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The story so far - Red Bull's mid-season report 21 Jul 2009

Mark Webber (AUS) Red Bull Racing RB5.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 9, German Grand Prix, Race, Nurburgring, Germany, Sunday, 12 July 2009 Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing RB5 leads Felipe Massa (BRA) Ferrari F2009.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 9, German Grand Prix, Race, Nurburgring, Germany, Sunday, 12 July 2009 Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing RB5.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Practice Day, Sepang, Malaysia, Friday, 3 April 2009 Mark Webber (AUS) Red Bull Racing celebrates victory with the team.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 9, German Grand Prix, Race, Nurburgring, Germany, Sunday, 12 July 2009 Podium (L to R): Mark Webber (AUS) Red Bull Racing RB5, Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing RB5 and Rubens Barrichello (BRA) Brawn Grand Prix BGP 001.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 8, British Grand Prix, Race, Silverstone, England, Sunday, 21 June 2009

With the brains of Adrian Newey, a small army working back at their UK base in Milton Keynes and the generous patronage of Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz, Red Bull Racing have been threatening to step up to the front of the field ever since they bought out Jaguar in 2004.

This season they have finally made it into the big time, thanks in no small part to the combination of new signing Sebastian Vettel, who has chalked up three poles and two wins, and experienced runner Mark Webber, who finally clinched a maiden victory in Germany. Here’s the story of their season so far…

Red Bull
World championship points: 92.5
Best qualifying result: 1st (4x)
Best race result: 1st (3x)

After being upstaged by junior team Toro Rosso in 2008, Red Bull started the year vowing it was their turn to shine. The RB5 certainly turned heads during pre-season testing, with its clever interpretation of the stringent 2009 rules. But while it looked the most complete car, its pace (and reliability) was less convincing.

There were even murmurs that Red Bull had built themselves a pretty, but ineffectual, machine. In qualifying for Melbourne’s season opener, however, Vettel showed the true promise of the RB5, taking third on the grid behind the controversial double-diffuser Brawns. Both the German and Webber were equally strong in the race and, were it not for two collisions, may have scored a podium.

In Malaysia too, luck was not on their side and the car’s obvious pace received scant reward as Webber and Vettel struggled with their tyres. But at a soaked Shanghai, the RB5 was dominant, with Vettel and Webber clinching a richly deserved maiden one-two. In dusty Bahrain and sweltering Spain, however, the tyre degradation issues were back with a vengeance and solo podiums at each were a letdown.

Hoping for a boost, the team brought a Brawn-inspired double diffuser to Monaco (no mean feat given the packaging restrictions of the car’s pull-rod rear suspension), but ultimately dropped to third in the pecking order behind a resurgent Ferrari. In Turkey, they were reasonably satisfied with a two-three result, but for another win they would have to wait for June and the British Grand Prix. Again it fell to Vettel, but the real hero was the heavily upgraded RB5.

After what team principal Christian Horner called ‘superhuman efforts’ at the factory, the car was unassailable at Silverstone. In a reversal of fortunes it was Brawn who were struggling with tyres and Red Bull ran riot to score a majestic one-two. Matching it with more of the same in Germany, the team has proved their pace has staying power. And after unlocking the car’s potential so comprehensively, Horner believes the team can retain their grip at the top.

“Putting aside our performance and two dominant one-two finishes in the last two races, the team’s determination to continue to improve and not to take anything for granted is very important. There are no obvious weaknesses in our armoury, but as a group we must continue to push ourselves in all areas all the time."

Battle of the team mates - Sebastian Vettel v Mark Webber
Qualifying: Vettel (7-2)
Race: Webber (6-3) Vettel retired in Monaco
Points: Vettel 47, Webber 45.5

Up until the last round in Germany, Vettel had largely ruled the roost at Red Bull. Taking the team’s first-ever pole and victory and qualifying higher than Webber in all but two of the season’s nine outings, Vettel’s youth seems to be outclassing the Australian’s experience. But if you throw Webber’s pre-season cycling accident and consistency into the mix, the duo have been closer in performance than the stats suggest, with team principal Horner even stating that at the opening rounds Webber was somewhat below par, and it’s “only now we are seeing Mark at the level of fitness he was at prior to his injury”. Certainly with just 1.5 points separating the duo, they are the closest pairing on the 2009 grid. And with the team ruling out favouring one driver, for the moment at least, prepare to see them battle it out for supremacy over the coming races.

In summary - With the RB5 a three-time race winner, the stakes at Red Bull couldn’t be higher. Both drivers have the talent to do the car justice, but will Webber’s experience or Vettel’s ambition win the day? Watch this space...