The final stretch of the 2015 Formula 1 season is here and the two Red Bull teams are still without a confirmed engine supplier. Predicting how this debacle would end is difficult, but we can at least analyse the actions of the interested parties. Renault, Red Bull, Mercedes and Ferrari are all guilty of the current situation in one way or another.
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Not committed enough
Renault’s actions are at the core of this story. The French manufacturer entered the hybrid turbo era with a power unit down on power and with poor reliability. None of these issues was solved in 2015 and they prompted the Renault-Red Bull divorce.
Ferrari had similar problems in 2014 but committed enough resources to improve the power unit over the winter. Renault exhibited no similar dedication. The “halfway out” approach of the French company not only left Red Bull Racing and Toro Rosso with ailing engines in 2015 but also put Lotus in a state of limbo. Genii Capital shows no interest in funding the team further; Renault has not officially taken over at Enstone yet. Delayed payments are causing scandal after scandal. Straining one’s relationships with suppliers is hardly the best way to launch Renault’s return as a works team.
All parties in this Mexican standoff are scared.
There were two sides in the Renault-Red Bull marriage and Renault is not the only guilty party in its breakdown. The management of Red Bull Racing did not handle the situation in the best possible manner. Rather than sticking to a common action plan with Renault, Christian Horner and Helmut Marko opted to throw the French engine manufacturer under the bus at the start of the season.
The previous era in Formula 1 (2009-2013) was dominated by aerodynamics; the current is engine-dominated. To thrive once again, Red Bull Racing needs a solid relationship with a power unit supplier. They could have had this with Renault, but Horner and Marko lacked the foresight to stick to this partnership. Then again, maybe they tried to bring Audi over before the whole Volkswagen Group scandal about carbon emissions started. In any case, Horner and Marko’s media attack towards Renault means that no engine supplier currently in Formula 1 is eager to work with Infiniti Red Bull Racing.
Based on the mentioned treatment of Renault, Mercedes seem right to refuse to supply Red Bull. The Austrians are not asking for competitive power units. They want a hybrid system that will guarantee RBR the win. The reigning world champions cannot provide this without pulling their own works team out of the sport.
Mercedes being right to refuse, however, does not mean that they are faultless. There are reasons to believe the world champions did not negotiate with Horner and Marko in good faith. A recent interview with Niki Lauda implies that Red Bull made no serious efforts to get Mercedes on board. Lauda’s claims seem hard to believe. Why would Red Bull cancel their contract with Renault a year in advance, if they had no officially agreed-upon backup plan? Most likely, they were led to believe they had a deal with Mercedes and cancelled the contract with Renault to make sure they did not interfere in the strategic partnership between the two manufacturers.
Who is more or less guilty is immaterial. Red Bull are not getting Mercedes engines either way. And this is where Ferrari could have swopped in and saved the day. Back in June, Scuderia’s Chairman Sergio Marchionne was boasting that he had no problem supplying Red Bull with engines as the aerodynamics department at Maranello was more than a match for the one in Milton Keynes.
Since the summer break, however, the bulls have closed the gap from Scuderia, despite relying on Renault power units with no in-season upgrades. This recent run of form probably made Marchionne question his beliefs. Since early October, there have been several rumours that Ferrari was only willing to give 2015-spec power units to Red Bull. The Italians are even ready to go as far as changing the regulations to make this happen. It is all because of fear – the Scuderia has been beaten by Newey’s magic cars too many times in the last 10 years.
A marriage of convenience
All parties in this Mexican standoff are scared. Mercedes are afraid that they would lose the world title if they help Red Bull out. Ferrari is afraid that their aerodynamics would never be the best in the sport. Red Bull cannot afford to stay in Formula 1 without winning. Amidst all this fear, it seems that the best choice for Red Bull would be to stay with Renault for two more years. This will give Marko and Horner enough time to try to entice another engine manufacture back into the sport. Maybe Ford will enjoy the taste of Formula 1 success once again.