Does Newey guarantee success and should Red Bull replace Perez? - F1 Q&A

Image of the 2024 F1 drivers

Formula 1 returns to the lavish surroundings of Monaco for round eight for the 2024 season.

Last year, Red Bull's Max Verstappen beat Aston Martin's Fernando Alonso to win a rain-affected race.

BBC Sport's F1 correspondent Andrew Benson answers your questions before we head back to the streets of Monte Carlo.

How have McLaren improved so quickly? – Mark

The short answer to this is that team principal Andrea Stella has done an incredible job of turning McLaren around since he was promoted from performance director in the winter of 2022-23.

Over that winter, with development not going as well as expected, Stella and chief executive officer Zak Brown instituted a reshuffle of the technical department. In February 2023, they fronted up to the media and were straight about where they were.

The team had missed its development targets, and seen too late some fruitful aerodynamic avenues, they said. The start of the season would be slow, but an upgrade would come on stream in the summer - and then another. And that would put McLaren back in decent shape.

Stella and Brown were true to their word, and since then not only have McLaren been on an upward trajectory, but they seem to fully understand why.

That upgrade - in Austria last year - leapfrogged McLaren into the group behind Red Bull. For much of the second half of last year, they had the second-fastest car, until Ferrari came on strong in the last quarter of the season.

Ferrari started this season stronger, too. But again Stella said an upgrade was coming that would make the difference, and again he has been proved right. It came in Miami, where Lando Norris won. In Imola on Sunday a close second to Max Verstappen followed.

It’s all about great leadership, technical understanding, putting the right people in the right places and empowering them to do their job.

McLaren team principal Andrea Stella and driver Lando Norris celebrate winning in Miami
Lando Norris claimed his first F1 victory in Miami [Getty Images]

Do Red Bull need to bring in a number two who can support Max Verstappen, assuming he stays? The other teams are catching up, it seems Sergio Perez is left behind – Joel

Red Bull were abundantly clear at the end of last season - Perez needed to improve his qualifying so he could be a more effective back-up to Verstappen.

This was on the back of a quite stark statistic last year - out of Verstappen’s 19 wins in the most dominant season by a team and driver ever, Perez finished second behind him only four times.

Perez started the season well - he was second behind Verstappen in three of the first four races. But he failed to capitalise in Australia when Verstappen retired, and has had difficult weekends in Miami and Imola.

The problem for Red Bull is what they do about it. Do they keep Perez next season, knowing now what his performance level is? Can they afford to if, as seems to be happening, the field is closing up?

But if they decide not to, who do they take instead? Out of the top drivers, the only free agent is Carlos Sainz, who is leaving Ferrari at the end of this season to make way for Lewis Hamilton. But there was tension when he was team-mates with Verstappen at Toro Rosso when they were both rookies in 2015.

It’s an interesting conundrum for Red Bull.

Daniel Ricciardo
Daniel Ricciardo has scored five points so far this season while RB team-mate Yuki Tsunoda has 15 [Getty Images]

Why do very good drivers suddenly struggle to perform? I’m thinking of the likes of Daniel Ricciardo or even Sebastian Vettel in his Ferrari years – Alex

The Ricciardo situation is a mystery. How can a driver who beat Max Verstappen in 2016 as team-mates, and was respectably close - closer than anyone else has been since - in 2017 and 2018, suddenly look like a different driver now?

Ricciardo went well at Renault - beating both Nico Hulkenberg and Esteban Ocon. But as soon as he went to McLaren alongside Lando Norris, his relative competitiveness nose-dived.

And it’s not as if it’s just in the venturi/ground effect cars that were introduced in 2022 - Ricciardo was decisively slower than Norris in 2021 as well.

This has continued since he came back after being dropped by McLaren. Having replaced Nyck de Vries at Alpha Tauri (now RB) halfway through last year, he is now being beaten regularly by Yuki Tsunoda, who Red Bull have no intention of promoting to the senior team.

Why? I can’t give you an answer - because Ricciardo himself doesn’t know.

Is Vettel the same situation? His career stats are outstanding, and there is no doubt that when he was in a quick car that suited him, Vettel was a great driver.

But very few people in F1 think he was as complete - or as good - as Lewis Hamilton or Fernando Alonso. And Ricciardo himself said a few years ago that he thought Vettel had been “lucky” - ie, he got to drive some brilliant, dominant Adrian Newey-designed Red Bulls when he was quicker than his team-mate.

After that, he was edged by Ricciardo at Red Bull in 2014, and out-paced by Charles Leclerc at Ferrari in 2019. He comfortably beat Kimi Raikkonen and Lance Stroll at Ferrari and Aston Martin - but by margins considerably smaller than Alonso did/is.

Does that mean he lost his mojo in his later years? Or that he was perhaps never quite as good as he looked in his Red Bull pomp? You decide.

Does securing Adrian Newey guarantee success? Surely F1 teams work collaboratively and no single individual has that much of an influence? – Anil

There can be an element of truth in both questions. It’s no coincidence that Adrian Newey is the most successful designer in F1 history, and that he has achieved that success with three different teams.

It’s a remarkable record that speaks volumes for the magic Newey provides not only as a visionary aerodynamicist but as an all-round engineering genius.

At the same time, of course Newey does not and cannot do everything himself, and he’s the first person to praise the people he works with. But it’s equally true to say that he provides a stardust that probably no-one else can.

This question is actually partly responsible for the tensions that led to Newey leaving Red Bull. He felt put out that others were claiming credit for things he felt were very much his design - particularly the 2022 Red Bull.

That was one of the key reasons for his decision to move on to another team - along with his discomfort at the allegations of sexual harassment and coercive, controlling behaviour made against Christian Horner by a female employee, which Horner denies, and their fall-out among Red Bull management.

Is a three-way title race possible for next season, or will the focus already be on 2026? – Abdul

Again, both things could be true.

McLaren are giving every impression of a team who could challenge Red Bull hard not just next year, but this year as well. Ferrari are also making progress - just eight seconds covered the first three finishers in the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix on Sunday in those three different cars.

The 2026 rule change is massive and will take up a lot of engineering focus from mid-2024 onwards. But teams will still want to do well next year, even if they will be racing cars that will be developments of this year’s.

As ever, it will be a question of who does that development most effectively.

The damaged Aston Martin after Fernando Alonso's crash in third practice at Imola
Fernando Alonso could only qualify 19th at Imola after crashing his Aston Martin in third practice [Getty Images]

What has happened to Aston Martin? They were battling with Ferrari and Mercedes with Alonso in China – Ryan

Good question. Fernando Alonso qualified in the top six in four of the first five races, but has been 15th and 19th in Miami and Imola.

In Miami, Alonso felt he had gone in the wrong direction on set-up, and in Imola he compromised his weekend by crashing in final practice.

Team principal Mike Krack admitted that the car was “difficult to drive” in Imola and that the team were “on the back foot” from the moment Alonso crashed at Rivazza.

But he has also urged people not to get carried away by the most recent results. Or, as he put it after the race, borrowing a phrase from German: “Let’s keep the church in the town.”

They started the year with a car that was quick in qualifying but used its tyres too aggressively in races, forcing Alonso to fight defensive actions on Sundays.

They have been trying to address that, but at the same time have had a couple of bad weekends - or Alonso has, and he is their yardstick, as Lance Stroll is not close to his level.

Krack says that expectations were super-high after their brilliant first half of last year but he adds: “We had teams that did not do their homework last year when we did.”

This year, by contrast, McLaren and Ferrari have started the season in a strong place.

In essence, the team admit that recent updates to the car have helped, but not addressed all the issues with the car, and other teams have also brought lots of upgrades at the same time.

The car is still quite difficult to drive - as proved by Alonso, unusually, crashing in a practice session. But the team say they understand how to address those issues for the races to come. Time will tell.