Red Bull trounced Ferrari to emerge as F1’s second-best team in 2016, with much of the gains coming from its Tag Heuer-badged Renault engine.
Red Bull’s race-winning form in 2016 came as a surprise to many, not least its team principal Christian Horner.
The 43-year-old had toned down expectations at the start of the year, even suggesting that Toro Rosso might have an edge over it with an year-old Ferrari engine.
While Red Bull didn’t have the best of starts to the season, its performance went upwards from the third round of the season in China.
But it was the Spanish Grand Prix that really set the tone for rest of the year. Max Verstappen’s promotion to the senior squad at the Catalunya race - and more importantly, his subsequent victory - brought the winning spirit back into the team.
Verstappen’s form also led to an upturn in Daniel Ricciardo’s performance, who was back at his very best after an off-colour 2015.
Importantly, the duo had a chassis/engine package to match with, catapulting Red Bull ahead of Ferrari in the constructors standings.
Most of the gains from engine supplier Renault, which made a huge forward leap despite spending least tokens of all manufacturers. While its engine was still not at the same level as Mercedes - as illustrated in Baku - it was enough for Red Bull to emerge as the ‘best-of-the-rest’ squad.
The Adrian Newey-led technical department once again came up with a gem of a chassis, which was more rounded than its predecessor.
Red Bull arguably had the best driver line-up for three-quarters of the season, an assessment even Daniil Kvyat fans would agree with it.
The Russian wasn’t driving at his very best in the first few races of the year, with Helmut Marko claiming he wasn’t on the same level as 2015. Yes, he did notch a podium in China, but he was clearly playing second fiddle to Ricciardo - if you look purely on raw pace.
This rare blip in form coincided with increased interests from rivals for then-Toro Rosso driver Verstappen, whom Red Bull wanted to hold on to.
A swap of seats followed, with Verstappen moving to the senior team.
Now fighting for podiums and race wins, the Dutchman was even more awe-inspiring,, making an impression straight away with victory in Spain.
His wet-weather masterclass deservedly earned comparisons with F1 legends Michael Schumacher and Ayrton Senna, making him one of the hottest properties in the sport.
While the 19-year-old has all the ingredients to become an F1 star, there remains some rough patches which must be rounded off.
While Verstappen was making all the headlines, Ricciardo was cementing his reputation that he had established in 2014.
The Australian commanded authority with his sublime qualifying pace, while his race craft deserves just as much plaudits.
He lost out on possible wins in Spain and Monaco through no fault of his owns, but found redemption in Malaysia where Lewis Hamilton retired from the lead of the race.
With new chassis regulations set to be introduced in 2017, one can safely bet on Newey and his team to take advantage of the opportunity and dethrone Mercedes from top of the table.
When a last major change was brought to this department in 2009, Red Bull began a period of dominance that lasted for four-and-a-half years. While such a feat would be hard to repeat as engine will continue to play a significant role in the years to come, Red Bull is still well placed to re-emerge as F1’s dominant force.
Equally importantly for Renault, F1 has dropped the idea of engine tokens, allowing it to further pull the gap to the Silver Arrows.
by Rachit Thukral