F1 Director Divulges the Secret to Red Bull’s Dominance on High-Altitude Circuits Over Mercedes

Published 11/02/2021, 10:39 AM EDT
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO – Race winner Max Verstappen of Netherlands and Red Bull Racing celebrates in parc ferme during the Formula One Grand Prix of Mexico at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)


Let’s set aside the 2021 F1 season for a moment and look at the past few years, preferably since Honda’s switch to Red Bull from McLaren. Red Bull would often look submissive to the big guns, Mercedes and Ferrari.

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However, when it comes to high-altitude circuits, the Milton-Keynes outfit would embrace a complete transformation, challenging for race wins. Of course, there’re Mexico and Brazil for instance. Max Verstappen clinched the top step on the podium over both the races in 2019.

Now, let’s return to the present. We are hardly a week away from witnessing the Mexican GP and less than a couple of weeks away from the Brazilian GP.

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Hence, one might have this question lingering in their head- How are Red Bull becoming so strong over such circuits? Well, former Jordan, Ferrari, and Williams engineer, Rob Smedley, has a hypothesis.

What did the Ex-Ferrari engineer say?

During a podcast, Smedley opined that Red Bull’s sudden rise in power has something to do with Honda’s tweaking with their engine’s compressor.

The Briton reckoned most of the engine manufacturers bring about this variation when racing at higher altitudes, but, when it comes to Honda, the percentage of variation is much more extreme compared to rivals, Mercedes.

Formula One F1 – United States Grand Prix – Circuit of the Americas, Austin, Texas, U.S. – October 24, 2021 Red Bull’s Max Verstappen in action with Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton during the race REUTERS/Mike Blake

It appears to be that all the power unit manufacturers, by the way, when they go to Mexico to compensate for the high altitude, increase turbo speed,” he said while featuring in the F1 Nation podcast.

So, in turn, increase compressor speed by a certain percentage. From our numbers, it looks as if Honda do that a little bit more than the other power unit manufacturers. So, that would be a technical explanation.”

Can Red Bull dominate against Mercedes at Mexico City GP?

Here’s our answer – No. Yet again, Mercedes and Red Bull are likely to fall into the same pit. Yes, Red Bull might up their turbo speed again. However, this time, the scenario is much different compared to previous seasons. They have a championship to think about.

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Hence, stressing the Honda engine too much might affect its reliability, which in turn, might force Verstappen to opt for a new power unit or at least a component change. This is the worst possible time for the Dutchman to suffer a grid penalty.

Motor racing – Formula One – Russian Grand Prix – Sochi Autodrom, Sochi, Russia – September 24, 2021 Red Bull’s Sergio Perez in action during practice REUTERS/Anton Vaganov

Hence, Red Bull are unlikely to gamble and rather play it safe. Mercedes, meanwhile, are reliably stronger at the moment.

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While Hamilton received his new ICE in Turkey, Valtteri Bottas received a new ICE at COTA. Hence, this could leave Hamilton ahead of Verstappen at least during qualifying. And the race? Well, why don’t give us your answer – Of the two title challengers, who is going to finish ahead?

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Rohit Kumar

1451 articles

Rohit Kumar is an F1 author at EssentiallySports. He has been an ardent follower of the racing series since 2007, with his love for the sport coinciding with his love for Kimi Raikkonen. He is also an ardent follower of Sebastian Vettel and Aston Martin Racing.

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