You would think Red Bull are on a high and salivating in every success they have had in Formula 1 2023 – setting new records, wrapping up championships early and witnessing their star driver Max Verstappen at the peak of his powers.
But, Red Bull don’t seem to be entirely united as F1 head to the states for its annual appearance at the Circuit of the Americas, which has thrown up some brilliant racing since its debut in 2012.
It was this time last year in 2022 when Red Bull received their penalty for breaching the budget cap in 2021 and yet again off-track talk is the theme going into another Sprint weekend.
Verstappen slams BS reports
We normally say how much Verstappen is leading the championship by when we come to this point of the piece but he’s already sealed the title and has scored nearly twice as many points as everyone else.
Verstappen has been pivotal for Red Bull‘s most successful season in F1 but there is talk of a rift between Christian Horner and Helmut Marko.
A report from leading Brazilian newspaper Jornal O Globo claim that Horner wants Marko out of Red Bull due to disagreements on various topics including the future of Yuki Tsunoda and the team’s connection with Honda as a power unit manufacturer.
Verstappen, who is going for his 50th F1 win this Sunday in Austin, was naturally asked about the alleged rift at Red Bull.
“People are trying to basically talk some b******t because I think the mood in the team is very good,” said Verstappen. “Everyone knows exactly what their role is.
“It was sad last year when Dietrich passed away but we tried to keep that legacy, keep moving it forward and everyone that we have right now in the team is very important to the success that we are having. So that’s why there are also no changes for the future.”
It will be fascinating to hear from Horner and Marko over the weekend, with the latter already stating that his future is dictated by himself and he has a contract for 2024.
This shouldn’t distract the professionalism of the mechanics and engineers at Red Bull though, so they are big favourites for victory once again – when have we not said that this year?
But, Singapore showed there could be a weakness on the RB19 which is the bumps. Yes, everything came together in Singapore for Red Bull to have a torrid weekend but the car’s rideability was a significant factor.
The Circuit of the Americas is a very bumpy track and the big difference is the car goes over the little humps on the circuit at a much higher speed compared to Singapore.
A slow pit stop made things more difficult than it should have been for Verstappen on his way to victory in 2022 at the United States GP and, as usual, he’s not getting ahead of himself.
“It’s a Sprint weekend, we have to nail FP1 to make sure that the car is working well for qualifying, so a bit early to say anything at the moment,” Verstappen concluded.
Norris not confident
McLaren have been Red Bull‘s closest challengers as Lando Norris is on a hat-trick of podiums and Oscar Piastri won the Sprint in Qatar.
They scored a double podium in Japan and Qatar, two tracks that rely on good performance in the high-speed corners. The Circuit of the Americas puts more emphasis on a more versatile machine though, so Norris isn’t sure about McLaren‘s chances.
“I’m not so confident,” said Norris, who celebrates his 100th F1 race start along with George Russell on Sunday. “Just a lot more slow speed corners, which is not our strength. I think it’s tough when you look at it.
“If we look at Singapore, obviously we’re not bad in Singapore, clearly not as strong as Ferrari but still not a bad race. But we know on these types of circuits, Mercedes is going to be very strong, Ferrari is going to be very strong, Aston Martin, here in the past have been very strong.
“We knew when we went to Qatar it was going to be a track which really suited us – a lot of medium, high speed which is where we’re very strong and almost on par with Red Bull.
“Less of that here and a lot more slow speed so I’m definitely not as confident but nevertheless, I’m not saying it’s going to be a bad weekend. I think we can still fight. It’s just going to be a much bigger fight, I think.”
Last big upgrade for Mercedes
The majority of the teams are done with their development on this year’s cars but Mercedes and Haas have brought upgrades this weekend.
Mercedes have a new floor which will be seriously tested in the high-speed Esses in the first sector and Lewis Hamilton loves the USA – having won there in 2007, 2012, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017.
“It’s been a huge amount of work back at the factory,” Hamilton said on the upgrade. “This is our last big update, or the biggest of the large updates through the season, and I’m really excited to see how it feels.
“All the amazing people back at the factory have worked incredibly hard during the whole season and hopefully this really kind of tips the needle a little bit and helps us in the right direction of where we want to pursue next year.
“I don’t know exactly all the different parts of the circuit that I’ll feel it. But hopefully it’s a global improvement and hopefully puts us a little bit closer to the guys ahead.”
Mercedes are 28 points ahead of Ferrari in the fight for second in the constructors’ championship, so mistakes or reliability issues will feel more costly than normal with just five events remaining.
Carlos Sainz suffered a DNS (Did Not Start) in Qatar due to a fuel systems failure but revealed Ferrari have made changes to rectify the problem.
“We have changed a lot of parts in the car to try and obviously correct the issue that affected us in Qatar,” said Sainz.
“We are trying also to find solutions in the long term, not only in the short term because it’s definitely something that we are not happy with and we’ve also had issues in the past.
“A bit of a headache that is giving us this fuel tank now and then but, we will try and put it back together this weekend and hopefully shouldn’t be any issues anytime soon.”
Ricciardo returns to F1 again
And we finish with Daniel Ricciardo, who is back after recovering from a broken hand which he suffered in a crash during second practice at Zandvoort in August.
This will only be Ricciardo‘s third full weekend back after replacing Nyck de Vries in July for the Hungarian GP and his injury couldn’t have come at a worse time because who knows if he could have impressed enough to land a Red Bull seat for 2024.
He’s already been announced as an AlphaTauri driver for next year alongside Yuki Tsunoda and admits everything still feels new to him.
“I would say, tougher than I thought,” Ricciardo answered when asked about the recuperation process. “But I’m probably a bit of a wuss as well, so maybe not tougher than I thought!
“I think it was really just when the accident happened, and we were aware of what bone broke, they seemed fairly OK with that bone, in terms of ‘oh yeah, it’s a relatively easy one’, to let’s say, fix.
“But when we got the surgery done in Spain, we got further checks done and it was just the break was a lot worse than it first seemed. So I think that’s what took a lot longer for the recovery, and probably made it a little more painful for myself.”