I know this is primarily a guitar blog, but this is too much of an issue to not be addressed publically. I am a huge Formula One fan and for British fans of the sport it’s great to see a Brit on the cusp of winning his third world title, equalling Sir Jackie Stewart and Ayrton Senna. If Lewis Hamilton wins the next race in Austin, TX and Sebastian Vettel finishes third or lower then Lewis Hamilton will be a three time world champion. It is, however, a better state of affairs that we were in this time last year (coincidentally the last time I wrote about Formula One) when the Marussia and Caterham teams went into administration and Jules Bianchi’s catastrophic accident in Japan. Sadly, Jules passed away earlier this year.
But there are some who are not happy about this: Before Lewis and Mercedes AMG were cleaning up most weekends the sport was dominated by an Austrian drinks company called Red Bull. Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber won four drivers and constructors titles between 2010 and 2013, causing the sport to enter an era of dominance almost akin to Ferrari and Michael Schumacher in the early 2000s. Ferrari and their drivers Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barichello won five titles on the spin, meaning that as a nation Germany has eleven titles between two drivers: Schumacher with seven, Vettel with four. With Renault power behind them and Adrian Newey designing cars that bent the rules of aerodynamics, Red Bull looked unstoppable and if it were not for the rule changes regarding engines in 2014, Red Bull and Vettel could easily have won a fifth driver and constructors title.
Then the rules changed: The naturally aspirated V8 engines were dropped in favour of turbo-electric hybrid V6s that have brought the formula forward. Mercedes-powered cars had the best
cars of the year in 2014, with Mercedes AMG taking pole position in every race except for Austria where the Mercedes-powered Williams of Filippe Massa took pole. Renault powered cars- Red Bull, Torro Rosso (Red Bull’s B team), Lotus and Caterham were all on the back foot with Red Bull throwing the toys out the pram because they were not where they felt they were entitled to be. And that’s what it is with the whole story- Red Bull’s arrogance from winning those four titles gave them a sense of entitlement, as if it was a right to win.
In contrast McLaren, who have won the title eight times and Williams, who have won it nine times, have not won since 1998 and 1997 respectively yet are still racing despite McLaren, now with Honda power are having their worst season ever. Sauber, a team that entered in 1993 are still racing, as are Force India even though they have NEVER won a race. Red Bull are threatening to quit the sport because they are no longer winning. Ferrari have not won a title since 2007, yet are still racing. In 2014, Daniel Ricciardo, a Red Bull driver, won three grands prix. With how dominant the Mercedes was, it was the best they could have hoped for.
It is not the first time that Red Bull has had a spat with its engine supplier though. They split from previous supplier Ferrari in 2006 because they felt the engine was not good enough and signed a deal with Renault, that year’s constructors champions, in 2007. The 2007 Renault engine was not as good as they had hoped and was down on power compared with the rivals from Mercedes and Ferrari – which was a problem, because F1 had started a period of frozen engines, which meant that engine development could only happen when it was a concern of
reliability and safety. Red Bull complained to the FIA at the end of 2007 and were allowed to tune the engine while Mercedes and Ferrari engined cars were not. It was still not the best engine, but a decent one. With the rule changes in 2009 coming into effect and the new Renault engine having superb driveablility, rivals were not impressed that suddenly this mid-grid team had become a front runner. The team did well, but lost out on the constructors and drivers championship to Jenson Button and the Brawn team, which is now Mercedes.
In 2010, Red Bull went one better and won with Sebastian Vettel. It then repeated the feat for the next three years, mimicing the years of Schumacher and Ferrari dominance. Then, in 2014, the hybrid turbos were introduced. Who had lobbied for this new technology? Renault. When the rules were revealed in 2012 Mercedes, which has a history of being one to spend millions on R&D (approximately £1,000,000 a day according to Top Gear), worked on the engine straight away. Ferrari were a little later to the party but still made a decent power unit. Renault meanwhile, waited until the end of the 2013 season to build and test an engine. Despite the new units being crap, Danny Ricciardo won three races, albeit because of Mercedes’ troubles in Montreal, Budapest and Belgium. The Red Bull of 2014 was still better than the Ferrari of that year,
finishing second in the constructors’ race.
Red Bull and Renault’s secret? Renault tuned the engine to blow exhaust gases even when the driver was off-throttle. These were harnessed by Red Bull’s aerodynamicists, led by the genius Adrian Newey, to create rear downforce out of reach of other teams – even when they cottoned on to what Red Bull were up to.Their lead driver adapted brilliantly to the unique and counter-intuitive driving style required by this technology and Vettel-Red Bull-Renault swept all before them. And then, the problems started
Red Bull were quick to claim all credit themselves, while not once mentioning the fact they’d achieved all this with a down on power engine that, due to Renault’s ingenuity, was blowing exhaust gasses onto the aero parts to give them an advantage in the corners. Renault resented the fact they were getting little to no publicity about the fact they had in part engineered this wonder car. Red Bull then engineered a title sponsorship deal with Infiniti, Nissan’s luxury car brand that is part of a Nissan-Renault conglomerate. This deal paid for Red Bull’s engines, but at the same time the title sponsorship meant more Infiniti logos on the car and fewer Renault ones. Even though Renault made profit from the deal, the lack of Renault engines annoyed them.
Last year, with a woeful testing program and even worse reliability, Red Bull were quick to blame Renault and threaten to quit the sport if their results did not improve. Daniel Ricciardo dragged it to three wins and embarrassed the four time champion Vettel at Monza (Vettel has since moved to Ferrari and won three races in the 2015 season) in a sublime overtake. Nobody
knows more about turbo engines than Renault, and the successful team was left to pick up scraps last year and this year they ended up using four engines in as many races. Christian Horner even had the nerve to say after the season opener in Australia this year that F1 was in for another yawn-fest:
“When we were winning – and we were never winning to the advantage they have – I remember double diffusers were banned, exhausts were moved, flexible bodywork was prohibited, engine mapping mid-season was changed It’s not just us that were hindered by the rules- McLaren were and Williams in the 90s too.”
I’m going to stop you right there, Christian. I’m going to provide you with several reasons why the parts on your car were banned:
- Double diffusers were banned to prevent extreme downforce and making the cars harder to drive. This is was started by the Brawn Team in 2009. Not you. I seem to recall that you complained about the legality of it to the FIA because it was too difficult to fit your own to the car.
- The exhausts were moved to stop teams exploiting the blown diffuser concept and make the cars less reliant on downforce and more on driver skill
- Flexible bodywork, with the exception of the DRS rear wing, has ALWAYS been illegal. You were disqualified from the Abu Dhabi qualifying because of it. No conspiracy, just rules.
- Williams’ active suspension and (not used) variable transmission were banned because they were too high tech and made the car too easy to drive. No other team at that time could nail the tech and most couldn’t afford it.
- McLaren’s rear brake pedal tech in 1998 was banned because it broke the rules.
- Mercedes’ car in 2014 was completely legal. They mastered the aero and they mastered the engine. That’s it. They were using nothing innovative or illegal.
- Mercedes never as dominant as you? In 2013 you won nine races in a row. Mercedes’ best run was seven. Wind your neck in.
With success comes arrogance. Manchester United fans have it, Real Madrid fans have it and Ferrari fans have it. Unlike Red Bull they have more than just four titles and have been successful for many many years. Red Bull is not in Formula One for the love of racing. It’s a glorified marketing campaign and it only seems that the row with the engine suppliers has magically happened now that the team’s success has dried up. Red Bull has now severed ties
with Renault and is looking towards getting engines from other suppliers. Mercedes team bosses Toto Wolff and Niki Lauda quickly rejected any proposal as they were not willing to supply a rival team with engines. Ferrari have since done the same. Red Bull’s hopes of staying in the sport rest on striking a deal with the VW group or gambling on a deal with Honda, who are having troubles of their own while supplying the McLaren team. Red Bull describe this as an “insult”, given that Ferrari customers Sauber and Haas will get 2016 engines, and say if they do not get parity they will quit F1.
So lots of people will lose their job, and four talented drivers across the company’s two teams (Daniel Ricciardo, Daniil Kvyat, Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz, Jr) will have to find employment elsewhere. All because a team feels entitled to success.
Make sure you shut the garage on the way out, Christian.