But with all that said, the two teams ARE taking different approaches to 2021. If we start with Mercedes, the taps have been turned off a little earlier than Red Bull, because it’s a decision that will have been made before the season had even started.
At that point, Mercedes probably felt pretty confident in its ability to win another championship with the car it had. The cars were meant to be largely similar to last given the delay in new regulations, with just the changes to the floor to deal with. Nail that, and it should still be the favourite for the title.
It’s circumstance that has put Mercedes on the back foot. Covid meant the new cars were pushed back until 2022 and the existing ones needed developing for longer than originally expected. Concepts do reach ceilings – the gains you find from them certainly get much smaller – and so the return on this year’s car was always going to be small, so it made sense to focus on 2022.
So why isn’t it the same for Red Bull? Well, for starters, Mercedes has won everything since 2014, so you don’t pass up on an opportunity to end that run. Matching the Mercedes approach would mean potentially missing a golden chance this year, and then there are no guarantees next year will be any better.
Red Bull knew it was close from where it ended last year, and felt it had a good chance of closing up even more with its higher rake concept this season. Plus it had a brand new power unit coming from Honda – with many developments fast-tracked due to its departure at the end of the year – while Mercedes was focusing its PU efforts on 2022 as well.
So Red Bull could make a pretty safe calculation that it would be more of a threat to Mercedes this season than last, and needed to choose whether to try and exploit that to the full or not.
In Max Verstappen, Red Bull has the hottest talent on the grid. Lewis Hamilton is one of the greatest we’ve ever seen, but there’s no doubting one is at the start of their career and the other coming towards the end, so Red Bull is desperate to keep the Dutchman. Winning a world title this year is a much better way of doing that than the risk of gambling it all on next year, with so many more unknowns and Honda leaving.
Verstappen has heard the ‘next year we’ll be stronger’ line before. It was time for Red Bull to deliver. Once the relative performance levels were seen in testing, it could keep pushing ahead with 2021 developments to try and cement its status as the quickest car, also in the knowledge that this isn’t like 2013.
Back then, Sebastian Vettel had to tell Red Bull to enjoy its incredible run of dominance at the end of his fourth consecutive title, because there were no guarantees there would be more. He was right, as the new power unit regulations saw Mercedes take a giant leap ahead of everyone else, one that has taken eight years to bridge.