Red Bull is responding to the improvements made by rival Formula 1 teams in recent weeks.
At Silverstone, Williams and particularly McLaren demonstrated the effectiveness of their recent upgrades by leaping up the pecking order – challenging the ‘best of the rest’ credentials of Red Bull’s usual rivals Ferrari, Mercedes and Aston Martin.
“The stable factor so far is that every single weekend, it seems like we are on top, which of course is the most important from our side,” world champion Max Verstappen, winner of an incredible six grands prix on the trot, said after picking up yet another victory at the British GP.
McLaren boss Andrea Stella agrees: “Even Red Bull has these fluctuations, which shows in the size of Max’s lead.
“He just masks them because he’s so good that he’s always ahead.”
But it’s the challenge of Red Bull’s improving rivals that has Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton excited about what is next in store for Formula 1 in 2023.
“This is one of the most exciting times I think we’ve seen in the sport where we’re finally starting to see the regulations pull people closer,” he said.
“You’ve seen the Williams up there with Albon. You’ve seen the McLarens now, the Astons, so we have a lot of teams getting very, very close.”
But it has raised an interesting dilemma for the usual top teams – whether to continue to aggressively develop their current cars, or switch that focus to 2024.
“I think that will happen pretty soon – we have no choice,” said Toto Wolff, indicating that the development switchover for Mercedes is now looming.
“We want to fight for the world title and that won’t happen this year,” he admitted. “That’s why we need to turn our gaze to 2024 and take the races that are yet to come as an opportunity to learn.”
Both Hamilton and his boss, Wolff, admitted at Silverstone that McLaren’s Red Bull-resembling latest upgrades indicates the likely focus of Mercedes’ next car.
“We’re not talking about two tenths here,” said Wolff, when asked about McLaren’s recent lap. “We’re talking about one second.”
McLaren boss Stella, however, warned that McLaren may take a step down the pecking order next time out on the twisty Hungaroring track.
“Slow and medium-speed corners dominate in Hungary, and it should be hot there too,” he said.
As for Red Bull, despite Verstappen’s victory there are some reasons for concern at the otherwise dominant team.
“The tyres overheated at the end,” admitted Dr Helmut Marko. “It wasn’t as bad as what we saw with Hamilton, but another five laps and Norris would have caught us.”
Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz, however, said the competitive situation will continue to fluctuate throughout the second half of the season.
“At some races the Aston Martins and the McLarens will be faster than us,” he said, “at others it will be Mercedes and us, sometimes it will be Mercedes only like in Barcelona.
“I think it will be a year in which from now on there will be changes in all the races with what’s going on behind Red Bull – a very good fight,” said the Spaniard.
But, like Mercedes and Aston Martin, the development tap for 2023 is now likely to start to slow also for Ferrari.
“We worked so hard to bring improvements to Barcelona, Canada and Austria that I find it hard to believe that we will bring another one before the summer,” said Sainz.
“I think that as we saw in Austria, the car will go well on some circuits and we suffer on others and we have to accept it.”
Early in 2023, Fernando Alonso was Red Bull’s closest podium challenger in the impressive Aston Martin – but that progress appears to have now stalled.
Alonso, though, says he doesn’t find the performance fluctuations “surprising”.
“We have short memories,” he said after finishing seventh at Silverstone.
“Last year at Monza Albon got into Q3 and I think de Vries too on his debut,” said Alonso. “But when we get to Monza again and we see Williams in Q3 we are going to say ‘what a surprising F1 we have now’.
“Our rivals are doing very well,” he added. “They have brought improvements. It is also the first time we had this new construction with the tyres so perhaps we need to look into that.
“But we did very well in the first 9 races and we will see in the next 11 who does it better,” Alonso said.
As for Red Bull, meanwhile, the fact that multiple rivals are now apparently closing the gap means in-season 2023 development has definitely not stopped.
Despite his almost 100-point lead over his own teammate Sergio Perez, Verstappen said before departing Silverstone: “Hungary is a completely different track.
“We will put some upgrades on the car there and hopefully they work well.”