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The complaint masters: How justified are Red Bull with their latest tantrum?

Gaurab Sinha
2.00K   //    20 Mar 2015, 10:12 IST
The Red Bull RB11 during the Australian Grand Prix

Formula 1 is a very tight and competitive sport, and every single team on the grid wants to win races and become champions. Coming first is the main core, and in the DNA, of every single team. Unfortunately, only few teams are fortunate enough to taste the victory champagne, whilst for some, it is still a luxury.

However, if you are associated with Red Bull, Ferrari, McLaren, or Mercedes (the current big foure of the sport) then winning is an essential need, rather than a luxurious want. And, after four long seasons (2010 to 2013) of watching Sebastian Vettel win everything but the kitchen sink at Red Bull, for the past one year and a quarter, it is been at Mercedes, where the F1 Gods are shining. And, this has got someone ranting.  

When the previous dictator got jealous of the current one

Coming to top of the Formula 1 realm is no mean feat, and staying there for a long time is a small miracle in itself. Of course, many teams have done it in the past, and more will keep on doing it. However, Red Bull hasn’t taken the current Mercedes dominance era, very sporting to say the least. And, after the 2015 season’s opening Grand Prix at Australia, things turned a bit ‘ugly’ after Red Bull indicated that they could leave the sport altogether if the FIA and F1 collectively does not do anything about normalizing the field.

This of course, came in after the sole surviving Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo finished a lap down on the Mercedes duo of Nico Rosberg and, current World Champion and race winner at Albert Park, Lewis Hamilton.

Although, the signs from winter testing, and also from last year, were of course indicating a Mercedes wash out, but the gap to the field was nevertheless staggering.

Red Bull Racing Motorsport advisor Helmut Marko, who has a strong hold in the Red Bull Corporation’s Formula 1 business, issued a threat to the whole paddock right after the Australian race concluded. Speaking to German media, Marko said: “We will evaluate the situation again as every year and look into costs and revenues”. He further added: “If we are totally dissatisfied we could contemplate an F1 exit. [And] Yes, the danger is there that Mr. Mateschitz loses his passion for F1.”

And, Mr. Mateschitz is of course the boss of Red Bull Corporation, which owns the Infiniti Red Bull Racing Team and also the Scuderia Toro Rosso F1 Team.

Hence, when Red Bull speaks, everyone in the paddock takes a notice, however absurd or illogical it maybe. To further add, even Red Bull Racing Team Principal Christian Horner had some issues with the current ‘regulations’ and at Australia demanded, although in a less threatening manner, that F1 should look to equalize the playing field by having same type, or output worth, of engines. 

What does Red Bull actually want, ban Mercedes from F1?

Of course not, all they want is the reshuffle of the current regulations, particularly the engine regulations. Besides, Red Bull (meaning Marko) also believes that the current regulations are just too expensive and, in their words, incomprehensible.

And, this is why; they are trying to attack the team which is current making the most of them; Mercedes. But, the real culprits, according to Red Bull, are the Mercedes power units (PUs). Now, this unit is used by Mercedes (the works team), Williams, Force India and Lotus, while Red Bull has Renault power. And rumors have it, which has also been fueled by the performance notes, that a Mercedes PU is miles ahead in output from the Renault ones (close to 100 bhp up as per some reports).

Hence, Red Bull is asking for a change in engine specifications. Also, in the past, particularly during the last year, Red Bull has looked for engine changes in order crawl back the pecking order, but no heed was paid over it.

However, the recent introduction of the V6 engines is the reason why Honda made a comeback to F1, Renault stayed on, and Mercedes did not raise concerns over the engines-issues. So, a drastic change is not likely to happen soon.

How can you start complaining when someone is just better than you?

Well, is this a case of clear sour grapes from Red Bull? Well, maybe. Because, even in their short Formula 1 history, the team from Austria has had its own term of domination, and yes even that time, concerns were raised against some questionable innovation of Adrian Newey and the team. However, no drastic reactions or actions were taken to rectify them promptly. And, yes, Red Bull did not complain much about losing interest when they were winning that time.

Besides, as it takes numerous days and sometimes even years of hard work to develop a good car, the same is with engine-development. In fact, since Mercedes-Engine department has comprehensively won the V6 Turbo development war, fair and square, from Renault and Ferrari, it will be an inferior and a substandard decision, if any pre-mature knee jerk changes are made against it.

Red Bull’s counter argument on the matter

Red Bull has been very vocal about the fact that when they were dominating, everyone was against them and they insist that they did not dominate like in the range of what Mercedes are doing at the moment. Of course, assessing this is very unfeasible. But, this is, to a certain point, right. Because, we did see some classic battles in 2010 and 2012, and the championship did go down to the wire in those seasons before young Vettel took it.

On the matter, Horner specially said: “When we were winning we never had this [large an] advantage, but double diffusers were banned, exhausts moved, flexible bodywork prohibited, mid-season engine mapping changes. And that wasn’t unique to us.”

He further added: “It happened in previous years to Williams and McLaren, the FIA has within the rules an equalization mechanism, something they perhaps need to look at.” And, not surprisingly, even Bernie Ecclestone agrees with Horner. But, he just wants to spice up the show, and for that, he can even tell the drivers to literally run the whole Grand Prix distance, if that can grab attention.

Even though Horner is right that FIA has the ‘degree of power and authority’ by which they can exercise to cut the clips of the domination, but still, it look a bit far-fetched at the moment. Besides, the banned aspects of Red Bull, which Horner was talking about, were that time, controversial in some manners. In fact, blown exhausts and double diffusers happened because Red Bull chose to bend (not break, but bend) the rules. However, it was a correct interpretation of regulations nevertheless. So you cannot blame them for putting up a fight, whilst excusing themselves.

But, there is a very reasonable assurance that Mercedes-Engine department are absolutely playing by the rules and there is no “interpretation” issues here, now. Also, no one in the paddock is questioning the legality of the Mercedes W06 chassis. So, it will be naïve to compare both the situation with that regard, but the Bulls are doing it anyway.

What can you do when the problem lies in your own house?

Red Bull has to understand that the problem they are facing is within the team and also with their Renault package. But, that said, it is not that all the Mercedes powered teams are running away with rest of the positions. In fact, apart from Silver Arrows and Williams, most are behind/near Red Bull in the pecking order. So Red Bull’s own car-package is also to be blamed for the poor show, a question which Renault even raised last year.

But even the French engine manufacturer accepts its faults, and they have admitted in the past that they have let down Red Bull. And, most recently, they even said that, they were pushing themselves too much during the winter, and hence the teething faults at Australia last weekend.

However, they extra push may have been because of the “Constant Pressure” from Red Bull, Renault’s number 1 customer in sport. Hence, Red Bull just cannot complain about engine issues, because they, Red Bull and Renault, are in this together.

 Helmut Marko and Christian Horner have a lot of things to ponder about

But honestly, can Red Bull really quit Formula 1?

Well, impossible is nothing in Formula 1, but it is very highly unlikely that Red Bull will leave the sport in any hurry. In fact, it also looks impossible in the near future. The team, which you can say started as a double up marketing tool for the drinks company, has yielded them good chunks of return on investment. In fact, the team has more or less gained enormous amount of branding and marketing returns from its two F1 teams.

Besides, they have also won a great deal thanks to Vettel, which has allowed them to join the commercial elites of the sport. And also, currently as a team, Red Bull is one of the richest and most prospered outfits of the lot in the paddock.  

But, one thing which might annoy people is; Red Bull is being a bit selfish in their act. If you look, Ferrari and McLaren have suffered equally with Mercedes dominance, in fact more, but they have their own internal issues, and they are busy solving them. For example; Ferrari has worked overnight throughout the winter to rectify their engine and chassis issues.

Yes, even they were not happy with the change to the V6s, but they are doing the best they can with the issue on hand. So, you can say Red Bull, even though they are asking for a popular proposition, are doing for their own benefit, not for the greater cause. But, no can blame them for trying.

The fans, from the point of view which matters a lot

Well, if you are not a fan of Mercedes AMG Petronas, then their procession every weekend might be a bit boring for you. However, if you leave out the top 2, we always see some nice action and jostling down the order. Hence, there is something for everyone. Besides, we did see a great championship battle between Rosberg and Hamilton last season, and we expect the same this year.

Also, domination is nothing new in Formula 1; be it Ferrari, McLaren, Williams or even Red Bull in the past.

And, the fans do not like it that much, but even they have the mind to accept that; any certain driver-team pairing domination can only be achieved when hard work has been put in. Hence, accepting it is a part and parcel of supporting the sport. Also, one cannot change the rules of sport or a game if a certain team or player is dominating it pretty easily.

So, teams themselves have to come up with a solution in order to challenge Mercedes at the top. Besides, asking for regulation changes is also not a guarantee that you will dominate next time around with them. But, continuous hard work, and a bit of luck, can assure you that. And, as Toto Wolff of Mercedes put it (albeit in a very animated manner): "I think [you should] just get your f***ing head down, work hard and try to sort it out',"

Maybe, if not early regulation changes from FIA, but at least Red Bull has got a fine piece of advice from Mercedes.

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Gaurab Sinha
A big Formula 1 buff and an ardent football fan. A proud supporter of McLaren F1 Team, Leeds UTD FC, Manchester City FC, Romain Grosjean, Mark Webber, Force India F1 Team, Chelsea, Liverpool and San Antonio Spurs.
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