It’s not about power, but it’s rather about the efficiency and the complete package that could be a trump card for the 2014 season. This is not the first season where Renault have struggled due to a Technical shakeup, it has happened in the past, and this is the same story that has been repeated all over again. It’s important to know that Renault are traditionally underpowered to start off but they are the undisputed Champions of this sport, and we have to treat them with respect.
With a sluggish start to an all important season, Renault are fired by the critics across the Globe. As an Engine supplier, Renault are an important aspect to this sport, and there were lots of stakes riding on them. To say that they have let down 4 teams is an understatement. At the end of the day, each supplier has a separate trait, and the teams definitely had a vague idea of what was in-store for them. The major cause of concern is the lack of mileage of these Renault powered cars, and the defending champions Red Bull are a major victim of this Renault gate.
“I think reliability will be the major issue, I believe the Red Bulls are very, very quick but, at this point in time, I believe they are very unreliable.” - Alan Jones
But does Red Bull even need all those mileage as other teams?
All through the pre-season testing when several publications were reporting on the number of laps that Red Bull have completed and how low their mileage is when compared to its rivals, some sections of the fans were relatively happy as they are perhaps expecting a new Champion to arise in the sport. However, Red Bull can actually collect the data in just one lap if the reactions from the Free Practice session at the 2013 Brazilian Grand Prix are to be believed. In a track that wasn’t ideal for slicks, Red Bull used their 2014 prototype Slick tyres and this is the conversation that took place between Vettel and his Engineer, Guillaume Rocquelin.
Guillaume Rocquelin: “We’ve got the data that we need”
There are lots of factors to be considered, but as some pundits pointed out during the session analysis, Red Bull were perhaps trying to gather a reference data from that 1.5 Laps run of slick tyres in wet conditions. Teams and Pirelli use the simulators extensively, and a lot of data can be calibrated using the two readings that the teams get from the simulator run and a short run at the track. On the other hand, Red Bull are the 4 time champions of the sport, and maybe other teams should understand the benchmark that the Red Bull sets each year, and if Red Bull say that the data can be generated in 1.5 Laps, maybe, they really can generate such amount of data. Yes, this pre-season testing is not about tyres alone, and when a new season starts, the cars turn into a new leaf as well, and thus the focal point of gathering the data is split into several territories, but still, the team has all the technology and the staff that can be depended on any given situation. At the end of the day, Red Bull has done some miles with this new car, and we’re not talking about just 1 Lap alone, as the team has 1,711 Km under its belt. Yes, the likes of Mercedes, Williams, Ferrari and McLaren have over 4,000 Km under their belt, but that’s not the whole point. Isn’t it? No one will give you a point for covering the most laps in a pre-season testing.
“We know we have to catch up in a lot of areas, but that said, I’m happy today, we did a lot of laps, we learned a lot and it was a positive end to a tough week here.” - Vettel on the last day of the Pre-season tests at Bahrain.
Australia is one perfect place to start the calendar, and the track only adds several depth of mysteries to what is tipped as an exciting season. The track’s resilience have interrupted the progress of the highly rated drivers like Hulkenberg who couldn’t see the chequered flag in his three attempts, several drivers have struggled to perform well at this track, and we mostly see an darkhorse shining through the race. This could very well mean that Red Bull are not done with Australia just yet, and to go by their record books, they could bounce back as late as the summer break and still clinch the championships with the aid of the highly controversial double points. The onus is on Renault to help its customers to stay reliable over the course of the season, and Red Bull are already trying desperate ways to ensure that they are reliable and see through the chequered flag. If Red Bull does survive till the chequered flag in the opening rounds, they could just very well spring a surprise in the championship. RB10 does look fabulous, and the car just adheres to the mandatory rule changes and thus it’s very conventional at the front, and has a slim packaging at the rear. One of the most painful problem for Red Bull has been the packaging part and for Mark Webber, it has been a thorn to his progress over the last 4 seasons, so much so that he quit Formula 1 altogether. RB10 does suffer cooling issues and Red Bull like stated earlier in the article have resorted to desperate steps to ensure that cooling doesn’t pose a problem.
"To be behind at the season's start does not necessarily mean you lost the championship already, You still have a chance after a few bad races in the beginning.” - Dietrich Mateschitz
Although Red Bull have denied this issue, some of the problems can be due to the fact that Red Bull’s key personnels were poached by their rivals, and despite these staff leaving the team only after few months into the season, perhaps the team has put some of them on Garden Leave and this has impacted their progress?
“The current problems arose from the engine side and not from our team, which still has the high-level know-how it needs" - Dietrich Mateschitz on Red Bull’s woes after the end of first test.
Nevertheless, this lean phase will be a testing period for at least three key figures in this Austrian Team, and if they emerge successful out this phase, they’re going to be hailed by the masses.
Sebastian Vettel: Lost count of the number of people who were really desperate to see Vettel in this situation. People often pointed out that Vettel’s success is often due to the car rather than his sheer talent, and this quadruple champion often received no respect for his achievements. People wanted to see Vettel in the midfield and battle his way to the top. This lean phase of the team will eventually benefit Vettel as he could earn the respect of the masses by showing his talent and skills when the car is looking down at this moment. This phase will refresh the people’s memory of the fierce German who once impressed the fans while stepping into the cockpit for the injured Kubica back in 2007, and also with a gritty drive to the top step of the podium in a backmarker in 2008 at Monza.
"We didn't do as much running as we would have liked in testing this year, so we have work to do in Melbourne, but it will be good to get to the first race, It's hard to know where we are; it's fair to say that we're not the favourites to win and we have to catch up with others that have completed more mileage, but we'll do our best with the great people that we have working for the team. We have achieved a lot together and I know everyone is working flat out as normal.” - Sebastian Vettel
Daniel Ricciardo: ‘The Smiling Assassin’ has to perform at the earliest, and he has got a lukewarm response from the critics for the Red Bull drive that he earned. For someone who is just into his third season, and a best finish of seventh, probably finishing on the podium itself will be a huge accomplishment. So far he has been on a roll by issuing statements about everything, but it’s high time that he lets his driving do the talking. Ricciardo has got the right temperament, and charisma to be a World Champion, although some people might not agree with the situation that he’s in at this moment, it should serve Ricciardo as a blessing in disguise. Red Bull are quadruple champions, and for a team of this stature to be in this struggling form, Ricciardo has to continue do his normal driving, and this will lift the pressure of him, as one doesn’t expect podiums from this Austrian team just yet. If Ricciardo can see through the chequered flag, and match his teammate’s pace, bigger things will eventually come in his way.
Adrian Newey: No one questions his talent, and it doesn’t matter if Newey from his side can find a solution to Red Bull’s woes, Newey would still be regarded as a legend. This obviously is a testing phase for this genius, but he has shown his skills on numerous occasions, and if he finds a way out for these teething issues, Newey would end up on a league of his own.
The Final Cut:
At the end of the day, the first few races are often regarded as an extended testing sessions, and if Red Bull doesn’t squeeze into the podium in this period, it doesn’t mean that the dream run is over. As long as Newey is in the boat, as long as Vettel steers the ship, as long as Horner makes the calls, Red Bull shouldn’t be regarded as a sinking ship. Their problem is not entirely down to them, and this is a big sign for the rivals, and they know it. If Renault can weave their magic band, and get to the bottom of these reliability issues, they would be doing a wonderful favor to their customers. The biggest X-Factor for Renault has been the efficiency of its engines, and despite not being the powerful supplier, they have been undisputed champions of the sport and are an integral part to the success of Red Bull.