Formula 1: Have Red Bull actually been a bit overrated?

Alex Albon, Red Bull, Formula 1 (Photo by GIUSEPPE CACACE/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Alex Albon, Red Bull, Formula 1 (Photo by GIUSEPPE CACACE/POOL/AFP via Getty Images) /

Red Bull finished the 2020 Formula 1 season in a distant runner-up position behind Mercedes. But even as the sport’s second best team, have they actually been quite overrated?

For the first time since the 2016 Formula 1 season, Red Bull finished in second place in the constructor standings behind Mercedes last year, although it was a distant second.

Mercedes cruised to their record seventh consecutive driver and constructor world championships, aided by the fact that Ferrari, which had finished runner-up in the previous three seasons, struggled mightily due to a weak engine and finished in sixth place in the constructor standings with no wins.

While Lewis Hamilton cruised to his seventh world championship, sixth in the last seven seasons and fourth in a row, Valtteri Bottas was locked in a tight battle for second place in the driver standings with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen. The two had nearly identical statlines, but Bottas prevailed for the second year in a row.

It’s no secret that Verstappen is a generational talent who probably gets more out of the Milton Keynes-based team’s car than anybody else could.

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It’s also no secret that Bottas isn’t up to par, to say the least, with Hamilton, and that Verstappen’s teammates in the last two season’s haven’t been fantastic following the departure of Daniel Ricciardo.

Pierre Gasly was demoted for Alexander Albon even before the 2019 season ended and then Albon lost his drive to Sergio Perez following a disappointing 2020 campaign. But the performance of Gasly and Albon relative to Verstappen, given just how far off they were, brings to the forefront the following question: where would Red Bull be right now without the 23-year-old Dutchman?

Just how far off Mercedes have they really been? How much is Verstappen’s talent masking that gap?

If you were to exclude Verstappen’s results from each race in the 2019 season and the 2020 season and promote each driver who finished behind him by one position in each race, the resulting standings are actually quite surprising.

Two side notes: For all intents and purposes of this article, we are omitting Racing Point’s 15-point penalty, and we are not reassigning Verstappen’s fastest lap point in races he ran the fastest lap.

In 2019, Mercedes won the title with 739 points (413 from Hamilton, 326 from Bottas). Ferrari finished in second place with 504 (264 from Charles Leclerc, 240 from Sebastian Vettel). Red Bull finished in third with 417 (278 from Verstappen, 63 from Gasly, 76 from Albon). McLaren finished in fourth with 145 (96 from Carlos Sainz Jr., 49 from Lando Norris). No other team scored more than 91.

Without Verstappen, Mercedes would have won with 756 points (422 from Hamilton, 334 from Bottas). Ferrari would have finished in second place with 553 (288 from Leclerc, 265 from Vettel).

Red Bull would have scored 163 points from two drivers, but over the course of one season, since Gasly only competed in 12 races for the team while Albon competed in the other nine. Gasly would have scored 79 of those points, while Albon would have scored the other 84. So really, that amounts to 163 points from one driver (so 326 when doubled).

McLaren would have scored 193 points, but their two drivers both ran the full season with the team. Sainz would have scored 121 of those points while Norris would have scored the other 72. No other team would have scored more than 122.

So Red Bull would still have ended up in a comfortable third place.

In 2020, however, it was a different story.

Mercedes won the title with 573 points (347 from Hamilton, 223 from Bottas and 3 from George Russell). Red Bull finished in second place with 319 (214 from Verstappen and 105 from Albon). McLaren finished in third with 202 (105 from Sainz, 97 from Norris).

Racing Point finished in fourth place, but their drivers actually scored 210 points (125 from Perez, 75 from Stroll and 10 from Nico Hulkenberg). The 15-point penalty cost them third.

Renault finished in fifth place with 181 points (119 from Ricciardo, 62 from Esteban Ocon). Ferrari finished in sixth with 131 (98 from Leclerc, 33 from Vettel).

Without Verstappen, Mercedes would have won with 594 points (353 from Hamilton, 238 from Bottas).

Racing Point would have scored 242 points (140 from Perez, 90 from Stroll, 12 from Hulkenberg), McLaren would have scored 230 points (119 from Sainz, 111 from Norris) and Renault would have scored 217 points (142 from Ricciardo and 75 from Ocon). No other team would have scored more than 150.

Red Bull would have scored 125 points from Albon, but that only includes one driver. Even still, 125 points doubled makes 250, and that total only just barely clears the totals that would have been produced by McLaren, Racing Point and Renault when Verstappen is excluded.

So Red Bull would still be the second best team on paper, but they could easily be argued as the fifth best as well on any given weekend.

Of course, you also have to remember that only one Red Bull driver is gaining any points as a result of the exclusion of Verstappen, whereas all other teams have the capability of gaining points with both cars.

But the fact that it is as close as it is illustrates just how much Verstappen means to the team and how vital it is that they improve enough in the 2021 season, which many believe they will, to the point where he stays for 2022 and beyond, as there is a performance clause in his contract that would allow him to leave the team after the upcoming season, despite the fact that he is signed through 2023.

So how will Red Bull perform in the 2021 Formula 1 season with Verstappen now paired with Perez?

Will they be able to match up with Mercedes?

Regardless, will Perez perform at a higher level than Gasly and Albon did when they competed alongside Verstappen?

Will his presence provide a better indicator as to where they really stand, relative to the Silver Arrows?

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The season is scheduled to get underway this Sunday, March 28 at Bahrain International Circuit with the Bahrain Grand Prix after the schedule changed due to coronavirus pandemic-related restrictions. This race is set to be broadcast live on ESPN beginning at 11:00 a.m. ET.