Analysis: New livery, same engine woes for Red Bull?

When Red Bull pulls off the covers on its 2016 Formula 1 livery in London on Wednesday night, it will not be lost on the team that its chances of success this season still hang on what is going on deep inside the car.

For however much any bold new colour schemes, and fanfare from new engine-naming partner TAG Heuer, shout of a bright new era from the team, if Renault does not make progress then results will still be hard to come by.

But does a changed relationship between Red Bull and its engine supplier mean it now has even less chance of success, or will the revamped effort from Renault actually help it move on from the nightmares of the past?

Relationship breakdown

Red Bull and Renault went to the brink last year as competitive struggles and a public war of words left their relationship in tatters, and them all set for an acrimonious parting of ways.

In the end, as Mercedes, Ferrari and Honda refused to play ball, Red Bull had to return cap in hand to Renault to renew their deal, albeit under very different circumstances.

From now on, Red Bull is no longer the preferred partner: for Renault has its own works team and everything is being done is to ensure that its Enstone operation gets back to the top.

And secondly, Red Bull will have a tougher time criticising its engine partner – for the TAG Heuer rebranding should help a little in ensuring that Renault's name does not get dragged through the mud.

Closing the gap

Red Bull may then no longer be leading the charge to fast-track Renault's success, but that does not mean the French car manufacturer is simply sitting back.

Renault's Remi Taffin thinks that work done over the winter should allow it to have halved the gap it faced last year to Mercedes, something which should allow Red Bull to make progress too.

“We are looking at the first half of the step we are having to Mercedes,” explained Taffin. “When I say first half, it is because we never know how the competitors will improve over the winter.

“If we were a second off last year, maybe we will get back three or four tenths. We will see what we have got testing and racing.”

New way of working

One thing is clear, though: Renault will not be rushing things through to make rapid progress in 2016, no matter what noises come out of Milton Keynes.

Instead, it will all be about laying foundations for 2017: when Renault wants its own works team to enjoy the fruits of its labour.

“There is a stepped programme, but the programme is made for 2017,” added Taffin. “Obviously we are racing every other weekend in 2016, but it will still be driven by the fact of: is it a good thing for 2017? If yes, we do it.

“In 2016 we have to be humble because we want to finish races, and we want to be quicker and quicker. So we will see how we develop that strategy. It will be based on what we got up to last year.”

That is not to say, however, that there will not be any updates in 2016.

"You always push to have things at the earliest, and at one point you have to commit as you have to produce parts. So we will go through 2016 taking opportunities – and taking opportunities means you cannot have specific planning: and we have specific planning going to 2017."

Fresh motivation

If Red Bull is after some encouragement, though, it comes from the fact that amid all the restructuring going on at Renault for its works team, there is increased resources, input from Ilmor and management changes designed to deliver results that simply were not possible before.

"We've been empowered to achieve winning," said Taffin.

That means Taffin and his crew have the power now to dance to their own tune – and make developments as they see fit: rather than facing the pressure from Red Bull to deliver everything now.

"I think I am more confident that the decisions we will be making will be our decisions, so we have to be in charge of that decision and deliver," he said.

"The pressure, it is a good pressure, when you do decide things and you deliver that is a good thing. If you haven't got that pressure that you are obliged to do this or that or this step.

"If we had done a better job in 2014 or 2015, I don't think Red Bull would not be asking for more.

"Having Renault behind us, it gives us freedom that I can plan things for two or three years rather than answering a customer who wants something for the next race."

Marko games

Even so, we've already seen the first inkling that the political battleground between Red Bull and Renault will remain intense.

Only a few weeks ago, Helmut Marko suggested the French car manufacturer should throw all its weight behind his team rather than its own works outfit.

"If Renault were clever they would put everything on us, because with this team (Lotus) and these drivers they won't manage anything at all," he said.

For Renault's engine technical director Taffin, being on the receiving end of such politically-loaded comments is nothing new – and he brushes the situation off.

"If I was Dr. Marko, that is exactly what I would say," he smiles. "He has got his team, he wants the best for his team and he wants to win.

"I would have been surprised if he had said the opposite, to be fair, but this is my own judgement.

"After that, I think what will be delivered is the same engine as Renault. And, as we wish to make Renault win, at one point we will have to have a very good engine.

"So if it is still fitting that engine into his chassis then he should have a competitive package, because we know how they are capable of producing good chassis.

"That will make a good battle. I will be happy to get a fight with Red Bull and eventually win obviously."

Embracing the future

Taffin is clear that Renault's situation in F1 right now is not simply down to the fact that relations with Red Bull collapsed so it had to do its own thing.

Instead, its about believing and investing in a better future that can deliver results for his company.

"If you understand why Renault is back in F1, it has nothing to do with the past with Red Bull," he said. "It is what we want to achieve for the future."

And any progress that comes on the engine will help any car it is fitted in: whatever the colours are on the outside.

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Series Formula 1
Teams Red Bull Racing
Article type Analysis