The 2022 Formula 1 rules were introduced to help spice up the racing. They marked one of the biggest shifts in the fundamental design philosophies that the sport has ever seen, moving the majority of the downforce-generating elements from the cars’ bodywork to the floor.
While there is no official confirmation of this, it is widely accepted that one of the main reasons for the rule change was to shake up the grid, following one of the longest and most successful runs of domination that Formula 1 has ever seen. From 2014 to 2021, Mercedes won at least one of the World Championships every season and Lewis Hamilton picked up six of the eight drivers titles over that period.
Ironically, the final season of the old rules saw one of the closest battles for both championships that the sport has enjoyed in decades. It was eventually decided on the final lap of the final race of the season following a controversial safety car call.
In contrast, the 2022 F1 season was nowhere near as tight. Red Bull ended the season with 759 points, over 200 more than second-place Ferrari and third-place Mercedes. Max Verstappen also walked away with the driver’s title, winning 15 of the 22 races and collecting 454 points.
In 2023, things are even more one-sided. Red Bull has more than double the points of second-placed team Aston Martin, while its drivers hold the two top spots in the drivers’ standings, with Verstappen more than 50 points (two race wins’ worth) ahead of third-place Alonso.
We have, therefore, found ourselves in almost exactly the same situation before the rule change but with the dominant car painted blue instead of silver. Can these raging bulls be stopped or will they continue to dominate the sport for years to come?
The Positive Feedback Loop
Success is a breeder of more success in F1. For a start, being at the front makes you an attractive candidate for lucrative sponsorship deals. That’s why Red Bull has been able to attract several major brands in the wake of its most recent successes.
For example, the team signed a deal with PokerStars in 2022 to have the online card room’s branding on its car and to host a series of joint promotions and events. After winning both championships last season, the global partnership was continued for the 2023 season, with the PokerStars logo featuring prominently on the Red Bull cars and a series of race weekend promotions for poker players.
The team also signed a deal with Oracle in 2022 and entered into a multi-year partnership with the British sportswear brand Castore as they took on the rights to produce licensed Red Bull merchandise.
With all the cash that flows into the team from these sponsorships and the additional prize money, successful F1 teams can spend the money that comes from winning on more developments to improve their cars.
In recent years, the cost cap and development restrictions have meant leading teams are unable to invest their bottomless pits of cash into acquiring the tiniest of margins over their rivals. Instead, they have to be more considered and selective about what they develop on their cars.
While effective, it doesn’t remove the advantage completely since some teams don’t even spend the full cost cap. That’s why it hasn’t hindered Red Bull who, despite being the most restricted under the handicap system, have managed to continually out-develop the other teams on the grid.
A Major Headstart
It is clear that Red Bull were the winners of the 2022-23 development race, starting off with the fastest car and continuing to push it to new limits over time. Since the team does not stand still with its development, it is not easy for rival teams to catch up, particularly thanks to the cost cap and the fact that Red Bull keeps moving the goalposts.
At the recent Monaco Grand Prix, cars being craned over the circuit by marshals caused quite a stir since it gave onlookers the ability to see the ground effect aerodynamic parts for the first time.
Several commentators noted that the Red Bull’s underside is by far the most complicated, meaning even these crystal-clear close-ups are not going to be enough for teams to be able to copy them.
It’s going to take some time before Verstappen and Red Bull’s impressive run of form is brought to an end since the pairing is already the best on the grid. Sponsorship money, creativity, and its existing head start will also keep them both out in front.