2015 has so far been an unequivocally bad year for Red Bull and Renault. Riddled with engine troubles, sponsorship issues and continued disagreements with its motor manufacturer Renault, Red Bull bosses threatened earlier this year to withdraw its sponsorship. Renault supplies engines to both Red Bull Racing (RBR) and its sister team, Scuderia Toro Rosso.
Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz was quoted earlier this month by the Austria Press Association (the home country of Red Bull) as saying Red Bull would “only stay in Formula 1 if we have a competitive team, and we need a competitive power unit for that.”
Both drivers for Red Bull Racing had points at the Bahrain Grand Prix, with Daniel Ricciardo in 6th and teammate Daniil Kyvat in 9th. However, Ricciardo had repeated problems with his vehicle, the engine giving off thick black-grey smoke as Ricciardo passed the chequered flag at Sakhir. Fortunately, he did not sacrifice his 6th place finish. Ricciardo is currently on his fourth engine, which is the last and final one available to him for this racing year. However, new regulations approved by Bernie Ecclestone that head to vote soon allow for five engines instead of four. This could provide some much-needed respite to both Red Bull and Ricciardo, who has lost three engines so far; one in China at the Shanghai GP, carried out as a precautionary measure between qualifiers and the race; another was at the Australian Grand Prix, also after a practice session. It is understood that the Renault V6 ICE (Internal Combustion Engines) could not be repaired for re-use and needed replacement.
Toro Rosso, using identical engines, has also suffered. 17-year-old Max Verstappen and 21-year-old Carlos Sainz Jr. were forced to retire in China after suffering engine failures, a feat they repeated at Sakhir, both retiring just post the halfway mark. While Sainz had, in his own words, ‘pacing issues’, an electrical issue in Verstappen’s vehicle forced him to retire.
Red Bull principal Christian Horner has said that while he anticipated problems, he was surprised at their magnitude. He was confident they would be rectified, however, saying "Whilst disappointing, the failures are ones there are solutions in the pipeline for." Red Bull Racing's motorsport consultant Helmut Marko also acknowledged the team “wasn’t good enough”,that they were “significantly behind Mercedes” in terms of Red Bull Racing’s power unit.
There have been rumours of Audi having a power unit ready to go, only waiting for the say-so from Red Bull. A $300mn price hangs in the air. Marko however said there “..haven’t been talks nor are we commencing a winter sale”, quoting the official statement by Red Bull boss Dietrich Mateschitz.
Renault and Red Bull have previously had a very fruitful association; Renault for its part says that the power units are not solely to blame for repeated failures and that some of the onus was also on a faulty chassis. Renault chief Cyril Abiteboul said that “... figures have shown that the lap time deficit between Red Bull and Mercedes in Melbourne was equally split between driveability issues, engine performance and chassis performance.”
Red Bull had been hoping to rectify their previous issues by the Malaysian GP, seeing the race in Malaysia as a “chance to press the restart button for the season”. This would, however, not be the case.
“We have a contract with Renault for 2015 and 2016 and it is in Renault’s interest as much as in ours to sort the current issues out as quickly as possible,” Horner told the official F1 website.
For now, it seems as if what appears to be a rather unhappy marriage will continue for at least another year.