The Chinese Grand Prix was another race to forget for Red Bull. In the aftermath, the former dominant team of Formula 1 were left languishing in fifth place in the constructors’ championship.
For Daniil Kvyat, it ended with a puff of smoke early in the race, a succinct finale to what had been a troubled weekend for the Russian.
Brake issues had bedevilled his practice runs and then a problem with the Renault power unit scuppered his chances of qualifying better than 12th.
Then there was the matter of Daniel Ricciardo, who stuttered off the start line and then spent the rest of the race playing catch-up before sneaking into the points in ninth place.
Red Bull had their issues last season after a truly woeful winter testing but they turned things around in some style for Ricciardo to win three grands prix and, for a time, ensure the championship battle was not solely a one-team affair. In addition, they held off the threat of Williams to finish second in the constructors’ championship.
A year on and three races into the season, they have a mere 13 points and tellingly find themselves a solitary point ahead of their ‘B’ team Toro Rosso in the standings.
— Red Bull Racing (@redbullracing) April 12, 2015
So what then has gone so wrong? The biggest issue lies with the Renault engine that powered the team so brilliantly in its recent heyday. As Renault F1 managing director Cyril Abiteboul put it: “A race-winning engine on merit is not something that is going to happen this year, we know that.”
Red Bull themselves have made no secret of their displeasure with the lack of power from the Renault engine, with both Christian Horner and Adrian Newey being very scathing in their public assessment of where things currently stand.
So why has that impacted Red Bull so much more than Toro Rosso despite the fact the two teams have the same power unit packaged into their car?
A Formula 1 car is ludicrously complex and the machinations of Red Bull’s in contrast to its sister team means that the knock-on effect of Renault’s stuttering engine has had an even greater negative impact.
Red Bull have complained that every facet of the car’s performance has been compromised as a result: corner entry and exit, tyre degradation, slip control of the tyre, the list goes on.
The domino effect has had the team constantly trying to compensate by moving around its brake balance, which has then merely thrown up further issues, a loss of temperature in the brakes and then tyres not working to their optimum. Horner has labelled it a “spiralling effect”.
So how do they go about finding a solution? Renault clearly needs to get a better engine and is working to do so but feels that, under the constraints of the FIA rules for this season, it is unable to make the monster strides it so desperately needs.
It has led to both Renault and Red Bull to threaten to quit the sport altogether although it’s hard to say just how realistic such threats are.
Renault’s seems the more serious. It is constantly being blamed for Red Bull’s issues and such negative publicity is not going to help the sale of its road cars, which is its overriding business after all.
As for Red Bull, the team have threatened to walk away twice this season already, team owner Dietrich Mateschitz saying so as recently as last Friday.
His gripe is this: “We’ll only stay in Formula 1 if we have a competitive team and we need a competitive power unit for that.”
He is in no uncertain terms saying to the rule makers: ‘change the engine rules or we walk.’
Mateschitz is a ruthless businessman and has been known to pull the plug with Red Bull in other areas of business when he no longer sees the market value of something. His thinking is that, if F1 is no longer having the effect he wants from his brand then it’s game over.
Red Bull won’t, for example, start making its own engines as that’s not its line of business and it’s too costly to start down that route.
— Red Bull Racing (@redbullracing) April 12, 2015
But F1’s global appeal is huge, Mateschitz knows it and he’ll be hard pressed to find a better avenue to market Red Bull.
Plus there is the fact that financially the team have done well out of the sport with the deal it has with the sport’s money makers. And there was the slightly puzzling issue of having signed up a long-term partner in Hisense this week hardly something the Chinese giant would have done if Red Bull were about to walk away.
The point is that Red Bull have huge clout in F1 and that Mateschitz’s interest has waned in this latest era of the sport.
That will have people worried but Red Bull have the wherewithal to turn things around. That may not come this season with Mercedes still shining and Ferrari having proved resurgent. But they are here to stay… for now, and are too good not to make a comeback.
Lewis Hamilton has been exonerated of any wrong doing en route to winning his fourth Chinese Grand Prix despite being on the receiving end of Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg’s anger.
Rosberg effectively accused Hamilton of selfishness in the post-race press conference at the Shanghai International Circuit after finishing second to the 30-year-old for the sixth time in the last 10 races.
Rosberg suggested Hamilton was at times too slow, holding him up and so potentially drawing him into the clutches of a chasing Sebastian Vettel in his Ferrari who eventually finished third.
At one stage, with the gap between Hamilton and Rosberg 2.3 seconds and Vettel close behind, the German took to the radio to inform the team that “Hamilton is driving very slowly. Tell him to speed up”.
— Formula 1 (@F1) April 12, 2015
It appeared a strange message as Rosberg was not close enough to pass, but seconds later, via way of explanation, he said: “If I go closer I destroy my tyres, like the first set. That’s the problem.”
That prompted an immediate team message to Hamilton as he was told: “Okay, Lewis, pick the pace up a little bit.”
Asked about the message, Hamilton replied: “I wasn’t controlling his race, I was controlling my own race. My goal was to look after my car. I had no real threat from Nico throughout the whole race.”
The last remark, in particular, was a dig in the ribs for Rosberg who then responded in kind.
The German, who was clearly fuming, said: “It’s just now interesting to hear from you, Lewis, that you were just thinking about yourself with the pace in front when that was compromising my race.
“Driving slower than was maybe necessary in the beginning of the stint meant Sebastian was close to me, and it opened up the opportunity for him to try an early pit stop to try and jump me and then I had to cover him.
“It was unnecessarily close with Sebastian as a result, and also it cost me a lot of race time because I had to cover him. Then my tyres died at the end of the race because my stint was just so much longer, so I’m unhappy about that.”
Asked to respond, Hamilton defended himself as he said: “It’s not my job to look after Nico’s race, it’s my job to manage the car and bring the car home as healthy and as fast as possible.
“That’s what I did. I didn’t do anything intentionally to slow any of the cars up, I was just focused on myself. If Nico wanted to get by he could have tried, but he didn’t.”
After numerous incidents between the pair last season, this latest spat appeared to have reopened old wounds but Mercedes Motorsport boss Toto Wolff insisted the post-race debrief was fine.
He said: “I know what you want to hear, but generally everybody was in good spirits. Lewis was the car in the lead, in control of the pace, but on the other side Nico was running into trouble because he was bunched up behind Lewis, he couldn’t go near.
“So he asked for a two-second gap to Lewis to protect the tyres, which he did, but at the same time Sebastian was increasing the pace behind him. But Lewis didn’t do what he did on purpose, and we’ve cleared that now. There wasn’t any intention from Lewis to slow Nico down in order to make him finish third or worse – 100 per cent.”
Non-executive chairman and three-times world champion Niki Lauda was firmly on Hamilton’s side as he said: “One thing is clear from my point of view, Lewis had pole position and controlled the race from the beginning to the end. Therefore there is no need for a quarrel.”
Asked whether a driver has to be selfish to be a winner, Lauda added: “For sure. I call them egocentric b******s, and this is the only way to win a championship. There is no friendship out there. When you race you have to fight, that’s it
“When you are upset, you make statements, but in the end they will all cool down, go to Bahrain and start all over again – the same fight.”
Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen was fourth ahead of Williams pair Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas.
Niki Lauda says Mercedes is happy to let the “egocentric bastards” Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg race each other after another spat between the two team-mates.
Rosberg accused Hamilton of deliberately backing him in to Sebastian Vettel during the second stint in the Chinese Grand Prix, compromising Rosberg’s race.
While Hamilton hit back by saying his team-mate was “no real threat” in the race, Lauda says it is natural for an F1 driver to be selfishly thinking about how their own race went.
— Lewis Hamilton (@LewisHamilton) April 12, 2015
“Sure, [Hamilton] will drive selfish,” Lauda said. “These guys … I call them egocentric bastards, let’s say, and this is the only way to win a championship. It’s the oldest thing.
“So Nico does the same to Lewis and Lewis the same to Nico in the end if the s**t hits the fan. I fully agree, this is the way it is. Therefore we race.”
And Lauda also doesn’t mind the issues surfacing between the two drivers as long as they keep Ferrari at bay.
“We are first and second and I don’t care if there is a quarrel, as long as Vettel is third. All this internal up and down, let’s wait and see, they’ll sit down, have a briefing, they’ll cool down and it will be quickly stopped.
“One thing is clear from my point of view, Lewis had pole position and controlled the race from the beginning to the end. Therefore there is no need for a quarrel.”
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