After a tough start to the 2014 season, defending champions Red Bull Racing finds itself under attack on a number of fronts. The team has spent the past few weeks fending off claims of a perceived internal dispute with star driver Sebastian Vettel, as well as attacks from rival outfits Mercedes and McLaren.
Following Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix – where Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel finished fourth and fifth – the team’s management spent the post-race hours defending itself from claims that Vettel is becoming increasingly unhappy at being shown up by his new teammate.
For the second race running, Vettel found himself being asked to yield to the sister car over the broadcasted pit-to-car radios. While he appeared complicit at the preceding race in Bahrain, the exchange aired during the Chinese Grand Prix raised accusations that the German was not playing the team game.
Vettel was running ahead of Ricciardo during the middle stint of the race and was asked to allow the faster Australian to pass him. When he inquired further and was informed that Ricciardo was on identical, but fresher, Medium tyres, he replied “tough luck.”
A lap after that exchange went to air, Ricciardo was through after Vettel carried too much speed into Turn 1. But the exchange raised speculation that Vettel was up to his old tricks of only paying attention to team orders when it suited him.
Following the race, Vettel claimed that he did in fact cede to the team orders, indicating that the subsequent radio exchange was not broadcast.
“I moved over for Daniel once I knew that we were on different strategies,” he said. “When I was first asked, I didn’t understand as we were on the same tyre, unlike in Bahrain, so I double checked. When the team said we were on a different strategy, I moved over and then, as the race went on, I saw more and more that I didn’t have the pace. There was no point in holding Dan back.”
If the car’s lack of competitiveness relative to the frontrunning Mercedes runners, the Milton Keynes squad has also found itself in a war of words with the current championship leaders following the FIA International Court of Appeal’s ruling that it will uphold the Australian Grand Prix stewards’ decision to disqualify Ricciardo from his third-placed finish at Melbourne.
Red Bull Racing was found to have ignored clear instructions from the FIA to restrict the fuel flow feed of Ricciardo’s car so it conformed to the 100kg/hour flow rate in the rules.
Mercedes found itself in a similar position a year before following its ‘secret’ Pirelli tyres test – for which it was banned from the subsequent ‘Young Drivers’ test – but it took a particularly aggressive stance in its prosecution of Red Bull Racing, arguing that the team should receive a three-race ban on top of Ricciardo’s disqualification.
In a post on its website entitled ‘Spy Games: China’, the team’s ‘Spy’ correspondent – who serves a similar pot-stirring purpose to Ferrari’s ‘Horse Whisperer’ correspondent – wrote that Mercedes could “shove that three-pointed star” where it fitted best.
“The big news we’re digesting is that the playful scamps at Merc decided to have a good old sticky-beak at our appeal and requested we receive a three-race ban. There’s a few pursed lips from our management at that but they’ve decided to rise above it and not comment – but down here at the coalface you can be sure we’re telling our mates in the next garage along where they can shove that three-pointed star,” the post reads.
If that wasn’t enough, the team is also engaged in a spat with McLaren, after news that the team rehired former aerodynamicist Dan Fallows, who had defected to McLaren and was just about to start work with the team.
McLaren management was furious with the news, claiming that Fallows’ former employers had lured him back with an offer he simply couldn’t refuse. McLaren responded by indicating it would launch proceedings in London’s High Court of Appeal. In no way can it force Fallows to honour his original contract, but it could make a small, principled, dent in Red Bull’s payroll budget in the form of damages.
“It’s for Christian to reach out [to us],” McLaren boss Ron Dennis said during the Chinese Grand Prix.
“We did everything to ascertain that they knew there was a [reworked] contract. We sent the messages out and they were ignored.
“If you send an email into a company and you don’t get a response, then clearly I think the onus is on Christian stepping up to the plate and sitting down and talking. We’re obviously not happy to be contracting people in a correct and professional way, only to find that those contracts are disregarded.
“What I’m particularly uncomfortable with is that people just don’t change their minds, they induced to change their minds. People being induced to break contracts, it’s just wrong.”
Horner’s rebuttal was crisp and to the point: “Obviously it’s very easy for McLaren to be drawing focus away from their bigger issues – I mean it’s obvious why they’re looking for aerodynamicists.”
Let the war of words continue…
Image via XPB Images