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GP Week : Issue 226
OPINION MIKE DOODSON Throughout Formula 1’s summer break there have been whispers that Red Bull is on the verge of abandoning its contractual obligations to Renault in order to switch its loyalty to Mercedes. The purveyors of these yarns appear to be wilfully ignoring the fact that the Bull boys are contractually committed to the French company and its engines until the end of 2016. The conditions of the contract are, of course, subject to variation if the two sides are agreed on change. So far, though, there are no signs of the agreement being torn up. One thing of which we can be sure is that the big cheeses at Red Bull can’t wait to say ‘adieu’ to Renault. It is quite normal in troubled relationships like theirs for one or the other side to express discontent in the form of vague messages which allow the press and other observers to figure out the extent of the unhappiness without ruffling too many feathers. But Red Bull’s disgust (not an exaggeration) with Renault over the performance and reliability of its engines has been expressed in plain language both by team chief Christian Horner and Red Bull proprietor Dietrich Mateschitz. It was not so much a question of the feathers being ruffled as the poor old French chook being plucked and boiled. Nobody would deny that Renault is underperforming at present, especially if one compares the achievements of the latest engine with those of the trend- setting and eventually race-winning V6s, V10s and V8s which were developed for F1 use at Viry-Chatillon over a period of almost 40 years, illustrious designs every one. Although Red Bull has been a Renault customer for barely six years, in that short period its drivers have won four individual world titles (S Vettel) and 50 championship races. It is true that the consensus in the paddock is that the engineers at Viry failed to appreciate the magnitude of the effort required to win races in the new ‘hybrid’ era of F1, and are now paying the price. But Renault engines won three races last year, a far from shabby record, especially when compared with the F1 performance of a certain acclaimed Japanese manufacturer which embarked on the same mission this year. Given the bluster and frustration on the Red Bull side, you would imagine that the Renault technicians were standing still, but they aren’t. There were two Renault- propelled Bull drivers on the podium in Hungary last month, and Ricciardo was in with a shout of another in Belgium on Sunday, until (oh dear) the power died. I even saw three of the four Red Bull drivers in the race performing solid overtaking moves on rivals with the supposedly superior Mercedes lump in the back of their cars. Everyone involved in F1 has to accept that there will be fallow periods, and I can think of many F1 teams which have endured lean times for far longer and deeper spells than the ungrateful chaps at Red Bull are going through right now. What, then, can we expect to happen? Christian Horner has informed Autosport that he is contemplating a parting with Renault at the end of this season, and the magazine suggests that the trigger for a split may well be a performance clause in the contract between team and engine supplier. The possibility of Red Bull reverting to Ferrari power (the team used Maranello’s V8s in 2006) has already been examined and rejected, which means that the only practical alternative would be to become yet anther Mercedes customer. This would assure Ricciardo and Kvyat of more power, not to mention the reliability which is now costing them both so seriously in terms of multiple grid penalties, but it would also pitch them against the works cars of Hamilton and Rosberg. Just imagine the furore which would ensue if Red Bull’s Newey- designed cars, with Anglo-German power, were to become a match for the current top-dogging Mercs. Loud squeals would be heard from Hamilton and Rosberg, justifiably so, and grumbles would be sure to be heard from members of the board over there in Stuttgart. In addition to its works team, the German giant already supplies Williams, Force India and Lotus. In his dealings with the media, Mercedes team chief Toto Wolff is very careful, out of respect for Renault, not to mention the words ‘Red Bull’ when discussing the future, but he has dropped strong hints to the effect that to supply a fifth team would stretch the company’s engine-building resources too far. I have a strong impression that Toto would not welcome a situation which might require him to balance the requirements of two top teams battling for the world championship, if only because it would involve a conflict with the interests of the team where he is in charge. Nevertheless, that is the situation which may be imposed upon him. The British-based team now known as Lotus – which was owned and operated by Renault until the end of 2008 – is under close examination by Renault with a view to returning it to the ownership of the French company. If that happens (a big ‘if,’ given the parlous financial situation at Lotus’s Enstone HQ), then the black cars would have to use Renault power units. That would leave a supply of Mercedes PUs available: the law of supply and demand might well result in Red Bull achieving its heart’s desire, regardless of the reser vations expressed above. This, then, is a condensed summary of the fraught situation as it stands between Renault, Mercedes and the teams with which they are associated. Expect more complications soon, because of a commercial link between Aston Martin and Mercedes, which now has a five percent holding in the British sportscar maker. Certain normally reliable sources have suggested that Red Bull designer Adrian Newey, who has already taken a step away from F1 duties, is devoting some of his time to designing a new road-going sports car for Aston Martin. That car would have a Mercedes-based engine, thereby creating a commercial link between Red Bull (Newey’s prime employer) and Mercedes, while also providing Messrs Mateschitz and Horner with a voice in the question of who gets Mercedes F1 engines, possibly as soon as next year. Just feel glad that you’re not Toto Wolff... 15 GPWEEK.com // 15 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: OPINION can RED BULL aBanDOn REnaULT?