How Red Bull’s 1,000-strong team drove Max Verstappen to F1 success

When Max Verstappen won the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix last December to become Formula 1 world champion, the Dutch driver fulfilled a 15-year ambition, starting from his debut in karts.

But the 24-year-old’s triumph in the 2021 title race owes as much to the 1,000 people who work for his team, Oracle Red Bull Racing, as it does to his talent, however exceptional.

Tools molded to specific hands

In a sport where victory can come down to shaved tenths or hundredths of a second in qualifying, pit stops and races, Red Bull has mastered the art of racking up marginal gains to succeed.

Evidenced by the team’s “Red Bull Technology Campus” in Milton Keynes, England: a leafy area which, as its name suggests, looks more like a university complex than an industrial area.

For an example of the extraordinary attention to detail here, just take the “pistol” used by the pit crew to loosen and tighten lug nuts during tire changes.

The gun is of a standard type used by other F1 teams, but in its quest to ensure pit stops are as smooth and quick as possible, Red Bull have produced a housing that fits exactly the hands of the mechanic who uses it.

It’s no wonder, then, that Red Bull – which is owned by the drinks company of the same name – holds the world record for the fastest pit stop ever: just 1.82 seconds.

Seconds of shaving

Another example is the factory paint shop. While most F1 teams apply logos and names to their cars with stickers, Red Bull paints them, as this ensures that the panel surfaces are absolutely smooth.

Another attention to detail comes from the way the cars are tweaked from race to race. There are around 1,000 design changes between races, so at the end of the season the cars are around two seconds per lap faster than at the start.

There are hundreds of sensors spread across the car that return data, and this is analyzed to help make improvements during a race weekend and between races.

Red Bull’s title sponsor, US tech giant Oracle, provides services that help the team analyze this and other data.

Oracle joined us as a provider of cloud Internet services – computing services delivered over the Internet – in March 2021.

Part of the reconciliation involves the team running millions of racing simulations to work out the best strategy in terms of, for example, which tires to use and when to change them. What happens if a driver spins or the safety car goes out? “As a strategist, having these simulations is important because we can anticipate all of these possibilities,” said Will Courtenay, head of race strategy at Red Bull.

“The real strength of simulation is that it can examine so many possibilities that the human brain cannot.”

But the elements of race day play a part, so if, Mr Courtenay said, Verstappen comes on the radio saying: “I’m hanging on, in a minute I’m going to struggle”, the team can do it. coming for new tires despite what the optimal strategy seems to be.

A stellar story

Oracle Red Bull Racing can trace its history back to 2004, when Red Bull purchased the Jaguar team, the successor to Stewart Grand Prix.

Since its creation in 2005, the current Oracle Red Bull Racing has won five drivers‘ championships – one for Verstappen and four for the German Sebastian Vettel – and triumphed four times in the constructors’ championship.

This season could add to the tally, as Verstappen is currently atop the drivers’ championship, his teammate, Mexican Sergio Perez, is second and Red Bull is on pole position in the constructors’ title race.

Inside, Red Bull’s factory buildings look more like a full-scale laboratory than an oily car workshop, apart from the large photographs of drivers such as Verstappen and Vettel holding trophies aloft or spraying bubbles.

Pristine white hallways connect the electronics department, the operations room – a series of banked workstations with echoes of a space mission’s control center – the paint shop, the 3D printing department , And many more.

The composites department is equipped with large room-sized autoclaves, which cook components in carbon fiber, a material that is both light and extremely resistant.

Some of the team carriers.  Photo: Daniel Bardsley for The National

Built on site

Almost everything is made in-house, although as with other teams the wheels come from an outside supplier, BBS. Boxes containing new wheels are stacked in one of the buildings.

In the race bays, the crew practices pit stops on the car for half an hour, twice a day. The car used for this is fitted with an electric motor to prevent the deafening noise – and fumes – of a real F1 engine from rippling through the factory as it pulls into place for tire changes.

In addition to being important for the development, operation and improvement of the car, cloud technology helps the team to enhance engagement with fans, for example by personalizing the website for the individual viewing it. .

“How do we bring this incredible sport into people’s homes? How do we take the excitement and make people feel part of it? It gives fans something they wouldn’t otherwise experience,” said Emma Sutton, chief customer officer at Oracle.

Cloud technology is also key to the modeling Red Bull is carrying out as it develops an all-new engine for the 2026 season and beyond. These Red Bull Powertrains units will replace the current rebranded Honda engines.

On the other side of the Red Bull campus, a new building is being finished to house the approximately 200 additional employees who will work on the engine.

Engine modeling involves computational fluid dynamics – the subject of how fluids, including air, move – and requires significant computing power.

James Taylor, head of thermodynamics at Red Bull Powertrains, said a team had been assembled from “a wide range of industries” to develop the engine, which will be completely new.

“It’s completely from scratch, a completely new design. It’s a huge challenge,” he said. “There’s no carryover from the Honda.”

Developing an engine competitive against the F1 power units of Ferrari, Renault and Mercedes is no easy task.

But given Red Bull’s impressive collection of silverware to date, few would bet against the team extending its engine-building success in this decade and beyond.

Updated: June 24, 2022, 6:00 p.m.

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