Red Bull Racing can be caught and the fight at the front of the field is going to become even closer in 2024 given limitations of the current rules, according to Mercedes technical director James Allison.
Red Bull won all but one race in 2023, beaten only in Singapore where it endured a particularly uncompetitive qualifying session. Despite the level of consistency, Allison says it is clear the overall grid has been converging ever since the start of the current regulations, and that there’s a limit that everyone is likely to reach more quickly that could pull Red Bull back to the rest.
“I think Toto [Wolff, team principal] drew the comparison between climbing Everest and the challenge we have in front of us,” Allison said. “That’s a fairly apt comparison, because Everest is the sternest of challenges, but it is nevertheless, something that is possible to do.
“I think that’s how we’re taking this, as something which is where we are absolutely a challenger rather than a favorite. But nevertheless, we hope we’ve done a good job with the new car — we hope we’ve addressed some of the shortcomings that were so publicly on display with it last year.
“And there is also just a little bit that nestles in the back of our heads, which is that the rules themselves have a much more clear upper boundary to them in the amount of lap time these cars are capable of producing. Much more than the older generation of cars, which the more love you gave them and the more labor you put into them, the faster they got, seemingly without end.
“If you look at last year, you see, from the start of the season to the end of the season — although Red Bull’s dominance was near complete, and they didn’t look vulnerable even to the last race of the year — if you look at the bigger picture, this is a grid that is gradually compressing, and all the cars in Q1 were sort of squashed down within one second of each other.
“And that’s not coincidence. It’s a trend that has happened from 2022, continued in 2023, and I think will continue to show itself in 2024, because the gains are getting more and more asymptotic. I think therefore, that in addition to us I hope having worked well, my guess is it’s going to be relatively busier near the top of the grid this time around.
“If we are good enough to be in that fight, then operational things — driver excellence, the reliability of the car, the skill of the crews that service it — all of those things start to potentially become the differentiating factors. Hopefully there too we’ve given a good wash and brush-up to performances that were sometimes less than stellar last year.”
After signing a new contract to remain with Mercedes as technical director, Allison says it’s still enjoyable to be trying to chase down Red Bull despite the success the team has been used to prior to the introduction of the current regulations.
“It actually is lots of fun!” he said. “It isn’t as much fun as winning, that’s definitely true. But you have to sort of love the whole of the sport, and the whole of the sport involves taking your licks when you haven’t done a good-enough job.
“One of the things to admire about Red Bull’s current performance is that they stuck gamely to their task in quite a long period in the wilderness and are now enjoying the fruits of that well-placed labor. And it’s far from unenjoyable being in that position, as long as the team is collectively confident that it’s making the right moves to try to re-establish itself as a force to be reckoned with.
“There’s loads and loads of fun to be had in that; it’s not expected to be linear or anything, it’s always a roller coaster of getting your hopes up, being slapped down and hit by the racing gods and then gathering your skirts again to have another push. I hope that that journey upwards is steep and strong and secure. But it will be great fun trying to drive it at whatever pace we can to give our rivals a good old fight.”