Formula One // Red Bull Woes


It’s no secret that Red Bull are struggling. Not only are they struggling to become a fully fledged champion winning superpower once again, but behind the scenes they are finding it increasingly difficult to find an engine supplier for next year. If they don’t find one, team Boss Christian Horner has revealed that they are likely to leave F1.

Why can’t a team as prestigious as former world champions Red Bull find an engine supplier for 2016? This is a complicated question that has little to do with money and much more about the ever complex politics within F1 itself.

Renault engines

Currently Red Bull use Renault engines. Renault powered Red Bull to all 4 of their constructors titles between 2010 and 2013 but that particular era was dominated by aerodynamic design and the exploitation of blown diffusers where exhaust gases were used to create down force. The Renault engine was significant but it played a bit part during that time, as did the other engine manufacturers for their respective teams did. This new Hybrid era has thrust emphasis on the quality of hybrid turbo engines and has side lined the once predominant aerodynamic aspect.

Why don’t Red Bull pursue the use of Renault engines, after they had a contract with them for 2016? The Red Bull/Renault relationship has broken down dramatically over the past couple of years. When Red Bull turned up for pre-season testing at the beginning of the hybrid/turbo era it was plain to see that Renault had produced a dud. Their unit was slow and unreliable. Then World champion Sebastian Vettel managed just 1 solitary lap at that first test in 2014.

Since then Renault have been playing catch up yet, much to Red Bulls disappointment, they haven’t caught up. This has given them problems. They lost the full time attention of aerodynamic whizz kid Adrian Newey in 2014, then Vettel jumped ship to Ferrari after having spent 2014 losing to his team mate in a slow car. In 2015, Ferrari have started to make significant in roads and are catching up to the dominant Mercedes. Renault aren’t.

Honda, Mercedes, Ferrari, Audi, self built engines perhaps?

Now, in September 2015, Red Bull find themselves in an early ending contract with Renault (which Renault are happy about) with seemingly limited options. It’s easy to feel sorry for Renault. That company is just as prestigious as Red Bull, if not more so having powered the likes of Williams, Benetton and Renault along with Schumacher, Villeneuve and Alonso to world championships over the past couple of decades. Red Bulls brutal treatment of them in laying much of the blame on them has not been fair.

Who can Red Bull turn to to give them a good engine for next year? If relationships hadn’t collapsed then obviously they could have retained a Renault engine but it’s slow. Red Bull want a competitive engine. The first difficulty for Red Bull is that their treatment of Renault has been very public. They were best of friends during their championship winning days of the past but now Red Bull look like childish bullies who throw their toys out of the pram if they don’t get what they want, would any other current engine supplier want to work with anyone like that? Probably not and Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has stated just that.

We can forget Honda as an option for a start. Painfully slower than the Renault unit and even more unreliable, Red Bull would sooner implode rather than have a Honda power unit. Red Bull officially approached Mercedes as their number one choice but were swiftly rebuked. As a customer they would receive a second grade engine but it would still be reliable and quick and Mercedes do not want to supply a fierce competitor. That is official; no Mercedes engine for Red Bull.

Ferrari are the only option left. In recent weeks we’ve been led to believe that a deal with Ferrari was almost certainly going to be struck, pariticularly as team principal Arrivabene said he would happily supply Red Bull…but that was before Ferrari really upped their game and Ferrari have all of a sudden fallen silent on this matter.

Audi have been touted as a new supplier but this is going to be difficult. Honda started their engine development in 2013 and that that was way too late. Audi or VW (or whoever it is may manifest itself out of the VW group) are reputed to be interested in entering F1 but as far as we know are nowhere near building a competitive F1 engine. It’s way too late in the year.

Red Bull look stumped. They don’t have the facilities or personnel to build their own engines so if a Ferrari deal falls through what can they do? Very little.

Red Bull future uncertain.

If Red Bull cannot find an engine they will not simply pull out; “simply” being the focal word. A state of emergency will be declared between the upper echelons of senior F1 staff, most probably between Jean Todt, Bernie Ecclestone and Dietrich Matteschitz and ferocious talks will begin to find a solution.

Why won’t Red Bull simply pull out? They have specific considerations to make. Firstly sponsorship. The Red Bull car is adorned with sponsors that have an agreement with the team to utilise that car as a vessel for advertisement. Many talks and discussions will hurriedly need to take place should Red Bull shoot off.

If Red Bull leave then so to will Toro Rosso, leaving the F1 field with two less teams and four less cars in 2016. Unfortunately this will have a huge impact on the careers of the immensely young and talented drivers that both teams currently have. Ricciardo, Kvyat along with Verstappen and Sainz jr are 4 of the most talented up and coming young stars of F1. It would be an absolute crime for those drivers to miss out next year. Sadly, “the team is bigger than the driver” (to use Christian Horner’s words….particularly poignant after Istanbul 2010) so this may be least of Red Bulls worries but I’m sure if Red Bull do pull out then some expensive and messy compensation negotiations are sure to occur.

What about the work force? The staff who transport the team around the globe, hospitality staff, PR/HR staff, mechanics, designers, cleaners could potentially be out of work in a little over 2 months time should Red Bull throw in the towel. Certainly many may be re-deployed elsewhere within the company but what about the talented, F1 specific staff like the engineers and designers etc? It’s won’t be easy for the to simply knock on the door of Williams or Force India and ask for a job!

If Audi choose to supply Red Bull with an engine, it’s very hard to imagine that it will be better than Renaults. They will be so far behind. Of course, they may secretly have been working on a concept for some time but if that had been the case then we wouldn’t be discussing Red Bulls woes. They would simply have cut their contract short with Renault and instantly signed one with Audi.

Red Bull are saying to the F1 powers that be that they require the support of the other engine suppliers to ensure their future in the sport. They want a Mercedes engine or a Ferrari engine and to get it they will tell Ecclestone from a business perspective why they should be given a deal with one or the other. Mercedes and now possibly Ferrari will say that from their point of view, why should they power their nearest competitors cars, especially as the Red Bull still has perhaps the best chassis in the field?  That debate will take place behind closed doors.

From a fans perspective it may seem a bit callous that effectively, the future of Red Bull’s F1 teams rests on the shoulders of the decisions of their competitors engines but if we flip the scenario around and imagine that we’re in 2011 and struggling Mercedes are asking Red Bull for their chassis, Horner would have laughed in their face. This is the same situation to a degree.

Red Bull: Throwing the towel in too easily?

Red Bull unfortunately have the reputation of giving up when the going gets tough….odd for a company which has enjoyed tremendous commercial success across the globe. The Red Bull Nascar team was pulled after no success and the waning popularity of the Red Bull air race ensured that was pulled as soon as it began. Will the F1 team become the latest forclosure?

Red Bull have come across as the spoiled brat since their difficulties in this new hybrid era have become well publicised. I’m not that comfortable with their attitude either. Lewis Hamilton famously described them as “just a drinks company” in 2011 and that quote speaks a thousand words when you consider the context of F1 teams and how some have battled for years to reach the front only to fall back again but crucially, they never give up. Williams, McLaren and Ferrari; F1 stalwarts have ALL enjoyed the good, the bad and plenty of the ugly.

F1 is all about having the fastest cars coupled with the fastest drivers. The amount of success you have depends on how you interpret the regulations. Between 2010 and 2013, Red Bull were the absolute masters at this. They developed blown diffusers and other aerodynamic gems that were designed to make the Red Bull cars of that era the absolute smoothest and quickest to drive. Different era’s come and go. It’s a shame that Red Bull don’t seem keen to want to stick around for a while. The regulations WILL change again in the next couple of years and we will have a new superior team.

Red Bull have an opportunity to become one of the rare few teams in F1 that are able to stay in it and be reasonably competitive year after year. This is how teams become legends. If Red Bull pull out then they’re tenure would have been a mere puff of smoke. Surely they didn’t believe they could stay on top for the next 20 years? They will also lose a lot of face but boost the kudos of the real F1 teams. They will look like…. well…..just a drinks company.