A civil war

Motor Racing – Formula One World Championship – Malaysian Grand Prix – Race Day – Sepang, Malaysia

The start of the 2015 Formula 1 season is very underwhelming. Mercedes are still out of touch, miles ahead of the chasing pack. Only a miracle can prevent them from winning every race this season. The most successful Formula 1 teams Ferrari, McLaren and Williams demonstrate a positive approach to the situation. They are focusing on the tiny steps required to eventually become competitive. The same, however, cannot be said about Red Bull Racing. The four-time world champions are in an open war with their engine supplier Renault.

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The blame game

Ever since the start of the 2014 season, when Red Bull Racing lost their exhaust blown diffuser advantage, the team’s management has been regularly lashing out against the current state of affairs. There is always someone else to blame for the Milton-Keynes-based outfit not winning as often as it used to during the 2009-2013 period.

First, it was Renault supplying an unreliable engine for the start of the 2014 season. Then, the anger of Christian Horner and Helmut Marko turned towards the technical regulations. The technical guru Adrian Newey felt they were too restrictive and the due was forced to allow him to focus on non-F1 projects. At the end of the season, Mercedes became the target in the blame game because of the team’s stance on the engine development unfreeze.

Getting another engine manufacturer into the sport will require at least three years, so RBR has no second option.

Now, Marko and Horner have come a full circle and are once again openly critical towards RBR’s engine supplier. Renault has failed to make the same progress as Ferrari over the winter and the powers behind Red Bull Racing could not stomach the team being resoundingly beaten by the financially struggling, but Ferrari-powered Sauber in Melbourne.

The behaviour is not that surprising either. Red Bull Racing is just a division of the marketing department of an energy drink manufacturer. Marko and Horner’s top priority is to make sure that the Red Bull brand name stays untarnished. It is only natural that they would be trying to shift the blame for the team’s dry period elsewhere.

No long-term strategy

The short-term aims of this tactic are obvious: to protect the Red Bull brand name and to force Renault to double their development efforts if possible. The long-run effects of Horner and Marko spending the first two weeks of the 2015 season bad-mouthing Renault, however, are unclear.

At some point, Renault might say “enough is enough.” Process-wise, the two companies appear to have a works relationship. The French manufacturer, however, did not really bear the fruits of RBR’s 2009-2013 successes. Even back then, the Milton Keynes’ PR spin was “we are winning despite being down on power.”

Renault has not been silent about Horner and Marko’s latest round of criticism either. The Renault Sport F1 Managing Director Cyril Abiteboul admitted after the season-opener that Red Bull Racing’s hunger for engine updates have forced the supplier to bypass essential testing procedures.

It is not implausible to consider that the partnership between Red Bull Racing and Renault might be coming to an end. There are already rumours that the French manufacturer is considering the purchase of Toro Rosso. The team will be rebranded as Renault F1 and will allow the car manufacturer to reap the promotional benefits of its involvement with the sport.

It is unclear, however, what RBR would do, if Renault does not supply them with engines anymore. Mercedes already have the maximum allowed number of customers, Ferrari would think long and hard before supplying with engines a direct competitor for the “best of the rest” position and Honda recently admitted they had enough on their plate working with McLaren.

Getting another engine manufacturer into the sport will require at least three years, so RBR has no second option. This makes the long-term strategy of being hostile towards Renault perplexing. The French company will also need to considerably increase its investment in Formula 1 to once again support a Renault F1 team. Neither side has a cheap and easy route out.

Fixing the unhappy marriage

The Renault-Red Bull Racing civil war is similar to that of two spouses that no longer love each other but are forced to live together because neither can afford to move out of the family home. So rather than exchanging snarky comments over the media, the two sides of the partnership should consider counselling. There is obviously miscommunication between the two factories and only working on the problems together will result in the partnership’s glory times returning.

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