- 2011 Red Bull season review
The charging bull
In the final part of ESPNF1's season review, we look at Red Bull's dominant season, including Sebastian Vettel's remarkable year and Mark Webber's relative struggles
Championship position: 1st
Best finish: 1st (Australia, Malaysia, Turkey, Spain, Monaco, Europe, Belgium, Italy, Singapore, Korea, India, Brazil)
Best qualifying: 1st (Australia, Malaysia, China, Turkey, Spain, Monaco, Canada, Europe, Britain, Germany, Hungary, Belgium, Italy, Singapore, Japan, India, Abu Dhabi, Brazil)
In a year when the team was victorious in 12 of the 19 races and took pole position a staggering 18 times it's hard to pick just one high. However, one-two results were much harder to come by with only three secured, and one such weekend delivered a particularly crucial result.
After the summer break the paddock reconvened at Spa-Francorchamps for the Belgian Grand Prix. While Sebastian Vettel boasted an impressive lead in the drivers' championship, it had been four races since his last victory and McLaren appeared to have closed the gap. What's more the next two circuits - Spa and Monza - were not expected to suit Red Bull as had been the case in 2010 when Mark Webber's second place in Belgium was the only podium for the team in both races.
Ahead of the race Vettel admitted that the RB7 might not be suited to Spa, saying: "It's not our favourite circuit because there are a lot of straights here, more than on most of the other tracks. There are some corners but they're all in sector two so sector one and sector three are quite difficult; we've seen that in the past."
While Vettel took pole in changeable conditions - saying that he had "rediscovered Spa" in the process - it appeared Red Bull had been too aggressive with its camber settings. Nasty blisters had formed on the tyres, but the FIA denied a request to change the set the drivers would start the race on. In the end the team pitted early in the race and managed the problem, with Vettel leading home a one-two. Adrian Newey admitted that he was "relieved that both our drivers were safe", but when the dust settled the result had quashed hopes of a McLaren resurgence and proved the RB7 had no real Achilles heel.
Expectations were high at Red Bull ahead of the German Grand Prix as Sebastian Vettel prepared for his home race. It also marked a return for the exhaust-blown diffuser - an area where Red Bull was so strong - with off-throttle blowing having been temporarily banned at the British Grand Prix two weeks previously.
The warning signs were there in qualifying despite Mark Webber's pole as Lewis Hamilton got within 0.055s of the best time and relegated Vettel to the second row for the first time in the season. Low temperatures helped McLaren, and it was the same story on race day as Webber lost out to Hamilton and Fernando Alonso, while Red Bull snatched fourth for an off-form Vettel courtesy of a quicker pit stop than Ferrari's Felipe Massa on the penultimate lap.
For Vettel it represented his first non-podium finish of the season, and turned out to be his only off-form weekend of the year. "Surely I'm not happy, not satisfied," he said after the race. "So I want to come back next time but for now I think they (McLaren and Ferrari) have been working very hard and improved their cars. We need to make sure that we come back."
Driver v driver race
Sebastian Vettel - 10/10
Vettel may have snatched his first title having entered the final race of the season as the third-placed driver, but in 2011 he stamped his authority to display exactly why he carries the number one on the front of his car.
His formula was simple: qualify on pole position, drive the opening two laps on the edge to pull out a lead of over a second (and therefore be out of DRS range) and then look after his tyres to maintain the gap. It was a plan he executed to perfection numerous times throughout the season, but he also displayed the attributes that make him one of the most complete drivers on the grid. In Monaco he drove a superb defensive race to hold off Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button on 57-lap old tyres, while he also resisted heavy pressure from Lewis Hamilton in Spain and displayed his attacking skill when overtaking Alonso with two wheels on the grass at Monza. His ability to drive around a problem was also evident in Brazil as he overcame a gearbox issue and told the team: "I feel like Senna in '91".
In qualifying trim Vettel was irresistible, failing to qualify on pole position on just four occasions and only once was he off the front row. Having made a number of mistakes in 2010 he confined the majority of his errors this year to Friday practice, with the only notable ones on a Sunday being his last-lap mistake in Canada and a spin at the Nurburgring.
As the title came into touching distance Vettel was still true to his word, racing for victory rather than solid points. Even in Japan he tried time and time again to pass Alonso for second until the team finally convinced him to bring the car home third and secure his second championship. He retained his affable demeanour throughout the year, but an exchange with a Pirelli official in Belgium when his tyres were a concern exposed his fierce determination. At 24 years of age it became clear this year that we aren't watching a great in the making, we're simply watching a great.
Mark Webber - 7/10
Having come so close to the title in 2010 there was a sense of 'After the Lord Mayor's Show' for Webber this time round as he was comprehensively beaten by his team-mate. His struggles were rooted in an inability to make the Pirelli tyres last, as well as a seemingly ongoing battle with his KERS unit that often cost him time.
Webber's season got off to a poor start and he didn't stand on the podium until the third race of the year, unsurprisingly coming in a race where he had the most sets fresh soft tyres available after going out in Q1. It looked like it could mark the start of a resurgence as he then finished second to Vettel in Turkey and took pole in Spain. Time and again, though, he found himself involved in race-long battles as, contrary to Vettel's strategy, he often endured poor starts and lost places on the first lap. With DRS available and the tyres on the edge, Webber's races were therefore heavily compromised.
A low point of the season came at Silverstone, when he closed up on Vettel late in the race but was ordered not to pass by Christian Horner. It was a message that Webber chose to ignore, ultimately finishing behind his team-mate anyway, but it showed that Vettel had already gained the right to the optimal calls with half the season still to run.
Webber started to get a handle on the tyres as the season progressed, culminating in his victory in Brazil which gave him third in the drivers' championship: "Obviously I was having to do a lot of [wheel-to-wheel] racing by making more stops, which put me more at risk," he said. "As the season went on I tended to be on the same strategy as everyone else and that made the racing easier for me."
Ultimately the fact that Webber scored more points and finished in the same position as 2010 shows that it wasn't a poor season for him, more a satisfactory one that was totally overshadowed by the man on the other side of the garage.
Chances for 2012
If you wanted to be part of one team heading into the new season, Red Bull would be it. Stability remains with Adrian Newey continuing to evolve the basic concepts of the RB5 - which inspired the last two cars - and he confirmed to ESPNF1 that the RB8 will still be a continuation despite the change in technical regulations.
While it is quite clear that Red Bull was the pioneer of the exhaust-blown diffuser that has been outlawed for 2012, it shouldn't worry those inside the team. Newey allayed any fears recently, pointing out that he has overseen a number of changes that he has to adapt to in his 20 years in the sport: "Formula One has a long history where a team - whether it's ourselves or somebody else - comes up with a novel idea, perhaps uses it for one or two years and then it gets clamped down. That's the nature of the business."
Winning both championships with such aplomb may be a hard act to follow, but having wrapped both of them up early in 2011 it allowed Newey even more time to work his magic on the new car. The end of the season also saw Mark Webber getting on top of the Pirellis, culminating in his victory in Brazil and the only slight concern for Christian Horner could be that tensions rise between the drivers if Webber pushes Vettel as close as he did in 2010.
In Vettel the team certainly has the most confident driver on the grid, and it would take a brave man to bet against him making it three from three in 2012, even though he can expect a sterner test from his team-mate, McLaren and Ferrari.
ESPN verdict - 9/10
The saying goes that it's hard to get to the top, but it's even harder staying there. On the face of it Red Bull made a mockery of that adage as both championships were emphatically defended as it ironed out many of the mistakes from the previous campaign.
An almost faultless pre-season set the tone for the rest of the year, with Webber saying: "We've done a huge amount of testing and a lot of work has gone in to the cars ... this is the best winter we've had." The signs were already ominous for the rest of the field even before Vettel romped to pole in Melbourne by a clear 0.778s.
The only criticism you could aim at the team was its inability to get KERS working reliably. Christian Horner admitted that Adrian Newey wouldn't make changes to accommodate the system, and while it didn't cost Vettel as he won five of the first six races, the issue was more pronounced for Webber as he only finished on the podium twice in that same time. It accentuated his problems with the tyres and ultimately meant that a strong finish to the season couldn't quite secure a one-two in the drivers' championship.
Red Bull - and Vettel in particular - has set the standard very high this season. The team became a much more slick operation and really grew in to the mantle of world champions, while Vettel covered for the few mistakes it made such as the tyre error in Monaco. The real challenge will come next year, because both team and driver are there to be shot at.