The tenuous relationship between Red Bull Racing and Renault looks to have almost completely deteriorated, with Cyril Abiteboul, Renault Sport manager, hitting back at recent criticisms levelled against the engine maker by the championship-winning team.
The RB11s suffered more reliability woes and ran well off-the-pace at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, with Daniel Ricciardo finishing a lapped sixth after undergoing a complete engine change after Friday practice. Teammate Daniil Kvyat failed to even take the start of the race, suffering a gearbox failure on his reconnaissance lap to the starting grid.
Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner launched a scathing public attack against its works engine partner, claiming it had not done enough to claw back the power and reliability advantage enjoyed by the pace-setting Mercedes engine. He also called upon the FIA to launch a process of equalising the performance of Formula 1’s engine partners, which also include Ferrari and Honda.
The Red Bull / Renault partnership swept to four successive Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championship titles – an achievement which gave little coverage to Renault – but Renault has since struggled to challenge Mercedes after the major engine regulation changes were introduced in 2014.
While Renault has freely admitted it has more work today, Abiteboul has taken issue with the engine maker being the sole reason for Red Bull Racing’s woes.
After issuing a statement to that fact in its own preview to this weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix, Abiteboul went one step further, and launched a counter-attack against Red Bull Racing and particularly Adrian Newey, the team’s Chief Technology Officer who oversees the entire design of the RB11 racer.
“It’s hard to have a partner who lies,” he reportedly told France’s Auto Hebdo. “Adrian [Newey] is a charming gentleman and an outstanding engineer, but he spent his life in criticising his engine suppliers. He’s too old to change.”
In what will be a fascinating encounter on Friday, the two are set to face off in the FIA Press Conference reserved for team, engine and tyre leadership figures.
The latest punch and counter-punch antics being played out in the media are a clear indication that this relationship is rapidly heading towards an end.
Renault is known to be planning a future to get more coverage, with the most likely scenario being a return as a full constructor by buying out an existing team (most suggestions are Scuderia Toro Rosso or Force India).
Red Bull Racing has to head to pastures new, but the key questions will be with whom, and how? The other engine builders will all be compelled to block any marriage by their own existing teams, so the only paths look to be an alliance with a new manufacturer, or the more radical step of designing and developing an in-house engine in the hope of getting a manufacturer on board to fund and re-badge.
This weekend looks to be very interesting indeed, but once again it won’t be the on-track action grabbing the headlines…
Images via Red Bull Racing