Why Red Bull Wins Nearly Every Time

By Shlomo Maital

     Formula 1 (F1) racing involves 10 teams, two cars per team, that race on tracks around the world, before a rapt audience of some 800 million viewers.   It’s an expensive sport.  The Red Bull team is said to spend $400 m. yearly, and that does not include drivers’ salaries or other items.  (Red Bull is an energy drink,   majority controlled by Thailand’s Yoovidhya family, which invented the drink decades ago.  It sells some 11 billion cans yearly. Red Bull invests heavily in sports marketing). 

     Last year, there were 22  F1 races.  Red Bull’s cars, and drivers Sergio Perez and lead driver Max Verstappen, won 17 of them;  Ferrari won four, and Mercedes won one.  

      This season, 2023, there have been three F1 races so far:  Bahrain,  Melbourne and Saudi Arabia.  Red Bull cars won them all – two, with driver Verstappen, one, with driver Sergio Perez.

      Few sports are dominated so heavily by a single team.  Why?

      Writing on the planetf1 website, Oliver Harden gives seven reasons.  They can serve as key success factors for technology businesses as well.  Here they are:

     Best driver:  Max Verstappen has won 26 of the last 46 races, back to 2021 when he won the title as top driver.  He is tough, resilient, and very cool under pressure…and pressure is very high in F1 racing. 

      Best ‘wingman’:  Red Bull’s second driver Sergio Perez finds the right balance between supporting Verstappen but never threatening his dominance.  Sometimes, the #2 person in an organization is as vital as #1.  Especially when #1 is the visionary, and #2 is the operations head (as with Israel’s Mobileye – Prof. Amnon Shashua, #1, is the visionary, Ziv Aviram, #2, a seasoned skilled operations manager). 

     Best car:  It helps when your product or service is best – twice, ten times better than competitors.  Verstappen was asked, in which areas is the RB19 better than its predecessors?  “Everywhere”, he said.  Continual improvement and innovation are vital.  Red  Bull’s car is powered by a terrific Honda engine, and of course engines are key in F1 racing.

Best Tech Chief:  F1 teams each have a technical director, who supervises design and construction of the ‘platform’ (the car).  Red Bull has Adrian Newey, the most successful racing car designer in history.  And he works with an old fashioned drawing board and pencil.  He may be far more important than even the driver Verstappen.

    Best team principal:  Christian Horner is the team principal,  essentially the CEO of the racing operation.  He knows talent when he sees it, and has cultivated Newey, given him latitude to pursue other interests.  “We took the road less travelled,” Newey wrote in his autobiography, and Horner supported him in this strongly.

     Best strategy:  In the Bahrain race, Verstappen and Perez were two of only 3 cars that switched to soft tires at the first round of stops.  Turned out, this gave Red Bull a very early advantage that never dissipated.  Tire strategy, pit stops, etc. are all part of racing strategy.  The Red Bull strategy is “attack, attack, attack” – and the principal strategy engineer is Hannah Schmitz, who may be the best in her position in the business. 

    Best pit crew:  Racing cars stop for fresh tires and gasoline.  Red Bull’s pit stop team (at times, pit stops are only 8 seconds – full tank, 4 new tires!)  has broken records for the fastest-ever stops. And when a race can be won with a fraction of a second ahead of a competitor, pit stops are vital.

    If Red Bull fell short on even one of the 7 key factors, it would not dominate.  Domination requires getting all the pins in a row….