Will Red Bull follow through with their threat to quit F1?

It remains to be seen whether or not Red Bull will follow through with their threat to pull out of the pinnacle of all motor racing championships on the basis of competitiveness and expense. From a fans perspective it seems that the former would be a more valid assumption to make based on the fact that for four long years (2010 – 2013) Red Bull had, not only the superior car but the right “mix” of people to keep the team on top. Adrian Newey, Christian Horner, Sebastian Vettel are superstar names at the forefront of a team which included a talented mix of background staff that built and sustained the dream team of those winning years.

With Newey now reassigned within the Red Bull company and admitting that this new engine biased era is outside of his comfort zone, other significant changes behind closed doors and the fact that Vettel has realised a boyhood dream and trotted off to the prancing horse (Ferrari) have signalled the end of the dream team. Sad, but it happens to them all. Ferrari from 2000 – 2004 enjoyed superiority of the like that Red Bull have enjoyed but with Schumacher thinking about retirement around 2005/2006 and with Ross Brawn and Jean Todt choosing to move on, they too fell away from the front and despite Kimi Raikonnen winning the 2007 drivers championship (Ferrari won the constructors title as well) they’ve stalled and wavered just behind other front runners until now.

What basis do Red Bull have for pulling out? Expense seems unlikely as Red Bull are a global super company who do a fantastic job in the marketing and advertising department. Much more likely, their sudden loss of pace compared to Mercedes in 2014 and now in 2015 Ferrari’s resurgence has made them think again. After Sebastian Vettel’s title winning dominance in 2013, here we are 20 odd races later and Red Bull are struggling to compete against Force India, Mclaren and their own sister team, Toro Rosso who run the Renault engine as they do.

Red Bull are having a hard time of it. Despite the engine token system being introduced (a compromise from other teams including Merceds) to help teams to develop various parts of their engine within parameters, Horner has failed to convince the F1 powers that be that complete developmental freedom is the way forward. At 5 times the cost of the old V8 engines and with cost cutting at the fore of Bernie Ecclestone’s plans it easy to see why his calls fell onto deaf ears. With the days of excessive aerodynamic improvements confined to the not too distant past it seems that Red Bull and Renault need to pull together rather than apart. Matteschitz and Horner have been hyper critical of Renault in recent times and it does seem as though they are putting the blame solely on Renault thus causing many cracks to appear on an already rough surface. The reality is that Red Bull simply cannot cancel a contract with Renault, sign one with Ferrari, Mercedes or Honda and fit one of their engines into their car this season…impossible. They need to work with Renault in order to get the best out of their engine and their package as a whole.

Red Bulls’ relationship with Renault looked as though it had all but collapsed during pre-season. Renault admit that they’ve found it a struggle but it’s very interesting that rumours continue to surface that they may buy Toro Rosso for a new Renault works team. Lets not forget that Renaults success in F1 has probably been more significant than Red Bulls in that they powered Williams to success in the 1990’s, helped Benetton Renault win races during the same era, won championships of their own as a works team in 2005 and 2006 and also powered Red Bull during their dominance. There is also the human aspect. Work forces evolve as does technology and in no theatre of sport does technology play a more influential role than in the ever changing world of F1. Renault are professionals who want to get it right and they’ve admitted they haven’t. Ferrari are getting there and it may be just a matter of time before Renault do. If things were so bad for Renault as Horner suggests then why do they show interest in continuing independently from Red Bull? We’ll find out in due course.

Are things actually that bad for Red Bull at the moment? Yes is the short answer. Last year they barely got going in pre-season but still won 3 races against an uber dominant Mercedes team. OK, they won perhaps only due to Mercedes unreliability but significantly they were next in line to pick up the pieces and ahead of a more superior Williams car. This season after a better pre-season they are worst off. Kvyat is struggling to adapt and Ferrari have leap-frogged them significantly in terms of performance. Behind the scenes they were challenged on a bit of aerodynamic wizardry where it appeared that they had developed the front floor of their car to “lift” or “flex” upwards under heavy load which meant that the “plank” underneath the car which is there to prevent the car from running too low wouldn’t wear beyond the regulation amount; hence titanium skid blocks being introduced to the underneath of cars as a preventative measure. It seems that the days of aerodynamic advantage through intense development, something which Red Bull were by far and above the best team at earlier this decade has gone. They seem lost, fed up and things aren’t going their way. The fact that Ricciardos engine blew spectacularly at the end of a solid performance at Bahrain is also significant because Red Bull would have used 3 out of 4 engines available within the regulations.

Of course F1 is political as ever and Red Bull will find an excuse rather than a valid reason to pull out. That decision is down to their owner. Pulling out under a cloud would be an anti-climax for the team that rose quickly from the ashes of a poor Jaguar team only 10 years ago. In comparison, Force India have been in F1 for about the same time and have nothing to show for it yet. Red Bull have multiple driver and constructors titles to boast about as well as the abundance of lap records and driver wins amongst those prized acolades. During 2010 – 2013, Christian Horner often challenged his competitors to work harder if any of them complained to the FIA that they were too fast and needed to be slowed down. Although you cannot blame him it is sad to see that he has resorted to the same course of action and has even turned on his own engine supplier.

Audi seem to be the name floating about at the moment that could possibly buy the Red Bull team but F1 is a risky business. For big names such as Ferrari, Mercedes and Mclaren it is imperitive that you find success quickly. Audi are a big brand and have had success in other categories such as Rallying, DTM and LeMans. They are not shy of innovation either having won the 2006 Le Mans 24 hour endurance race with a diesel car – the first to do so. If a brand like Audi came into F1 then they would have serious considerations to take into account ranging from how they obtain sponsorship and financing the project on top of successful road car production/demand and other sporting categories. How quickly could they ensure success over the shortest amount of time possible would be perhaps their biggest consideration to make. As for Red Bull it seems that they can either knuckle down and work with Renault to regrow their team, seek alternative power solutions for 2016 or wait until 2017 when there will more than likely be another overhaul of the regulations and hope that they are more prepared and better suited to F1 in the near future. The only final alternative is to sell up – simple!