I know not everybody is ecstatic about a dominant team winning another race, but there’s no denying what an incredible achievement last Sunday’s 100th victory for Red Bull is.
Red Bull joins Ferrari, McLaren, Mercedes and Williams as the only teams to have reached that milestone, and it came in Red Bull’s 355th start. Only Williams (333), and Mercedes (207) have got there more quickly.
So what better time to reflect on some of the most special wins in Red Bull’s history, for a variety of reasons…
2009 Chinese Grand Prix
Perhaps an easy one to highlight, but it’s the clearest launch pad for an era where Red Bull was going to be a force to be reckoned with.
New aerodynamic regulations that marked a significant change from the previous year’s designs offered the opportunity for the grid to be reset, and while Brawn had come out of the traps flying at the start of 2009 – and in China, teams were trying to copy the diffuser concept – Red Bull was already showing itself to be a threat.
Sebastian Vettel had been promoted from Toro Rosso at the end of the previous season, and in just his third race for the team he qualified on pole position, with teammate Mark Webber third. In treacherous conditions, Vettel had the measure of the field while Red Bull also got all of the big strategy calls right, but it was perhaps Webber’s move on championship leader Jenson Button that highlighted just how strong the RB9 looked.
Kicking off the new aerodynamic regulations in such a way did bode well for the coming seasons, although perhaps nobody knew quite how well at the time, especially after the disappointment of being beaten to both titles by Brawn…
By 2010, Red Bull knew it was firmly in a title fight, and both drivers were very much in the frame against a pair of McLarens and Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari. Vettel had gone ahead of Webber in the standings courtesy of his win in Valencia two weeks earlier, when the Australian had suffered a massive accident.
That was to prove crucial, as an updated front wing brought to Silverstone became a central point to the weekend. Vettel’s failed in FP3, and as he was the lead driver in the standings, Red Bull made the call to remove the only remaining version from Webber’s car and give it to the German. Vettel duly took pole, with Webber starting alongside him on the front row.
With the inside line, a fired-up Webber took the lead into Turn 1 while light contact with Lewis Hamilton gave Vettel a puncture and ended his hopes. After Webber held the McLaren driver off for victory, his first words over team radio were: “Not bad for a number two driver”. Coming after contact between the teammates in Turkey, a rift was beginning to emerge that added spice to the team dynamic.
Nowhere was that rift more obvious than in Vettel and Webber’s final season as teammates. Vettel was still angry at not having Webber’s support in the championship finale in Brazil a year earlier — when Webber raced him hard at the start — and he got a chance to exact his own form of revenge in Malaysia.
On a wet track, Vettel led away from pole while Webber made an excellent start to rise from fifth on the grid to second by the exit of the second corner, clearing both Ferrari and Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes. Pit stop timing as the crossover to slicks approached saw Webber’s side of the garage make the better call, and he led the majority of the race.
Vettel was having none of it, and eventually fought his way past the lead Red Bull despite calls from the pit wall to select mode “Multi 2-1” – code for the cars to finish in the order that they were running in, with Webber (car 2) ahead of Vettel (car 1). Vettel apologized at the time but backtracked at the next race, and it was amid a backdrop of feeling Red Bull could no longer give him equal support that Webber retired and signed for Porsche in sportscars.
Webber’s exit opened the door for a fellow Australian in the form of Daniel Ricciardo to earn a promotion. The popular Toro Rosso driver had shown encouraging pace but didn’t arrive with the same fanfare that Vettel had, the latter having won a race in 2008 before making the step up.
But Ricciardo was instantly quick in F1’s new V6 turbo era, one that had actually brought the team’s dominant run of championships to an end. Mercedes was the clear benchmark and Red Bull left fighting for second place, but when a chance came to take a rare victory, Ricciardo didn’t need a second invitation.
Power unit issues for the Mercedes drivers led to Hamilton retiring and Nico Rosberg limping on, with Sergio Perez in second not closing in quickly enough, but threatening to hold up those behind. Ricciardo was forceful and clinical with his overtaking moves to get around the Force India with two wheels on the grass, and swept past Rosberg with two laps remaining for his first victory.
It confirmed that there could well be life after Vettel and that the Red Bull conveyor belt of talent was strong, with Vettel going on to join Ferrari at the end of the year while Ricciardo made the team his own for a short spell…
…but it was a short spell thanks to the arrival of Max Verstappen. Daniil Kvyat had his moments, but a mistake in his home race in Russia finally prompted Red Bull make the sensational call to promote the 18-year-old Dutchman after just four races of the 2016 season.
Again, it required Mercedes errors to open the door, as Rosberg and Hamilton collided on the opening lap to take both cars out of the race. That made it a straight fight between Ferrari – with Vettel and fellow world champion Kimi Raikkonen – against the Red Bulls.
Ricciardo and Verstappen led Vettel and Raikkonen, but both teams split strategies, with the former teammates three-stopping and Verstappen and Raikkonen left with what appeared to be a riskier two-stop given the degradation levels. But track position is key, and it soon became a straight fight between the teenager and one of the most experienced drivers on the grid.
Despite Raikkonen getting within DRS range on occasion, Verstappen never put a wheel wrong and took a stunning victory on debut. So much had aligned for that one, and while it clearly marked him out as a star of the future, who would have had him nearly doubling Red Bull’s tally since then single-handedly?