Sergio Perez won in Saudi Arabia with what team principal Christian Horner called his “best grand prix,” holding off teammate Max Verstappen, but the big Formula One story on Sunday was just how far ahead Red Bull is of everyone else.
It was more of a confirmation than a surprise, given Red Bull’s obvious advantage in the season-opening race in Bahrain two weeks prior. But it’s no less disheartening for their competitors.
A safety car closed the field at two-fifths distance, giving Verstappen the opportunity to fight for victory that had previously been impossible.
And as the two Red Bulls went hammer and tongs at the front, both pushing flat-out as Verstappen tried to close the five-second gap to Perez, and the Mexican tried to defend it, they pulled away from Fernando Alonso’s Aston Martin behind them at a second per lap, and sometimes more.
Lewis Hamilton – who knows a thing about domination, having experienced it for a number of years with Mercedes – said he had “never seen a car so fast”.
“We weren’t that fast when we were fast,” the seven-time champion admitted. “That is the fastest car I’ve seen in comparison to the others.”
Toto Wolff, his team principal, disagreed, saying, “we have had those years when we were as strong,” but then emphasized the hard truth that Red Bull is demonstrating this year, just as Mercedes did from 2014-16 and again in 2020.
“It’s a meritocracy,” Wolff declared. “Even if it’s not great for the show that the same guys win all the time, it’s because they’ve done a good job and we haven’t.
“We shouldn’t down-talk it, because I remember hearing questions like that in 2014-2020, and what makes the sport so special is that you need to work hard to win and you deserve it as a matter of fact.
“Entertainment comes after sport. It may not be good for business, but it is what makes F1 so unique.”
The word “special” certainly applies to Red Bull’s new car, the RB19.
It has pushed Red Bull into “a different league,” as Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc has put it, and looks certain to go down in history as one of the greatest F1 cars ever. It is a development of a design with which Verstappen broke the record for wins in a season last year.
It is yet another masterpiece to be created by a team led by the sport’s most celebrated designer, Adrian Newey.
Even Red Bull is surprised by the magnitude of their lead, Horner admitted after the race. Asked if he understood why they had managed to eke out such a lead over their rivals, he said: “Not really, but you can only focus on yourselves.
“And all testament to the team in Milton Keynes who have done a wonderful job over the winter. We’ve had the best start to a season in team history.”