Analysis: Is it game over for Red Bull in F1?


Red Bull's engine dramas have unfolded in a way that not even that team would have predicted. Is this the end of the road for Red Bull in F1 or is there light at the end of the tunnel? Jonathan Noble analyses a fascinating situation.

To say that Red Bull has got itself into a bit of a pickle in Formula 1 right now would be a slight understatement.

With less than six months to go before the 2016 season starts in Australia, neither Red Bull Racing nor Toro Rosso have an engine supply deal in place, and there are growing doubts that they are going to get one.

It's a scenario that the energy drink giant was not predicting would unfold.

After deciding that the breakdown in its relationship with Renault was terminal, and having cancelled its engine contracts for 2016, Red Bull had been pretty bullish that either Mercedes or Ferrari would step up to the plate.

After all, as long ago as the Canadian Grand Prix, Ferrari chairman Sergio Marchionne had spoken in general teams about offering some engines to Milton Keynes if needed.

But that was then, and this is now: and Red Bull is finding itself on the receiving end of political pressures from those in the F1 paddock who are fearful of signing their own death warrant.

In simple terms, why would Mercedes and Ferrari – whose bosses have invested heavily in time and money to build up their own teams – want to hand competitive engines to the one rival that they fear the most?

Competitive interests

It's perfectly understandable why Mercedes said no, and why Ferrari is reluctant to give anything other than updated 2015-specification power units for now.

For Red Bull is a team that is known to be brilliant with aerodynamics, it is a team that operates bang on the edge of the regulations to ensure that performance is extracted to the maximum, and it effectively has an open chequebook to pay what is necessary to succeed. It is a ruthless winning machine.

Could you imagine the reaction from Lewis Hamilton or Sebastian Vettel if they were told that their bosses had agreed to help out Red Bull, in a move that could potentially cost them world championships over the coming seasons?

I am sure it would not be calm and considered.

War of words

While the stance of Mercedes and Ferrari is not so surprising, what has opened eyes is the aggressive way that Red Bull has been talking in public, and even criticising those it wants to do a deal with.

For to accuse Ferrari of 'playing games' with what has been offered, shows either some big balls or small-mindedness.

It is one thing publicly criticising a current partner in a bid to highlight the need for change – just look at Fernando Alonso's radio comments in Japan – but it is quite another adopting that tactic against someone you are trying to do a deal with.

After all, you would not go to an interview for your dream job, demand the same salary and perks as the CEO, publicly slate the company, and then expect to get hired.

But what Red Bull's public aggression shows is that its back is up against the wall, and it is going to try anything it can to convince the powers-that-be that if it does not get what it wants, F1 is going to lose two teams.

Rules avenue

Its willingness to be vocal against Ferrari has opened up another scenario though, for it could yet hold an ace up its sleeves amid the fight to get next year's engine regulations changed.

At the moment, Ferrari is supporting a push to open up in-season development again as it bids to deliver the gains it wants to close the gap to Mercedes.

A rules loophole that allowed the use of 'tokens' during the current year has been closed off for 2016 by the FIA, which means all manufacturers have until February 28 next year to sign off the designs of their new power units.

For that rule to change, and manufacturers to get the extra time they want, it will require unanimous support. It means that Red Bull could in theory hold out alone in blocking it unless it gets the 2016 performance parity it is after.

After all, if its only option it to race with updated 2015 power units, then anything to ensure that its rivals do not pull further clear would be sensible for its own competitive interests.

Such a route for Red Bull may well be interpreted as an act of war, and get its relationship with Ferrari off to a pretty bad start, but that is better than the financial and emotional pain of turning its back on F1 and shutting down two teams.

The machinations behind the scenes are fascinating. But one thing has become blatantly clear in the last two weeks: Red Bull is not giving up on F1 without a fight.

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Event Japanese GP
Track Suzuka
Teams Red Bull Racing
Article type Analysis