Red Bull endured a winless season in 2015, and their very public criticism of engine partner Renault brought them into the wrong limelight.
After being rebuked as a party team during its infant years, Red Bull have forged itself into a multiple-championship winning outfit, besting F1’s frontrunners Ferrari and McLaren to four straight title doubles between 2010 and 2013.
Having got accustomed to so much success in recent years, it was hard for Red Bull to play second fiddle to Mercedes at the advent on the new V6 turbo era in 2014. But instead of collaborating with engine partners Renault to return to old glory in 2015, it handled the situation rather disgracefully.
Even hysterically, it threatened to leave the sport, exaggerating the importance of an energy drinks company in Formula 1. Benetton, a brand that shares glaring similarities with Red Bull on virtue of its consumer-oriented portfolio, received plenty of success in mid-90s, before duly departing from the sport after its performance dwindled. F1 was barely affected affected by its exit. If Red Bull decides to call it a day, the story would be fairly similar, if not the same.
Switch to another engine fails to materialise
The fact that Red Bull couldn’t find a new engine partner, having being rejected by all other manufacturers, means that it now has to rekindle its relationship with Renault. Having lost its ‘works’ status, it wouldn’t exactly be a cakewalk. And the situation is only compounded by the fact that Red Bull has lost a trio of Renault-related sponsors, with Tag Heuer only good enough to negate Infiniti’s departure.
Renault’s real failure
Where Renault failed this year was in reducing the deficit to Mercedes and Ferrari using in-season development tokens. The Viry-Chilton outfit rejected Mario Illien’s proposal to continue with its own direction of development, only to find no realistic gains in laptime.
Red Bull, in contrast, was able to exploit the full potential of the chassis as the season progressed, further underlining the quality of the staff stationed at Milton Keynes.
Ricciardo and Kvyat make most of the machinery
Both Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat raced amidst uncertainty over the future of their team and with underpowered engine in the back of their cars.
Ricciardo, admittedly, found it hard not be fighting for wins and podiums on a regular basis, after a highly successful 2014 season. But the Australian did manage some superlative results, most notably in Hungary and Singapore.
At Budapest, he finished third despite two separate incidents with Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, the latter forcing an unscheduled pitstop that dropped him further down the pack. In Singapore, he gave his former teammate Sebastian Vettel a run for his money, although a wheel-to-wheel fight for race win never materialised.
His charge from back-of-the-grid in Monza - a power circuit - to eighth at the chequered flag was equally impressive, though it went unheralded amid the tyre pressure saga surrounding race winner Hamilton.
Kvyat, on the other hand, had a different challenge on his hand, having been promoted to the senior Red Bull team after just a single season at Toro Rosso. His early season performances were below par, forcing team’s advisor Helmut Marko to issue an abrupt warning to the Russian.
But as he got into the groove, results started coming, with Monaco proving to be the turning point of his season. At that occasion, Kvyat beat Ricciardo fair and square to secure a fourth place finish, before notching his maiden podium in Hungary two months later. He nearly repeated that feat in Mexico towards the latter part of the year.
Red Bull has the requisite resources to return to the forefront of F1. Company’s chief Dietrich Mateschitz as spent an enormous amount of money on running two F1 teams and resurrecting a grand prix circuit. More importantly, it has brought hundreds of thousands of fans closer to the sport using an extensive road show programme.
But if it wants to return to return to the front of the pack, it must keep a lid on its mouth. Also, it must not interfere in Renault’s working, for it has proved to be detrimental for the two operations until now. It can only hope that the French brand makes major leapways over the winter. If that happens, a Mercedes vs Ferrari vs Red Bull battle will make for a sweet story.
by Rachit Thukral