Red Bull, not Mercedes, are F1’s best modern-era team

Red Bull may have won less championships and races than Mercedes this century, but they are the better team


One hundred wins and not out, it’s the 2023 Ashes and we have never had a cricket reference until now on Red Bull became the fifth Formula 1 team to achieve a century of wins with another dominant Max Verstappen victory at the 2023 Canadian Grand Prix.

When Red Bull took over Jaguar at the start of 2005, they were seen as a joke to some of the paddock and not taken seriously. Red Bull have certainly had the last laugh since 2021 as Verstappen is on course for a hat-trick of titles.

Success in any sport is not lauded enough and Red Bull have a win rate of 28 per cent, which is remarkable considering it took them more than four seasons to land their maiden victory.

“It’s a great achievement for the team,” said Verstappen. “We knew that this was the first opportunity, of course, to do so.

“I’m happy that’s done. We’ve won 100. But again, I hope we win more than 100. So the new target is 200.”

Red Bull celebrating their 100th win in F1 | Clive Mason / Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Red Bull in numbers

The 2009 Chinese GP marked the start of Red Bull’s 100 triumphs in F1 as Sebastian Vettel led Mark Webber in a 1-2 for the team.

Although Brawn and Jenson Button held on to win both titles that year, Red Bull were coming strong.

Four consecutive drivers’ championships, courtesy of Vettel, and four constructors’ titles followed between 2010 and 2013, including some outstanding performances.

Vettel won 38 races at Red Bull and remains F1‘s youngest world champion after his 2010 triumph.

He set a new record for the most pole positions, 15, in 2011 and won nine consecutive races to seal the 2013 title.

Through that period he was often booed and very few people enjoyed the dominance. There was still a party feeling at Red Bull though and they would really celebrate their wins.

Daniel Ricciardo celebrates his first race win at the 2014 Canadian GP | Tom Pennington / Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

The Vettel mantle was handed to Daniel Ricciardo, who outperformed the German in 2014 and won three classic races in Canada, Hungary and Belgium. Ricciardo would win four more races for the team.

Then came Verstappen, who epitomises what Red Bull is all about and equalled Ayrton Senna’s win tally of 41 at the 2023 Canadian GP.

Red Bull controversially ended Mercedes‘ dominance in 2021 as Verstappen overtook Lewis Hamilton on the last lap of the finale at the Abu Dhabi GP, before winning both 2022 championships in a less dramatic manner.

YearWinsConstructors Pos.
*season ongoing

Christian Horner’s leadership

No matter if you love or hate Christian Horner, you must admire his desire and passion to defend his team no matter what. If you cut him, he would bleed Red Bull.

The now 49-year-old was the youngest team principal on the grid when he became Red Bull boss in 2005.

During the early years, Horner learned the politics of F1 and that has been crucial over the last decade, arguably as important as what happens on the track.

For him to become the most well known team principal in F1 shows he has the right character and personality to be a leader. Think Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp or Jose Mourinho in football.

He can be absolutely frustrating for non-Red Bull fans to listen to but that’s also what makes him so good. You know you’re doing something right when people are complaining.

Newey the stalwart in technical group

Adrian Newey is one of F1‘s greatest designers and has been with Red Bull since 2006. But, other key people such as aerodynamicist Craig Skinner and current head of performance engineer Ben Waterhouse also deserve plenty of credit.

Red Bull have nailed the correlation from whatever they see in the wind tunnel by translating it onto the track.

Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner and Adrian Newey, the Chief Technical Officer after 2023 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix | Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

During Mercedes‘ peak dominance in the turbo-hybrid era between 2014 and 2016, Red Bull were still a match in the corners, they simply lost out due to a big engine deficit.

They have traditionally ran high rake cars too and are always good on their tyres, so the inherent philosophy of all the Red Bull machines from over the years have almost become trademark qualities and everyone in the Milton Keynes factory has contributed to this.

“What’s Red Bull’s secret? It is very lean at the top,” Mark Webber told MotorSport Magazine in 2022.

“This is a massive global brand that has influenced many sporting cultures. Toto Wolff does a brilliant job filtering out the corporate influences at Mercedes, because all the corporate stuff can be a massive anchor.

Red Bull doesn’t have that – and it has also been blessed with great stability. It has benefited from fantastic consistency and has retained most of its key staff, but it’s that leanness at the top that counts.

Christian Horner, Adrian Newey and Helmut Marko at the Saudi Arabain GP | Lars Baron/Getty Images

Helmut Marko deals directly with [Red Bull co-founder] Dietrich Mateschitz, while Christian Horner handles the operational side. Marko and Dietrich have a very positive attitude to finding solutions.

“Yes, the team has good finances, because the brand is strong, but it also has a can-do attitude. That Red Bull culture its applied to motor sport, and the Milton Keynes factory is Dietrich’s passion. He loves Adrian, he loves the engineering, he loves the challenge and the competition.”

All about racing

After their landmark win in Canada, Horner explained why Red Bull have been so successful.

Horner answered: “The people, the spirit, the culture, the attitude that we have. The way we go about racing, the desire, the passion, the commitment, it’s all of those aspects.

“We want to win and be competitive and everybody gives their best and they buy into that and you feel that energy in the factory. We’re different to other teams. It’s a racing team, just a big racing team.”

Christian Horner and Max Verstappen on the podium at the 2021 Abu Dhabi GP | REUTERS / Ahmed Jadallah

It’s not that the other F1 teams are not proper racing teams, but there has always been that feeling of Red Bull being aggressive and going for it.

Think about some of Ricciardo’s brilliant overtakes from so far back and Verstappen being the most feared driver when it comes to wheel to wheel racing.

The strategy team, led by Hannah Schmitz, are also bold when it comes to tyre choice and undercutting their rivals.

In 2021, this was an area Red Bull had the upper hand on compared to Mercedes as Verstappen took crucial wins at Paul Ricard, Zandvoort and the Circuit of the Americas.

When Dietrich Mateschitz died in October 2022 prior to qualifying for the United States GP, Red Bull didn’t wear black T-shirts, instead wearing jeans and played music as Verstappen fought hard to convert pole position into a win.

Some people found it strange but it shows Red Bull‘s culture that life does go on and they want to have fun while winning.

Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton on the podium at the 2023 Canadian GP | Minas Panagiotakis / Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Better than Ferrari and Mercedes?

Ferrari dominated the early noughties but haven’t won a title since the 2008 constructors’ championship and Kimi Raikkonen remains their latest champion from 2007.

Meanwhile, Mercedes‘ return to F1 in 2010 has been excellent with eight consecutive constructors’ and seven drivers’ titles between 2014 and 2021.

That run of success for Mercedes is very impressive but when they haven’t been winning, there has not been the same attacking mentality that Red Bull had when they were the second or third fastest team.

Red Bull have only had just one winless season, in 2015, after their maiden victory in 2009 and to consistently be at, or near, the top is phenomenal.

Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber on the podium after Red Bull’s first win in China 2009 | Mark Thompson / Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

They have a driver in Verstappen who is possibly in the peak of his career and looks unbeatable approaching the halfway mark of the 2023 season.

People will want to see how Verstappen gets on at a different team at some point, but why leave Red Bull if they have created a culture of belief and ultra competitiveness in less than two decades of being in F1. The Bull rages on.

John Smith
John Smith
Editor at and all round Motorsport journalist specialising in Formula 1, IndyCar and Formula E.
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