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The last time Oracle Red Bull Racing embarked on a double title defence the cards were decisively stacked against the Milton Keynes squad.
In the months after Sebastian Vettel romped to his fourth title by setting a record nine wins on the bounce, and thus helped seal the team’s fourth constructors’ win, the team found itself grappling with an unwieldy and impotent new power unit and an unsettled champion who slumped to a winless full season for the first time in his F1 career and announced his departure to Ferrari before the campaign was closed out.
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Fast forward nine years and the landscape is very different. Having wrapped up both titles with the largest points haul in its history in 2022, the outfit goes into 2023 with a largely stable set of regulations, a settled technical team, a new car built on the hugely competitive platform of last year’s dominant RB18 and a driver pairing that last year won 17 of the 22 races.
“The 2022 season was amazing for us,” says Team Principal Christian Horner. “Retaining the drivers’ and reclaiming the constructors’ championship for the first time since 2013 was a huge achievement for us.
"We go into this year as the reigning champions, and our target has to be to defend both of those titles. It’s going to be a big challenge but hopefully we can keep building on the momentum we achieved in 2022.”
A successful defence of both titles will be made easier by stability within the driver line-up and the exceptional form of both Max Verstappen and team mate Sergio Perez.
“We’re very lucky we have got two fantastic drivers and their combined efforts the last two years have been stunning,” Horner explains. “I think it’s the best pairing we’ve ever had in Formula 1. We’re going to need every bit of that this year, with the other teams looking to come back at us, but we’re very fortunate to have two such talented drivers.”
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At the forefront of that pairing is, naturally, defending champion Max Verstappen. The double title-winning Dutchman goes into 2023 on the back of a phenomenal year – every bit the equal of Vettel’s record-breaking 2013 campaign.
Fifteen wins in a single season, two Sprint wins from the three available, seven poles and with 454 points – the largest ever single campaign haul for a driver – will be almost impossible to replicate, but Verstappen is certain that all the ingredients that carried him to a second title are still in place this year.
“Last year was amazing but I think that with what we showed, just making steady progress, I think we can be up there again in the front [this year],” he says. “But time will tell how much the other teams have improved as well. It’s a bit difficult to say at the moment where we will be exactly, but I’m positive.
"We work hard as a team, you know, to try to make sure that we have a chance to fight for it again,” he adds. “But I’m not thinking about these things at the moment. It’s more important that we just focus on having a competitive car. And then if we have a competitive car, you know, these things can happen. But it’s more important for us now that we make sure that the car is running well, has no issues and is quick.”
The dark cloud on the horizon are the wind tunnel time penalties handed to the team following their breach of the cost cap regulations in 2022. Verstappen admits it’s an issue but trusts his team to overcome the handicap.
“Of course I’ve thought about it and it does make things a little bit harder,” he says. “But I think we have a lot of very competent people in our factory. I also look at it like this: I prefer to be in the position we are in, than always finishing second or third in the championship, because that’s way more depressing.
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"I’m sure we have to be a little bit more precise with what we are doing in the wind tunnel, but I don’t expect it to be a big limiting factor in if we’re going to win the title or not.”
The champion is wary of the progress rivals might have made over the winter, but feels that his team have the resources to counter the threat.
“I think Mercedes will be our main rivals but I also think Ferrari will be strong. But how strong is difficult to say. Mercedes has shown over the last few years that they are really strong and they have a good group of people as well.
“But I trust in my people in Milton Keynes, that they can build a very strong car together with our engine as well. I hope that once again we have a strong package against them.”
Verstappen’s team mate, Sergio Perez, is also coming off the back of his most successful season in Formula 1. The Mexican’s two wins in 2022, allied to nine other podium finishes, gave him a season total of 305 points and third place in the points standings. And as he heads into his third season with the team, the Mexican wants 2023 to be even better.
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“What’s the goal for 2023? Certainly to improve on those results,” he says. “I want to be better this year, and to be able to keep a very consistent level throughout the year. That will be key for us, so I’m looking forward to that. I want to maximise the potential of the RB19 and I want to be fighting for wins every weekend.”
Consistency wasn’t in evidence across the whole of 2022 and Checo suffered in mid-season as car development edged the RB18 out of the comfort zone with the car he’d enjoyed early in the campaign. But after solving some of the issues in Singapore and the closing stages of last year, the Mexican says he’s gone even deeper into the data to set himself up well for 2023.
“I have done a lot of work with the engineers over the winter to make sure we understood those races,” he says. And he’s determined to reward the team with more wins this year.
"We have so many people back in the factory giving everything for us, so we have to respond in that regard,” he concludes. “I’m working very hard on my side with my engineers to make sure that we are able to do that. To take it to the next step.”
While Oracle Red Bull Racing go into 2023 with a largely stable platform, their long-term technical stability was still in question. But at the RB19 launch in New York, even the challenge of building their own powertrain for 2026 was resolved with the announcement that, while Honda will continue to provide power units until 2025, from the 2026 season the team’s own Red Bull Powertrains division will be aided by the might of the blue oval – Ford.
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“It was a massive moment for the team to announce Ford as a partner within Red Bull Powertrains,” Horner admits. “They’re like-minded with us and they complement what we want to do at Red Bull Powertrains with the knowledge they have, particularly in battery cell development. It’s a partnership based on shared beliefs and common objectives.”
It all gives Horner the belief that this time a double title defence is possible: “The team’s aim is obviously to retain both titles, both drivers' and constructors' that we fought so hard to win last year. So that’s the objective. That’s the goal. And everybody’s focused on that.”
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