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Is Red Bull really vulnerable?

F1 Grand Prix of Australia
Photo by Michael Potts/BSR Agency/Getty Images

All empires fall. Is Red Bull the next to crumble?

We are three races into the Formula 1 season.

While much remains the same from 2024 — Red Bull is leading the Constructors’ Championship and Max Verstappen is atop the Drivers’ standings — recent events have shaken the field up a bit. Mercedes is floundering, McLaren is strong, and Ferrari has certainly closed the gap to Red Bull.

Then there is a fascinating fight shaping up in the midfield, one that has Visa Cash App RB F1 Team in front at the moment thanks to a strong drive from Yuki Tsunoda in the Australian Grand Prix.

With so much on the line, and a short break until the Japanese Grand Prix, this is a good time to take stock of where each team stands at the moment. But rather than a simple review, we’ll look at the biggest question facing each team right now.

So far, the questions have largely been on the negative side of the ledger. Last week we took a look at Alpine, asking how quickly progress will come for a team desperately needing a step forward. We also asked whether Sauber can fix a pit stop issue that has plagued them in each of the season’s first three races.

We asked whether Williams would be facing a hangover after everything they went through in Australia, whether Haas had truly eliminated their biggest gremlin from last season and yes, just how hot the seat really is under Daniel Ricciardo.

Then the series continued Thursday with a look at Aston Martin. Following that it was a look at their power unit supplier, Mercedes. Sure it is early, but is it already too late for the Silver Arrows? The weekend closed out with looks at McLaren, and Ferrari.

Now, to the team they are all chasing.

Red Bull: Are they really vulnerable right now?

Certainly, one race does not a season make. Max Verstappen’s brake duct failure at the Australian Grand Prix, and the subsequent DNF, is just one race in a very long season. Ultimately, that race may be just a blip on the radar, a one-off in another dominant season for Red Bull and Verstappen.

But, there are signs that the field could be gaining on them. Certainly Ferrari and McLaren have taken steps forward from last season, with McLaren in particular picking up where they left off at the end of the 2023 campaign.

That could leave the door open for a team like Ferrari to put the Bulls under pressure when it comes to the Constructors’ Championship. Even with his DNF in Australia, Verstappen heads to the Japanese Grand Prix atop the Drivers’ Championship, and as April begins it still seems like he remains the driver the rest of the field needs to chase down.

Yet, with the field gaining ground on the Bulls, a runaway performance from Red Bull like we saw a season ago may not be in the cards. The chasing pack, led by Ferrari seems to have closed the gap, and with both Carlos Sainz Jr. and Charles Leclerc off to strong starts this year — both drivers have a pair of podium finishes and Sainz scored the first non-Red Bull win this year, as he did a season ago — the Scuderia look poised to keep the pressure on.

Then there is, well, everything else.

As the 2023 F1 season drew to a close there were rumors of a power struggle at the top between Christian Horner and Dr. Helmut Marko. While those were largely brushed aside, and notions of Marko being shown the door were similarly dismissed when he signed a new contract, recent events have brought those rumors to the forefront again.

Those events? An investigation into alleged “inappropriate behavior” by Horner involving a female member of the team. While those allegations were referred to outside counsel, and the complaint against Horner was dismissed by said counsel, the matter has been referred to the sport’s governing body.

Further, it has touched off renewed speculation about the future of the team. When reports surfaced that Marko might also be under threat as a result of the investigation, Verstappen made it clear where his loyalties would lie.

With the senior advisor who helped discover him, and not with his team.

Then there is the blunt criticism of Horner levied by Jos Verstappen, the driver’s father. The elder Verstappen blasted Horner in an interview with the Daily Mail at the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix. There is tension here while he remains in position,” said the elder Verstappen. “The team is in danger of being torn apart. It can’t go on the way it is. It will explode. He is playing the victim, when he is the one causing the problems.”

Those comments — as well as the Marko rumors — led to speculation about the younger Verstappen’s future with the team. When you add in the news that Verstappen’s Red Bull contract does have an escape clause should certain members of the team depart, including Marko, and of course the soon-to-be-vacated seat at Mercedes currently occupied by Lewis Hamilton, you have a simmering cauldron of speculation.

Then there are the reports in recent days that Aston Martin has made a lucrative offer to Adrian Newey, perhaps the greatest engineer in F1 history, you have yet one more reason to wonder about the future of Red Bull.

Again, one DNF does not a season make. And these dizzying rumors may simply help fill the void in a season that, at least after the first two races, looked to be another Red Bull runaway.

But all empires do crumble. This is a phenomenon we have seen before in this sport, most recently when the Mercedes run of dominance was put to an end by ... Red Bull. With everything that Red Bull is facing right now off the track, and everything the grid is doing on the track to catch them, could the door really be open to Red Bull being caught in the Constructors’ standings?

Time will tell. But as the Japanese Grand Prix looms, that door seems open, if even for a crack, and a moment.

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