How RB are leading the midfield 'ahead of plan' and setting the pace for a sustainable future

Special Contributor

Justin Hynes
IMOLA, ITALY - MAY 19: Yuki Tsunoda of Japan driving the (22) Visa Cash App RB VCARB 01 leads

Ahead of the 2024 season, new RB CEO Peter Bayer summed up the reinvented team's goals for the season in four simple words. “Top of the midfield,” he said. “On the sporting side, that’s what we are targeting.”

For a team that last season scored just two points across the first half of the campaign and clawed back to P8 in the Constructors’ Championship with a flurry of late-season points finishes, that seemed like a big ask. But in the months since its rebrand, RB has come a long way.

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While Bayer was installed as CEO midway through last season, Team Principal Laurent Mekies took on his role at the beginning of this year and at the end of January the team strengthened further with the announcement of a raft of new hires. Racing Director Alan Permane joined from Alpine, Guillaume Cattelani moved from Red Bull Technologies to become Deputy Technical Director, and former FIA Technical Director Tim Goss was signed up to eventually join as Chief Technical Officer.

The result is that, seven races into the season, RB is on target. After two tough opening races, the team has blossomed, posting points finishes in four of the last five races.

IMOLA, ITALY - MAY 16: Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Visa Cash App RB and Yuki Tsunoda of Japan

RB have scored points in four of the last five events

Target Driven

For Mekies, the 20 points taken so far (just five shy of 2023’s full-season total) mean the team is actually ahead of schedule.

“Top of the midfield was our mid-term, long-term objective and after seven races we’re there. We are ahead of plan because it was not in our year one objectives,” he says. “However, we are completely conscious that it is going to be a huge fight to maintain that position through the year.

"We are P6 with no pace advantage on any of the teams from P7 to P10. But we have developed the car carefully and we have executed weekends well, in a very sharp way, building up race after race. I think in the end we have taken all the points that were available to take.”

READ MORE: 6 Winners and 5 Losers from Imola – Who excelled as F1 returned to Europe?

Mekies is keenly aware, however, that the margins are tight and that gains in the development war are not easily won.

“I'll give you an example – Miami,” he says. “We got a lot of points there, but ahead of that weekend we pushed massively to bring the updates originally planned for Imola to Miami. That's the name of the game. We went to Miami with two sets of floors, zero spare, maximum risk. It worked. We got a bit of a pace offset, we took the points, and came home.

"There will be pushback, meaning Sauber will have updates, Williams will have updates, Haas too. But it's the game we are in, so we certainly don't take for granted that we are here [P6] for good. We think it's going to be a huge fight.”

IMOLA, ITALY - MAY 19: 10th placed Yuki Tsunoda of Japan and Visa Cash App RB waves to the crowd

Yuki Tsunoda finished 10th to score a point at the team's home race in Imola

Feel and speed

Both Daniel Ricciardo and Yuki Tsunoda have delivered in 2024 and though both are still coming to terms with the machinery at their disposal, Mekies is pleased with how his drivers are performing.

“Certainly for Daniel, It was a difficult start,” he says. “The first phase was to understand what was stopping him from best expressing himself, which aspect of the car's behaviour was limiting him.

READ MORE: Verstappen thrilled to take Imola victory as he reflects on ‘very difficult’ issue during late-race challenge from Norris

"There is a certain characteristic of the car in the entry phase that he was uncomfortable with, and we started to mitigate those limitations, and saw progress race after race. There is stuff in the car today that we have put there to try to make another step and there will be more to come.

“With Yuki, what I can tell you is that he has definitely found even more natural speed,” he adds. “It's not only about understanding the engine. He has found speed. His understanding has made him go faster.

"Outside of the car, he's made massive progress in terms of maturity, in terms of how he interacts with engineers. This also reflects in the radio conversations. He has been delivering weekends.”

MIAMI, FLORIDA - MAY 04: Daniel Ricciardo of Australia driving the (3) Visa Cash App RB VCARB 01

Daniel Ricciardo scored his first points of the season with a fourth-place finish in the Miami Sprint

Mekies also highlights the impact of the changes made trackside.

“Alan has already had a great impact. He has been integrated fantastically within the team,” he says. “He comes here with a very open mind, with a clear goal to reinvent himself and not to redo what has been done at Ferrari, in Alpine, in Red Bull or in Mercedes, but to invent together what is the next best way to do things.

READ MORE: Norris says he needed ‘one or two more laps’ after agonisingly missing out on Imola victory to Verstappen

“We have a fantastic base of talent here in the company. If we are serious about wanting to compete on top of the midfield it means we need to beat some serious people, some car manufacturers, and if you want to do that you need to reinforce the team at 360 degrees.

"Saying it is not enough. Some of it comes with putting our people in better conditions to work. Some of it comes with injecting skills and experience where it's needed, and we are in the process of doing that gap analysis, comparing where we are to where we want to be.”

IMOLA, ITALY - MAY 19: Peter Bayer, CEO of Visa Cash App RB, Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Visa

The rebranded RB team are already just five points behind last season's total after seven rounds in 2024

Building a better future

The progress on the racing side of the team is being matched by improvements at the team’s Faenza base, and in the build-up to the team’s home race at Imola it announced that the front wing flaps to be run on its cars that weekend had been manufactured from moulds produced from recycled carbon fibre.

According to the team, with approximately 50% of the carbon fibre brought in every year used to produce moulds and tools for laminating car components, the use of recycled carbon fibre has a significant impact in reducing emissions.

READ MORE: Leclerc pleased with Imola podium as he says ‘it’s looking good’ for Ferrari in remainder of season

For Mekies, the advance is again all part of the development of the team, as a force on track and as a responsible competitor.

“We feel we are an innovation lab, a tech company, and it is fundamental that we use that brain power to drive sustainability for our sport,” he says. “We want our technology not to be limited to sport but to have an impact on society. Today we don't have a single investment being made without ensuring that it brings a step forward in terms of sustainability for the company.”

It's a philosophy echoed by RB’s Facility Management and HSE Director, Enrico Fastelli.

“Sustainability is everywhere around us,” he explains. “The only way forward as a team is to try to do something better in another way. There are opportunities everywhere. Our aim is to evaluate it and think about how to use it in our process. And if we can find, like in this way, a solution, we want to adopt it.”

RB reveal recycled carbon fibre design initiative at Imola

The recycled carbon moulds are a case in point. While the creation of car parts using recycled carbon is not yet competitively viable, building the moulds used to make those parts comes with no negative performance impact.

“The moulds and tools use 85% recycled carbon fibre, leading to an 83% reduction in emissions,” says Fastelli. “Once fully operational, the production process for moulds and tools could lead to an annual reduction in emissions of around 150 tonnes of CO2.

"The moulds use the recycled carbon in the core with a ‘skin’, or virgin carbon, forming the surface used to produce the car components. In that way there is no impact on performance compared to before and we are making huge savings.”

READ MORE: F1 makes ‘significant progress’ in sustainability as first Impact Report released

In the future, he adds that those savings also include cost.

“This is the first step of this technology and the costs are almost the same,” he says. “There's a saving in terms of CO2 but I'm pretty sure that in the next few years the cost could also be better than using virgin carbon.

“Basically, the bottom line is, F1 never stops innovating and we have to do it. There's an opportunity to achieve this goal because we have the skill in the teams to do it. They have skills to make a fast car and so they also have the skills to make a more sustainable fast car. I'm sure of this.”

STV_5603 copia.jpg

Building the moulds used to make car parts has no negative performance impact, and could lead to an 83% reduction in emissions

For Mekies it all feeds into the ultimate goal – racing toward, and hopefully keeping, a position at the top of the midfield.

“The goal is to continue to accelerate the development rate of the car, and that's the most difficult part of the business," he says. "We are still expecting some bumps on the road. Some phases of the season where maybe we will suffer more, but hopefully others where we are going to find performance again.

"We are ahead of plan [but] we are probably going to suffer over the next couple of races with our competitors fighting back with updates. After that then we'll have something to press on with. That’s on every front – not just the short-term gains. What [we] do in two or three races, [while] also trying to make a leap into the future.”

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