performance to close the gap to the Mercedes is not the only Red Bull concern.
A new signing for the season, Mexican driver Sergio Pérez has the mission to deliver better results than Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon, who both had short-lived contributions as the second driver for the Austrian team in 2019 and 2020.
The former Racing Point man qualified second in Portugal and showed a great performance storming from the pit lane to fifth in his maiden race for Red Bull at the season opener in Bahrain. However, he has to start picking up more points in order to live up to expectations. He shows up sixth in the standings with 32 points, 48 less than Verstappen.
“Of course we desperately need him to be in that gap so that Mercedes don’t have the strategic options that they had today,” said Horner after the race in Barcelona. “But I’m convinced that will come for Checo as he finds more confidence and time in the car.”
Perez started the Spanish Grand Prix on P8, making it to sixth in the first two laps. He then only managed to overtake Daniel Ricciardo for fifth on lap 46, being unable to close the gap Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, fourth, let alone the top 3 consisting of the two Mercedes and his teammate. This allowed Hamilton and Bottas to pit as they wanted, knowing they wouldn’t lose positions if they did.
“So the facts are very clear that obviously the two lead guys were so far ahead of the rest of the pack, as it were,” said Horner, “and gave Lewis a free stop as he had in Hungary, he’s only got to get it past his teammate that was never going to be an issue.”
“So that’s why we need both cars up there strategically so that option isn’t available to Mercedes.”
Verstappen wasn’t shy to also throw a little bit more of early pressure on the Mexican.
“I’m also just alone in the fight,” the Dutchman said. “They can easily make a second stop because there’s a gap behind them.”
Perez, who always said he would need five races to better understand his new car and be able to get the most of it, has his hopes up for the next race in Monaco.
“Every circuit is different so what I learn here will be different to what I need in Monaco, but the main thing is that I am still adapting and hopefully soon we can be 100%,” he said after the Spanish Grand Prix. “I am excited for Monaco, especially with this car as historically it’s been competitive and I think we have a chance of winning.”
The Monaco Grand Prix was cancelled last year due to the pandemic in what became the first Formula 1 season not to feature the legendary street circuit. Its 2021 edition is set for the May 23 weekend.