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How to Beat Red Bull: Team Principals Discuss the Race to Catch Formula 1’s Fastest Team

Mercedes’ Toto Wolff, Guenther Steiner of Haas, Otmar Szafnauer of Alpine, and McLaren’s Zak Brown give the expert view on innovating the fastest F1 car possible.

Red Bull Racing has been dominant in Formula 1 over the last couple of years, but nothing compares to how the constructor has lapped the field thus far in 2023.

Team Principal Christian Horner‘s outfit has won all eight races this season through the end of June either through two-time defending world champ Max Verstappen or teammate Sergio Perez. They lead the Constructors’ standings by a massive 154 points ahead of second-place Mercedes. Counting last year’s season finale win for Verstappen in Abu Dhabi, Red Bull is going for its 10th consecutive victory as F1 heads to the Red Bull Ring Sunday for the Austrian Grand Prix on July 2, the organization’s aptly named home track.

Red Bull is accomplishing all this despite a cost cap that limits F1’s 10 teams’ spending on race cars to $135 million. So how will the other nine teams catch up to them and eventually pass them over time?

Boardroom spoke with four opposing team principals to find out.

“They’re an unbelievable team,” McLaren boss Zak Brown said at the 2023 Miami Grand Prix. “We need to build a faster race car, and that’s what we’re all trying to do.”

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McLaren sits 6th in the constructor’s standings heading into Austria and leads the British team’s efforts in building a faster car not just for 2023 but in plans already underway to gain every possible advantage for next year’s season. Brown understands that Red Bull is already planning for 2024 too and not sitting still, so teams have to not only close the gap on the current car but also out-develop the changes and improvements being made for next year’s iteration as well.

“They’re on a good run, but I think everybody’s working hard to catch them,” Haas Principal Guenther Steiner said in Miami. “And I think it’s possible, but that takes a bit of time.

“It just takes some good development for some of the strong teams and there will be a fight on again.”

Brown credited Red Bull Racing lead engineer Adrian Newey with a lot of the car’s overpowering success. The 64-year-old Brit has won an incredible 11 constructor’s titles over the course of his career with Red Bull, McLaren, and Williams, dating back to the early 1990s.

“Unfortunately, Adrian has a bad habit of always developing great racing cars,” Brown said. “He certainly has the Midas touch. But with that, there’s depth as well in that organization. So maybe we’ve got to disrupt that a little bit.”

Some of that disruption Brown mentioned will come in bringing in additional talent to McLaren who have either already started with the team or will in the not-too-distant future. He said in May that McLaren was behind on their technology infrastructure, notably their wind tunnel, simulator, and manufacturing unit. Those are now either all online or will be by the end of the 2023 season, which will help the constructor make strides in catching up to its competitors.

“We haven’t quite had the same toolset to work with as Red Bull,” Brown said. “So it’s really a combination of all those areas where you make a little incremental gain and you hope to close the gap.”

Not every principal was as forthcoming as Brown. In Miami, Alpine Principal Otmar Szafnauer said that catching Red Bull is what every team in F1 was there to do, adding that “as time goes on, we’ll catch them.” 

During a June interview in New York, Mercedes Principal Toto Wolff told Boardroom that the key to beating any dominant team is to acknowledge the success of another group of people and have the ambition from within as a team and unit to raise their collective game.

“It’s a relative game,” Wolff said. “We know what the benchmark is because we set it for eight consecutive years, and that’s why we need to reinvent ourselves without forgetting why we’ve had success in the past.”

For the four principals who spoke to Boardroom for this piece and the five others looking to steer their teams to success at Red Bull’s eventual expense, developing a better car at a faster rate than Red Bull, bringing in the right talent on and off the track, and learning from and building off of past successes will all be crucial in order to weaken Verstappen, Perez, Horner and company’s current vice grip on race results.

It won’t be an easy task as Formula 1 enters its European portion of the season just prior to the halfway mark of the 2023 campaign, but at least there’s a road map when it comes to slowing Red Bull down.

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