It seems like eons ago when we were watching Sebastian Vettel hold yet another trophy aloft, with far more than one fan announcing “I can’t wait for the change of rules to shake things up a bit”. And the FIA certainly did change things up. The introduction of the most complex power plant in the history of the sport has caused absolute mayhem across the grid.
The partnership between Renault and Red Bull has certainly been a fruitful one. Multiple constructor and driver trophies made Red Bull Racing the hottest ticket in town. Many called for radical changes in the direction of the sport, citing a “boring procession” by Red Bull. The sky was certainly the limit for RBR.
But after an indifferent winter testing, and a Melbourne Grand Prix that saw one car not make the grid, and the other one get lapped, all is not well at the Milton Keynes headquarters – and you’d have to be living under a rock if you’re not sure why.
With the unfreezing of engine development, using a mysterious “token” system, most punters expected Renault to bridge the slight HP deficit they had in the 2014 campaign to the Mercedes engine. What has ended up happening is an exasperating drop in performance, with both Renault and Red Bull saying the power unit has actually “regressed”, as noted by Renault’s Cyril Abiteboul “We know that we made genuine progress over the winter but we could not show it here and in fact we would even seem to have moved backwards,”
Having blown one engine up already, the Daniel Ricciardo side of the fence apparently turned down the engine due to the significant uncertainties of the engines reliability.
The Renault engine is reportedly a up to a whopping 100bhp down on the Mercedes unit which is a figure that is hard to fathom when we are talking about the top end of motorsport.
According to Renault’s Remi Taffin “It’s related to the maps, or the way the power unit is configured, so while it’s definitely not an easy fix, it does not require a complete redesign.”
It is quite astounding how aggressive the language has been from Christian Horner towards Renault. In fact its the strongest possible language, with RBR laying the blame firmly on the French engine manufacturer.
“It (engine underperformance) masks so many things. Corner entry, corner exit, degradation, slip control of the tyre, you’re not able to drive the car properly,” he explained.
“You then start moving your brake balance around to try and compensate and you are so far away from optimum. They are struggling the same amount, it’s just having a more dramatic effect on our car.”
Essentially, he’s labelled the Red Bull “un-driveable” and laid the blame firmly with Renault.
The generally unlikeable Helmut Marko even suggested that Red Bull may pull out of F1 at the end of the year. Despite what many people say about Red Bull “sooking”, thats something that no-one wants to see, given the pizzaz the team brings to the grid.
When you’re at the top of any professional sport, your become the hunted. It seemed like almost every other week, there were reports of Red Bull losing key staff to various other teams, who were offering huge salaries and big promotions that Red Bull couldn’t continue to match. Red Bull reportedly lost significant brain power in late 2012 and 2013 whilst they were dominating. Although they’ve kept the brilliant Adrian Newey, his niche lies in the chassis, but not the engine.
And now there are reports surfacing that Renault is sniffing around to enter the sport both with their own engine and chassis. The language and actions of Renault suggest that this is a distinct possibility.
So whats the solution? There are a few possibilities, but none of them are particularly palatable.
– Find a new engine partner. This is a medium term proposal and would be a huge decision that would likely consign Red Bull to the lower half of the grid for some time. Some have suggested Porsche or Audi might come into F1. This seems unlikely, with Porsche’s re-entry into the sport extremely unlikely. They get tremendous exposure from other classes of motor racing, and are unlikely to risk what would inevitably be investing billions into F1.
There is zero chance they could jag a Mercedes engine. With the Mercedes works car being their main rival, Mercedes won’t supply their engine for all the tea in China.
Ferrari customers never tend to have success of any note. As Christian Horner once noted “When you get an engine from Ferarri, you’re only ever a customer.” meaning they’re just selling you an engine, not helping you develop it.
Honda is some option, but given their performance at Melbourne, things would need to change fast for that to be a serious option.
Nissan/Infinity sponsor Red Bull so there would have to be some school of thought that Red Bull could be both a chassis and Engine entry into F1. That would be an incredible mixture, giving the Milton Keynes company supreme control over all operations
– Continue development with Renault. This is clearly the most likely option. Given the current investment both companies, its really hard to see Red Bull and Renault parting ways just yet. Renault don’t want a tarnished reputation and would be doing everything they can to bridge the gap to Ferarri and Mercedes and close down that horsepower gap.
– Pull out of the sport. Red Bull love a big profile, risk, speed and exposure. F1 has this in spades. The worlds most expensive sport showcases a brand like no other. Its hard to think, with the incredible things the team has achieved in a very small time, that they’d be willing to finish up so soon. Although, with so many at all level of involvement, from teams to the fans, disillusioned with the sport, never say never.