Will Gray

Team preview: Red Bull Racing

Will Gray

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Reigning champions Red Bull have arguably produced the best car for the last two seasons and finally reaped the reward with double championship success last year - but can they stay at the front in 2011?

Sebastian Vettel cried with emotion in Abu Dhabi last November after completing his smash-and-grab raid on the world title but now he will be expected to step up another level for this year's title defence.

Only eight different drivers have won back-to-back world titles in more than 60 years of Formula One racing and given his competition, both from within the team and outside, it will be no mean feat if he achieves it this time around.

Mark Webber, for one, will be aiming to stop him and win his own title for Red Bull and although the decision to let the pair fight to the end last year almost cost them, there are no indications that they will do anything different this time around.

Webber is up for the fight more than ever. He had the pace to match and beat Vettel in races but not in qualifying last year, so if he can improve over a single lap while also handling pressure situations better than the German he could put the team management in some tricky situations again this year.

The new Red Bull RB7 has hit the track running in winter testing, reliably putting in plenty of laps as well as showing the pace of a race winner from the off.

The ban on the double diffuser is massively important for this year's car performance - and because of that, history suggests the Red Bull should be the class of the field this year.

That theory is not based on form from 2010 but from the performance of the RB5 machine that started the 2009 season, the first of this particular 'family' of designs and the most successful car that ran with a single diffuser.

When the RB5 was launched in 2009, it missed the huge double diffuser advantage enjoyed by Brawn, Toyota and Williams yet it was still amongst the frontrunners on pace. It is, in part, the evolution of the concepts behind that rear-end design that should put Red Bull in front this year.

Part of that concept was the pioneering pullrod suspension that allowed for highly efficient rear end packaging. Other teams have copied that now, but Red Bull has more experience with the solutions and they have now taken this tight packaging further with an even smaller gearbox than last year.

They have also developed a heavily undercut front sidepod to feed flow around the sidepods, coupled with a heavily downward sweeping rear that blends into the floor to limit blockage in the section between wheels and rear wing, reducing drag and improving downforce by creating a low pressure area that extracts airflow from underneath the car.

The engine cover fin has been retained - as much for sponsorship exposure as for aerodynamic gain - but the round roll hoop is a detail that will help control a neat aerodynamic flow at high speeds, when all air cannot flow into the intake. Although the detail design of the front wing will change throughout the season, the overall concept retains the popular three-element design with a two-element upper forward wing.

One major issue for Red Bull has always been the power of the Renault engine, and its lack of relative performance has not changed for this year. But if the past two seasons is anything to go by the car will more than make up for this deficiency.

This year the team will be aiming to cut out the reliability issues that cost them so many points at the start of the season. If they can, and if the Red Bull is indeed the class of the field, then it could end up being a two-horse race. And that battle alone should be well worth watching.

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