The stars have aligned for Red Bull Racing who have quietly used the COVID-19 break to unleash an upgraded Honda power unit at their home circuit in Austria when the F1 returns this weekend.
The F1 season will kick off on Sunday from Red Bull Ring in a revamped schedule that plays into the Austrian racing outfit’s hands.
Red Bull reigned supreme at its home track with wins in 2018 and 2019, two years in which F1 champion Lewis Hamilton retired and finished fifth, respectively. And 2021 will see Red Bull Ring host two races on the modified calendar.
It’s the first time in the hybrid era that perennial leaders Mercedes may have a genuine battle on their hand for the 2020 title, with the rollout of Red Bull’s the new power unit compounding the threat of the schedule for the Silver Arrows.
Red Bull boss Christian Horner was delighted to inform reporters that the delayed season meant the team could roll out its upgraded power unit from the get-go and take the fight to Mercedes early.
“We have an engine upgrade, as we essentially introduce what would have been engine number two, which becomes our first engine,” he said, per Autosport.
“So in all aspects of the car, there has been an awful lot of work go into [it], and it’s been a race against the clock to get those updates onto the car since reopening the factory at the beginning of June.
“There would have been updates at the first European races at Zandvoort and Barcelona, and there would have been further updates for Montreal.
“So of course all the updates that were in the pipeline prior to the shutdown, plus whatever we’ve learned subsequent to the shutdown, have been implemented to the car.
“There are subtle revisions all over the car as part of that update process which I’m sure the other front-running teams have also done.”
Meanwhile, Aussie Daniel Ricciardo’s Renault Racing have been busy during the COVID break and will introduce a “very different” vehicle in Austria this weekend.
It was a torrid year for Renault in 2019 who finished well behind competitors McLaren in the constructors’ championship.
Team boss Cyril Abiteboul was eager to see what their new and improved car could bring on the track, but reminded fans to be realistic in their expectations.
“We’ve made some tough decisions during the break to allow us to do that, to secure the plan and we will execute that plan,” he said.
“I want to downplay any expectation because we know that our car was really, really bad last year, so we just hope that it will be slightly better again, because we’re still not totally sure of the competitiveness from the winter test.”