The end of the 2015 Formula 1 season is almost upon us and the clock is ticking for Red Bull Racing and Scuderia Toro Rosso to sort out an engine deal for 2016.
Having fallen out spectacularly with current partner Renault, the drinks group has since been spurned by both Mercedes and Ferrari in trying to secure an alternate engine deal, while its approaches to Honda have been rebuffed by a veto from McLaren.
Over at Red Bull Racing, the team has gone down the path of designing no less than four different versions of its 2016 car, the RB12, in the hope that whatever engine they land up with will actually fit.
“We have designed four versions of the car – so one engine should fit,” team principal Christian Horner told the official Formula 1 website.
“So we wait until the music stops and see which chair we are sitting in – or even if we have a chair at all!”
The two teams’ owner, Dietrich Mateschitz, has again gone on the record through the Red Bull-owned Speed Week magazine, threatening to quit the sport unless his two teams can get a competitive engine.
In truth, it’s a hollow threat, but one sufficient enough to frighten the FIA into appeasement mode by suggesting it will put out a tender for a low-cost turbo engine – a void that Cosworth would probably have filled were it not forced out of the sport when the current engine regulations came in and no teams were willing to partner with them to fund the new power unit designs.
It’s also hollow because Mateschitz committed Red Bull Racing to a ten-year deal (which the team is halfway through) with Bernie Ecclestone to remain in Formula 1. It’s widely known that an early exit will attract $100 million per year in penalties; writing a half-billion-dollar cheque is not an option that any sane business leader would sign…
One might feel sorry for Mateschitz and Red Bull’s other leaders if they hadn’t dumped the entire mess on themselves.
In partnership with Renault, Red Bull Racing won four successive Drivers’ and Constructors’ championships between 2010-2013, rarely giving sufficient credit to Renault for the role it played in their success.
It never seemed to understand the mantra of ‘winning and losing together’, and so when Renault’s turbo-hybrid power units proved not to be as competitive as the frontrunning Mercedes’, the toys were being thrown out of Red Bull’s pram at a rate of knots.
Their behaviour was to the point that Renault – not to mention any other current engine builder worth their sanity – no longer wanted to play in Red Bull’s sandbox.
History has shown that Red Bull is no stranger to a tantrum when it doesn’t find the cards falling its way. Recall 2013, when Red Bull Racing found that its RB9 car wasn’t well-suited to Pirelli’s specification of tyres, and so it threw enough of a tantrum to get a furious Pirelli to revert to a 2012-spec construction which then allowed the team to win all but one of the remaining races that season.
So Red Bull now finds itself in the position where no one wants to work with them. And it expects us to feel sorry for them as well.
Formula 1 finds itself at another junction: should it rewrite the rules to appease one of the sport’s biggest teams, or should Red Bull suck it up, learn a bit of humility and the value of being a partner in the bigger picture.
Its only realistic course of action is to find a new manufacturer to partner with. It looked on course to have a deal lined up with the VW group – either the Audi or Porsche brands – but the company’s vehicle emissions scandal threw that option out of the window.
It still could be a long-term option by investing with a group like Cosworth to develop an in-house engine programme, but there’s next to no prospect of that being ready in time for 2016 given how close the next season is approaching.
Biting the bullet and going back to Renault with cap in hand – or accepting Ferrari’s offer of a late-2015 specification of power unit – is really the only way forward from all of this.
Image via Red Bull Racing