How does a top F1 car feel? Alex Albon explains...

Published: 14 January 2020

► RB15 vs STR14
► Albon has driven both
► Speed over user-friendliness

Alex Albon started 2019 in a midfield Toro Rosso, and ended it in the front-running Red Bull – arguably the fastest car in the last few races of the season. It’s clear the Red Bull is the faster of the two, but how do the two F1 cars compare behind the wheel? 

The Toro Rosso is the friendlier car

While both cars use Honda power, the 2019 Toro Rosso and Red Bull are very different beasts. The Red Bull has won twice. The ‘B team’ Toro Rosso’s best finish is a sixth, in the hands of rookie Alex Albon in the German GP. Two races later he was promoted to the Red Bull, effectively swapping places with the slightly miffed Pierre Gasly. This means the two men are able to compare a top-flight F1 car with a merely good one. 

‘The Toro Rosso is the more forgiving car to drive,’ says Albon. ‘You can be rougher with it in terms of your inputs in the cockpit without compromising the lap time.’ The perfect car for a rookie learning his trade, then, as Albon’s stellar debut season has proved. ‘The Toro Rosso allows me to drive in a much more natural way,’ agreed Gasly at Spa, after his demotion to the slower car.

In other words, the STR14 performance window is wider and the car is easier to drive

The Red Bull’s intrinsically more highly strung

The top three 2019 F1 cars embody different philosophies and are all different lengths: the Mercedes is 5733mm, the Ferrari 5688mm and the Red Bull 5654mm. They also differ in their suspension geometries and rake angles (the difference between front and rear ride heights). 

Red Bull’s RB15 has the steepest rake (1.93º) and Mercedes the shallowest (1.16º), which results in the Red Bull having higher peak downforce but being generally less consistent and trickier to drive. ‘I have to be much smoother with all of my inputs in the RB15,’ says Albon.  

‘I’ve had to change my throttle and steering inputs compared to before, smoothing everything out.’

The RB15 is faster… if you can set it up and drive it properly

The Red Bull is undoubtedly harder to set-up (something Albon has worked on with his engineer Mike Lugg since he started racing for the team at Spa) but it can hit higher highs. 

Get the car into its finicky window, not least in terms of Pirelli tyre temperature – as Max Verstappen is apparently able to do all day long – and the possibilities are endless. Gasly, racing for Red Bull for the first half of this season, clearly struggled.

But Albon is a highly intelligent racer, and clearly an adaptable one. His results in the Red Bull have already eclipsed those he managed in the ‘easier’ Toro Rosso. When he’s fully on top of the RB15, wins will surely follow.

On paper... 

  RB15 STR14
Powertrain Honda RA619H hybrid V6 Honda RA619H hybrid V6
Power (est) 900bhp 900bhp
Designer Adrian Newey Jody Egginton
Team budget (est) £250m £113m
Average best grid 4th 11th
2019 race wins 3 0

By Tom Clarkson

F1 correspondent, BBC pitlane man, accesser of all areas, head beans-spiller