The upcoming Austrian Grand Prix is held in Red Bull’s territory in the Styrian mountains but the global drinks magnet has had a troublesome campaign.
Red Bull rode the crest of a wave between 2010 and 2013 as it dominated Formula 1 courtesy of a perfect combination of team, driver and regulations as Sebastian Vettel claimed four straight drivers’ titles, while the Milton Keynes-based squad collected the Constructors’ trophies to match. But while 2014 was a struggle, 2015 has been even worse. Here are some of the reasons why and what could be next for the team.
It would be too simplistic to base all of Red Bull’s problems on Renault but the power unit is currently accounting for a large part of the woes. Throughout 2014 updates were promised but the outfit started 2015 on the back foot as a lack of performance was exacerbated by woeful reliability – albeit the latter an aspect Renault believe to be sorted. Nonetheless, in starting on the back foot it means that there is an increased likelihood of engine penalties, while Renault is still chasing performance compared to Ferrari and Mercedes, the latter still evidently improving, meaning that the French company needs to out-develop its rivals. It's no coincidence that Red Bull's best result so far - fourth and fifth - came around the streets of Monaco.
There has also been an acknowledgement that while the engine is weak, Red Bull’s RB11 is not one of its finest chassis. Some of this can naturally be attributed to being behind on the development scale, as focusing on the engine meant that other areas could not be prioritised, such as tyre data for example. Whereas rival teams could spend testing and practice sessions on improving the chassis, Red Bull had other concerns. Issues with the brakes during a couple of early races affected progress while the new nose did not arrive until the Spanish Grand Prix. It’s not that the RB11 has anything fundamentally wrong with it but whereas in the past Red Bull set the standards aerodynamically, that key advantage now no longer exists.
It’s easy to overlook how crucial Vettel was in the success of Red Bull and his departure promoted Daniil Kvyat to the senior squad a year earlier than initially anticipated. Kvyat’s raw pace is evident but he struggled during the early races before putting in more encouraging performances in Monaco and Canada. Replacing a four-time champion with a driver in his second season will always be a trade-off for the future, rather than the present. Daniel Ricciardo, too, has had a couple of sub-par races, though part of this comes with the pressure of altered expectations following his starring 2014 campaign. He has limited machinery at his disposal, which is hobbling his ability.
Cyclical nature of sport
It’s obvious, but sport is inherently cyclical in nature as circumstances/regulations or supreme ability enables one person or team to enjoy a spell at the top of the pile before others catch up and overtake. Formula 1’s history plays to this theme, with McLaren, Williams and Ferrari having all had dominant spells. Currently, Mercedes’ name frequents the top of the timing screens but in the future it too will be overhauled and replaced by a rival team. Others have also made gains. After its awful 2014, Ferrari has made progress to replace Red Bull as the second-best team, while Williams matched Red Bull across the latter half of last year and has continued that momentum, whereas Red Bull has regressed. Hence, it is the fourth best team at the moment.
What comes next?
In the immediate future, Red Bull must fear a struggle at its home circuit, as it claimed a sole eighth place during last year's edition. Long-term, Red Bull consultant Helmut Marko says the next three weeks are crucial as Renault awaits the results from a change in its developmental approach – if that is a success, then the updates will arrive at the end of 2015 with the hope of substantial progress in 2016. Red Bull, however, may become tired of waiting and either opt to search for a different supplier – it has frequently sounded out Audi – or withdraw from the sport, albeit it is tied down until 2020, as per contractual agreements. Renault, too, has left its options open, varying from acquiring its own team – having sniffed around Toro Rosso and linked to other outfits – or pulling out of Formula 1 altogether. Either way, a lot of paths remain open with regards to the future of the Red Bull-Renault alliance and a decision will need to be taken soon.