Red Bull on edge: Could China be the tipping point?

As the F1 circuit makes its highly anticipated return to China, Red Bull remains only cautiously optimistic about its performance prospects. Despite dominating the 2024 season thus far, setbacks like Max Verstappen’s DNF due to reliability issues in Melbourne and Ferrari’s burgeoning competitiveness have kept the world championship tables quite closely contested.

In Melbourne, the team faced unexpected challenges in vehicle setup and maintaining speed. Dr. Helmut Marko expressed his concern to Sky Deutschland, stating, “I hope we don’t have many surprises like in Australia.” He also highlighted the harsh nature of the Melbourne track, commenting, “The asphalt was so aggressive there.” Further compounding their troubles, Marko noted a significant misjudgment regarding tyre durability, a usual area of strength for Red Bull. “We were also completely wrong about the tyre wear, which is where we normally excel,” he remarked, adding that Sergio Perez experienced considerable tyre degradation.

With the sprint weekend format making its 2024 debut in China after the long pandemic-induced hiatus for the Shanghai round, Verstappen has voiced apprehensions about potential setup issues. Marko shared these concerns, “We hope we are not surprised about tyre wear,” but he also noted, “I think we know more now about how to respond. But of course it (China) will be a completely new situation for almost everyone.”

Additionally, the Shanghai circuit itself has undergone significant changes, including a fresh layer of asphalt and improvements to smooth over some of the more problematic bumps.

Christian Horner, Red Bull’s team boss, acknowledged Ferrari’s strong performances, “We’ve seen that Ferrari were very competitive in Melbourne but also at Suzuka.” The competition looks to intensify with Fernando Alonso noting to Speed Week, “I think with those long corners and a track a bit like Australia, Ferrari will be quick. But also Red Bull.”

As the F1 moves on to Miami following Shanghai, Ferrari is particularly eager for a solid performance, with Imola after that set to showcase a major vehicle upgrade. According to a report from Sky Italia, “If the simulator’s gains are echoed on the track, it will bring approximately two and a half tenths.”

Charles Leclerc is determined to leverage his recent simulator sessions to master tyre temperature management. He shared his intensive preparation, saying, “I’ve spent three days working in the simulator to learn how to get the tyres up to temperature.” With the stakes high, he added, “There will be two qualifyings and two races with a lot of points on the table, so I have to be prepared.” Leclerc’s competitive spirit is evident as he also declared, “No one likes to come second – I want to win.”

Despite Ferrari’s advancements, former F1 driver Vitantonio Liuzzi remains sceptical about their readiness for a championship bid. Speaking to Corriere dello Sport, he mentioned, “They’ve made progress, but they’re not ready for the title. That doesn’t mean it won’t be a fun championship.” Liuzzi also speculated on the potential implications of recurring reliability issues for Red Bull, “Then, if reliability problems at Red Bull come back, that could be a big problem for them. I think Ferrari will have a say in many races this year,” he predicted.

GMM

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