Why Red Bull needs KERS
November 26, 2010
The 2010 season is over, with Red Bull stamping their claim to being among Formula 1’s elite by taking both championships at the end of a thrilling season. Looking toward 2011, one of the key regulation changes is the reintroduction of KERS after a year’s absence. If they want to challenge for championships in a third consecutive year, it is essential that the Milton Keynes-based team equip their RB7 with the energy recovery system.
The reason for this lies in Red Bull’s peculiar way of winning races. As a general rule, there are three ways to win a race. The most simple method is to qualify at the front and maintain that position in the race. If that fails, cars in front can be passed through clever pit strategy. The third method is to pass on track. If all three fail, it’s a matter of hoping the cars ahead run into trouble.
Of the 21 races over the past two seasons won by teams other than Red Bull, roughly half were won from the front, with the rest earned through a mixture of pit strategy and overtaking, often – as with Hamilton in Canada – within the same race.
Red Bull, on the other hand, have their own way of winning. Of their 15 victories, 11 were won by the driver leading at the first corner. Two further victories, Brazil and Abu Dhabi in 2009, fell to drivers who were second through the first corner, only for the leader to retire. The remaining two, Germany 2009 and Hungary 2010, were won through pit strategy. None of Red Bull’s victories has involved a competitive overtake.
To reiterate: no Red Bull has ever overtaken another car to win a race.
That statistic speaks for itself, but it’s a lot more difficult to explain why that should be the case. Do Newey’s cars dislike running in dirty air? On-board footage of Vettel in Turkey and Belgium shows the RB6’s wing becoming curiously unstable when moving out of another car’s wake. Or is it the drivers, neither of whom has a great reputation for overtaking? Ultimately, it’s an academic question, as neither the driver line-up nor Newey’s design philosophy is likely to change for next year.
The RB6 was such a dominant qualifier that this was never an issue. 15 pole positions, equalling Williams’ and McLarens’ record for a season, meant there were more than enough opportunities to win from the front. Enough, indeed, to win both titles.
In 2011, however, KERS returns to the sport. If Red Bull run without the energy recovery system, then pole position will no longer be a guarantee of leading into the first corner. At the Nurburgring and Spa Francorchamps in 2009, the KERS-equipped Hamilton and Raikkonen respectively were able to gain four positions by the first corner against cars running without the system. If either McLaren or Ferrari (or, indeed, Mercedes) is able to build a car which can qualify consistently within the top five, they’ll have every chance to deny Red Bull the early leads upon which their successes have been built.
The easiest way for the boys from Milton Keynes to avoid this awkwardness would be to build the RB7 around a Renault-sourced KERS unit. If, however, they choose to run without it, there’s every chance Vettel and Webber will have to pass the likes of Hamilton and Alonso to earn their wins next year. There are those who doubt the newly-crowned champion’s skill as a racer; 2011 may just give Vettel the opportunity to silence his critics.