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Max Verstappen

Why Red Bull's period of dominance is truly over

At the beginning of the season, it seemed that Max Verstappen and Red Bull would once again dominate Formula 1. But after the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, a conclusion can be drawn that Red Bull's dominance is over - game on.

Verstappen Imola race
Analysis
To news overview © XPBimages

Many Formula 1 fans came to the conclusion after the Bahrain Grand Prix that Red Bull was going to dominate the season ahead.

Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez drove an unchallenged 1-2 at the event with the gap to its nearest rival in Carlos Sainz reading over 25 seconds. 

But two and a half months later, the atmosphere has completely changed in the paddock. Sainz won in Australia after Verstappen retired, while Lando Norris took the Miami Grand Prix and came very close again at Imola. 

The Briton chased Verstappen in the closing stages and seemingly needed just an extra lap or two to take his second win in a row. From a 25-second deficit to seven-tenths in two months, is Red Bull under pressure? 

The answer seems to be yes. McLaren and Ferrari installed major updates in recent weeks and have (almost) closed the gap. 

McLaren, in particular, is continuing to steadily increase its performance from last year.  The Woking-based team tempered expectations after winter testing and pinned hopes on a major update scheduled for Miami.

While it was still behind the front-running times at first during the opening rounds, from the Chinese Grand Prix onward, the situation improved. 

Without updates, Norris was already able to keep up with Verstappen's pace quite admirably, but is now really starting to showcase himself in the reigning world champion's mirrors.

Struggles

Red Bull's struggles at recent rounds is already a signal that it is feeling the heat. While Verstappen won in Imola, it did not go off without a hitch. The Dutchman consistently complained about his RB20, even when the team had made adjustments after hard work at the factory. 

Verstappen indicated that he felt slightly better in the car, but on the Hard tyre, once again, he ran into trouble. 

“On the Hard tyres something was not optimised, because I just never felt like the tyres were working on our car,” he said. “So that's something that we have to analyse. But clearly the teams around us, they are catching up and they're doing a really good job. So we also need to try and find improvements, you know, from our side.”

The last sentence is crucial in this regard. Normally Red Bull was the strongest team on traditional circuits, including this season. After the loss in Australia, the F1 circus travelled to Japan, where Verstappen and Perez struck hard again. McLaren and Ferrari were unable to compete and had to settle for a supporting role in the pecking order.

Now, however, the difference in Imola, also a traditional circuit, was much smaller. Norris played down his expectations beforehand, but after the fierce battle, he had to conclude that McLaren can make things difficult for Red Bull at all tracks going forward. And like at the Miami Grand Prix, Verstappen's team was given three free practice sessions to optimise its set-up.

Perez's performance is also a good indicator in this story. Whereas Verstappen squeezed the maximum out of his RB20 and was able to narrowly beat Norris, the Mexican failed to conjure up speed all weekend. Perez finished in eighth place after being eliminated in Q2 during qualifying. One might wonder if Red Bull still has the fastest car.

Decisive factor

It really doesn't seem that way - Verstappen's talent was the deciding factor in Imola. On Saturday he drove a great lap, including a slipstream from Nico Hulkenberg to take pole, while in the race the Dutchman really had to push full steam ahead to keep Norris behind.

Verstappen's exceptional qualities came to the fore - it can be argued that Perez, who is by no means a bad driver either, probably could not have out on such a display. McLaren really did have the fastest car, especially on the Hard tyre.

All in all, it looks like we are going to see 17 more exciting weekends. It is no longer a foregone conclusion that Red Bull will eclipse everyone by 20 seconds in the race, especially if McLaren, as well as Ferrari, are going to get even more out of the car. 

Charles Leclerc also only had to concede seven seconds in Imola in his updated Ferrari. The Italian squad seem to need even more information to optimally tune the SF-24, which could lead it to entering the fight.

Naturally, Verstappen is still the favourite to claim the most wins this season. The 26-year-old Verstappen was the fastest man on Mediums in Imola, but it is clear that Red Bull and himself have to work harder for it. 

McLaren and Ferrari smell blood and are eager to knock Verstappen off the throne.

But how nice would it be if we started seeing fierce battles every weekend? The sport and Verstappen need it...

Also interesting:

In the latest episode of the RacingNews365.com podcast, Ian Parkes, Samuel Coop and Nick Golding look back at this weekend's Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, where Max Verstappen and Lando Norris went head-to-head for the victory around the famous Imola Circuit as McLaren continue to pile the pressure on Red Bull!

Rather watch than listen to the podcast? Click here.

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