Red Bull dominated the 2011 season in a manner not seen since the days of Michael Schumacher at Ferrari.
Sebastian Vettel broke records as the wins and pole positions piled up.
The RB7 differed from its rivals in several key areas and these innovations added up to give Red Bull a decisive edge.
It made superior use of exhaust gases to generate downforce in its diffuser. This, allied to a more raked profile allowing its front wing to move closer to the ground under pressure, made for a formidably fast machine.
|Best race result (number)||1st (12)|
|Best grid position (number)||1st (18)|
|Non-finishes (mechanical/other)||2 (1/1)|
|Laps completed (% of total)||2,163 (95.45%)|
|Laps led (% of total)||798 (70.43%)|
|Championship position (2010)||1st (1st)|
|Championship points (2010)||650 (498)|
|Pit stop performance ranking||1st|
Speculation surrounded other tricks Red Bull might be using to gain an edge on their rival, such as the use of pre-heated components to increase tyre temperatures to higher levels than those attained by their rivals, particularly at the start of races.
They were even rumoured to be using exhaust gasses to heat the tyres at the start of races, which was linked to Vettel’s first-lap tyre failure at Abu Dhabi.
Adrian Newey’s reluctance to compromise chassis dimensions led to the team using a smaller and less powerful Kinetic Energy Recovery System than their rivals. While this gave them some problems, particularly early in the season, no-one would claim the RB7 was deficient because of it.
The result was a car optimised to qualifying at and leading from the front. In Vettel, the team had the perfect driver to pilot such a creation.
He enjoyed a near-monopoly on pole position, starting from the front 15 times, a new record. From there he regularly scampered off into a large lead on the first lap, keeping him safe from DRS-armed pursuers.
This generally freed Vettel from the demands of racing in traffic, which had been a weakness of his previously. But that seemed to be a thing of the past in 2011, as he pulled off high-speed, high-risk passes on Nico Rosberg at Spa and Fernando Alonso at Monza to name two.
More often Vettel was the one receiving pressure rather than applying it and he handled it brilliantly at Spain and Monaco. This served to highlight the fact that, once again, Red Bull’s performance advantage over a single lap was far greater than it was over a stint.
In Spain the Red Bulls were almost a second quicker than their closest rivals in qualifying, yet Vettel ended the race with Hamilton climbing all over the back of his RB7.
Vettel withstood Hamilton’s onslaught but Canada was a different matter. Preoccupied with keeping a one-second lead over Jenson Button at the DRS zone on the final lap, Vettel slipped up, and Button was through.
After another win in the following race at Valencia Vettel had a remarkable six wins and two second places from eight races. He had an off-colour race at home, spinning and finishing fourth. But he returned from the summer break back at the peak of his form, winning the next three races from pole position to put the championship virtually beyond doubt.
In 2010, Vettel and Mark Webber traded blows throughout the season and went into the final round fighting for the championship. But in 2011 we saw a much more subdued performance from Webber – it wasn’t until the final race that Webber scored a win – and only then because of a rare glitch on Vettel’s car.
Webber was one of several drivers to have trouble adjusting to the new tyres at the beginning of the season. On top of that, his starts were a considerable weakness – he gave away a net 22 places on lap one over the course of the year (Vettel actually lost more, but the data is skewed by his puncture on lap one in Abu Dhabi).
Curiously, Webber enjoyed one of his best weekends of the year at Silverstone, when the teams had to adhere to tighter restrictions on exhaust-blown diffusers. He fought Vettel at the end despite the team’s efforts to call off the battle.
The team’s persistent search for every advantage was illustrated at Spa, where they more than any of their rivals pushed the envelope on tyre camber. Red Bull weren’t the only team to get caught out by blistering caused by running greater camber angles than those recommended by Pirelli, but they went further and suffered more, having to pit both their cars within the first five laps. It didn’t keep them from finishing one-two, though.
They backed up their car’s performance on the track by being the quickest crew in the pits. Eight times this year they performed the fastest stop of the race.
Red Bull have achieved remarkable success in a comparatively short space of time. The team has only been on the grid in its current size since 2005, yet they are now tied in seventh place with Benetton among the teams that have won the most races in F1 history.
Before the season began Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo fired a shot at his rivals, saying “when others have won 10% of what Ferrari has won, then they can also have their say.” Red Bull passed that threshold halfway through the season, and now have 27 wins and two constructors’ championships.
Adrian Newey is mining a rich seam of potential from his RB5/6/7 series and it’s hard to envisage that coming to an end any time soon. With Vettel on board until at least 2014, they have every chance of continuing their domination of Formula 1.
2011 F1 season review
- The 2011 F1 season: The complete F1 Fanatic review
- Your 2011 F1 predictions revisited
- 2011 F1 statistics part 3: Stats and facts highlights
- 2011 F1 statistics part two: Vettel’s domination
- 2011 F1 statistics part one: car performance
- New 2011 rules produced best racing of last four years
- What F1 Fanatics really thought of the 2011 season
- Sebastian Vettel voted F1 Fanatic Driver of the Year
- F1 Fanatic’s article highlights of 2011
- Dominant Red Bull join F1’s top teams
Image ?é?® Red Bull/Getty images