Red Bull face biggest challenge yet after harsh winter

2014 F1 season preview

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Red Bull ground their rivals into dust during 2013 – particularly at the end of the season, when Sebastian Vettel reeled off a record-breaking string of nine consecutive grand prix victories. That yielded his fourth drivers’ title in a row and the team’s fourth constructors’ championship victory.

Those eight crowns haven’t come easily. There were times, particularly in early 2012, when it was clear that changes in the rules had subtracted more from Red Bull’s performance than it had from their rivals.

But now they face their greatest challenge. It isn’t just that some details of the 2014 regulations eradicate avenues of development where Red Bull led the way – directing exhaust gasses into the diffuser or positioning the batteries next to the gearbox. The entire philosophy of the 2014 rules has shifted away from Red Bull’s area of expertise and towards that of their rivals.

The frozen engine formula meant development was focused on aerodynamics – a key strength of Red Bull’s chief technical officer Adrian Newey. The new challenge of achieving performance and reliability from a cutting edge petrol-electric turbo engine goes against the grain of Newey’s design philosophy.

In previous Newey creations, KERS was treated as something of a necessary evil. Its total power output was sacrificed so as not to compromise the weight and aesthetics of his cars. And no team can have had more KERS failures in recent seasons than Red Bull – an indication of how few concessions Newey made to it in his designs.

Outwardly the RB10 is as elegant as a car can be under the current regulations, featuring one of the least unsightly noses and a very neat packaging of the rear internals. But the latter seems to be at least part of their problem.

To say the car’s performance so far has been a disappointment would be quite the understatement. While all Renault-powered teams have experienced difficulties with cooling, Red Bull have been especially taxed by them and had to resort to hacking unsightly holes in the side of the car just to get some laps done.

By the time the chequered flag fell on the last day of testing in Bahrain, Red Bull had completed the lowest mileage of any team which had showed up for all 12 days of running.

Any schadenfreude-tinged satisfaction at Red Bull’s woes on the part of their rivals will be tempered by expectation that this is only a temporary setback. After all Red Bull started 2012 on the back foot yet ended the season as champions once more.

But this time the problems appear to be deeper and the scale of the task Red Bull face in conquering them far greater.

It will be fascinating to see how Vettel responds to the expected culture shock of qualifying mid-grid at best. If he’s to have any hope of equalling Michael Schumacher’s five consecutive title wins he needs to limit the damage in the early races while the team sort out the car.

And new team mate Daniel Ricciardo, meanwhile, finds himself in a situation Sergio Perez might have some sympathy with. Like Perez last year, Ricciardo has joined a top team only for them to begin the season off their game.

His home race next week will be the first real indication of the seriousness of the situation the the world champions face this year.

Red Bull’s F1 record

Championship position775721111
Pole positions000051518811

Over to you

How much trouble are Red Bull really in – and how quickly can they fight back? Have your say in the comments.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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32 comments on “Red Bull face biggest challenge yet after harsh winter”

  1. It’s been a relentless 4 seasons, and at the moment, although unbelievably excited for 2014, I for one am struggling to see past the a different outcome to Vettel and Red Bull winning both championships this year. Even if the car is, say, 3rd best by mid season, you’ve got the string of Asian races to follow where Vettel has embarrased everybody. I think it could be a bit like 2009 where the team will start to claw back fairly early. I’m totally backing the Mercedes lot (particularly Williams), but never underestimate the current champions!

    1. No doubt Red Bull will mount a serious challenge once they recover from a torrid testing period @electrolite But you actually don’t have the string of Asian races that we had in previous years.. The 2nd half of this years calender won’t suit Vettel as well..

    2. …you’ve got the string of Asian races to follow where Vettel has embarrased everybody.

      Only because the team had the resource and drive to maintain and deliver on upgrades following the summer off-season. If their current woes continue beyond (likely) June/July (i.e. their home races in Austria & Britain), they’ll likely take the decision to forgo this years championship and double-down with Renault on 2015, because they can’t afford to be caught with their trousers around their ankles twice in a row.

    3. That was my thinking half-way through the 2012 season. In my mind there was no way Vettel and Red Bull could possibly not win the two titles after their previous two seasons, that’s why I predicted Vettel to win the title despite being 42 points down on Alonso at that point.

      But this is rather different, the situation is worse than 2012. Although Vettel and Red Bull have four titles each, I think this season may just be beyond reach for them. They could come back to win races nearer the end of the season, but I can see too much damage being done early on for them to mount a challenge. I can see their season being quite McLaren 2009-esque.

  2. Given the pre-season they’ve had and given the nature and severity of their problems, I’m having difficulty envisioning them getting anywhere near to a complete race distance in Melbourne.

    Regarding the closing question, I think they’re in big trouble and Helmut Marko has said as much himself. It’s not as if they’re trying to catch up to where everyone is now. Everyone will be on a huge development curve this season and Red Bull will be trying to catch a moving target. If they are ‘2 months’ behind at the moment, everyone will have progressed even further by the time they’ve had 2 months to catch up to where everyone (that matters) is right now.

    It’ll be fascinating to see how quickly and effectively Newey & Horner rectify the situation and if they can do it in time. One thing’s for sure though. They couldn’t have picked a better season to have an ‘Abu Double’ Grand Prix…

  3. I know most people are writing them off, but my money is on Vettel to win the championship this season, although I don’t think Red Bull will take the constructors

    1. Care to share your reasoning why you believe Vettel is a shoe-in?

      1. Maybe because he’s on a bit of a streak? I dunno. You pick a reason.

      2. @optimaximal becase Red Bull may sort out their problems by season’s end, and Vettel could win the Abu Dhabi super-bonus-sandy-double-points-season-finale-bonanza-extravaganza and win the title at the last moment.

        1. I kind of hope for this, even though I’m a VET hater, just to see how humble he may be in saying “look I don’t deserve this, (insert rightful winner’s name here) deserves this instead.”

      3. Redbull racing progression throughout the season is the strongest while their competitors fall off fast.

  4. It will only make them stronger. There is no disgrace in a bad season(start). They can use all 2014 as a test and in 2015 for sure they will be front runners again. I highly doubt 2014 will end without a Red Bull on top at least once.

  5. I think it’s clear that RBR will start the season terribly. But it must be noted that for the past 5 seasons, no team has showed a better rate of in-season-development. Their improvement-rate, added to Vettel’s aparent superiority in asian tracks, made me think that, even if they don’t win any WC this year, we’ll be seeing them on the podium much more constantly than the pre-season led us to believe.

    At absolute worst, this will be a sacrificial year for them, shifting sooner than later to 2015. Which could bring them another year dominance.

  6. It’s hard to make any solid predictions based purely on pre season testing form. But if I had to guess, it would take Red Bull at least 3 to 4 races to get into decent front running form. It’s entirely possible that they could out develop Ferrari, Williams and maybe Mclaren to finish the year with the 2nd fastest car, but as far as Vettel’s titles hopes go, I don’t think he will be able to match the likes of Lewis without having a car as good as the Mercedes.

    1. I don’t know, we may see something like 2007 we saw at McLaren: two drivers at Mercedes taking points from each other, and the under dog Vettel takes the title.

      The Mercedes are the favourites, but I would set Vettel as the challenger.

      1. Shreyas Mohanty (@)
        7th March 2014, 18:11

        @paeschli I would put Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen, even Jenson Button, on the list of possible challengers, not Vettel.

    2. @todfod agreed on all accounts except possibly the last: provided the engine isn’t a truly massive handicap, I can definitely see them overtaking Mercedes: Hamilton himself has acknowledged that it is a very tidy looking car.

  7. schadenfreude-tinged satisfaction

    Keith is on a roll :-)

    I don’t expect Red Bull to challenge for the championships this year, yet it’s too early to rule them out completely. Perhaps favourites Mercedes will break down in Melbourne and Vettel will outscore them, and then in Malaysia it could rain and the Red Bull could prove to be a brilliant car in those conditions. Long story short, Vettel and Red Bull could do what Alonso and Ferrari did in 2012 and keep their championship hopes alive until they get a decent car, which in Ferrari’s case was by the start of the European season.

    1. @adrianmorse
      The thing is. Ferrari had reliability on it’s side. This year Red Bull certainly does not.

  8. No doubt will the car be the best by mid-season. So what I am really hoping for is one dominating driver during the first few races. If Hamilton, Rosberg, Alonso, Kimi, Button all take points away from each other, it will be another Vettel championship. Especially if Williams will also be able to take one or 2 wins in the first half of the season.

    Only if one driver has a clear lead at RB’s turning point, we will see an exicting finale .

    1. Again with the ‘no doubt’. There’s actually ‘plenty of doubt’ given the magnitude of the task.

      1. They had the best car mid-season after starting on Ferrari’s level before. This time, the car already looks the fastest prior to the first race but with a lot of reliability issues.

  9. Absolutely anything could happen to Red Bull this year. They could crash and burn, leaving them ruined for years to come (not likely, mind you), or they could bounce back within a matter of months and be battling for the title in November. I’m also really looking forward to seeing how Vettel manages with the change in fortunes – he could go down as one of the all-time greats if he can hold the Red Bull team together competitively this year.

  10. As a loyal Aussie I am happy to see Dan take over from Mark and hoped he will have a great season. While I would like to see a change at the top (like a few) I would hate to see that come from just Vettel having a bad car rather than being beaten.

    Worse still would be Dan getting “Checo’d”- going to a top team in the year they get it wrong, then getting sacked! I still feel for Perez and will feel better if Kev REALLY turns it on (as it looks he may well do) to prove McLaren got that one right.

  11. I hope it is not a to big of a shock for the Mercedes teams when the real Red Bull and Ferrari teams arrive in Australia

    1. Shreyas Mohanty (@)
      7th March 2014, 13:49

      We already have seen the real Red Bull team, @ean. As to Ferrari, Auto Motor und Sport has said a lot about Ferrari hiding their true performance, and do actually make some valid arguments, so I am being cautiously optimistic. :)

  12. Well if there is at least one team that is going to be pretty solid all around, like it is being suggested might be Mercedes, then any team starting the season on their hind foot will not be able to just match the top teams and expect to catch up…they’ll have to leap ahead. Can anyone see RBR leaping ahead of Mercedes or Williams in time to save their Championship run? Can’t see it personally. But then again, if Merc and Williams and Ferrari ultimately have to dial it way down to finish races, then who knows. RBR’s fate right now is as dependent on the other top teams as it is on their own ability to sort things. Mercedes starts running away with it, and they’re all screwed.

  13. I’ve sat around the last few weeks thinking ver all the testing stories and wondering whether Red Bull are making this up, as a way of taking the pressure of them in the early part of the season, making them seem even mightier when they win dominantly as early as China..

    The problem is, I can’t see how they’d do that. The biggest problem with the car is reliability. They can easily sandbag in testing, but the team have just over a third of the mileage Mercedes have. There’s just no logic to having the car break down so often and so quickly. The fact that it’s not just Red Bull but the other Renault powered teams just backs me up on this. Red Bull are in trouble.

    That’s why this season is going to be a good one. Red Bull aren’t going to give up, so they’re going to have fight hard. The next Red Bull win will be an incredible sight for all F1 fans, because we know they had to work for it..

  14. Michael Brown
    7th March 2014, 16:20

    I think Vettel will still be able to win races, but with the car being so far behind everyone else’s, I see Vettel bringing an inferior car to championship contention.

    1. OmarR-Pepper (@)
      7th March 2014, 18:47

      Maybe, or may be as Alonso’s second stint in Renault, when he could win just one race in Japan (the other was scammed “without him knowing”)
      I mean Vettel can maybe extract a win or two. That’s all. They should need a miracle to push back on the second half of the year

  15. We’ve had enough of RBR/Vettel for a while now, in my opinion. I hope they won’t be even a title contender this year. I’d like to see a battle between Ferrari and Williams for the title(s).

  16. My guess is that RBR/Renault is going to be unreliable and will struggle to finish a Grand Prix distance. I think the disruptive 2014 engine technology has significantly unseated Renault. They pretty much invented forced-induction (turbo) F1 engines and although that initial experience has been no doubt lost by now, I don’t doubt their abilities in this regard. Where Renault have always had difficulty is with the hybrid/electric aspect of the modern era. On the basis of recent experience I just don’t think they have the expertise nor the corporate DNA to be able to succeed in this area. I could be proved wrong, but if the situation for RBR is as dire as I think it will then by mid-season RBR are going to looking to do a Ron Dennis and sadly ditch Renault and turn their attention to 2015. Mercedes and Ferrari are not going to be supplying Red Bull. The only likely contenders are Honda, and McLaren might have something to say about that – their deal for 2015 and beyond may be exclusive although I doubt it – and the wild card, Cosworth who apparently have a hybrid V6 in development but they lacked funding and shelved it. Red Bull have funds and are desperate for a reliable power plant that works with Newey’s packaging. The latter is another issue that Red Bull can theoretically fix themselves but the feedback we’ve been getting is that although the cooling situation on the Red Bull seems to be the worst, all Renault teams are struggling. Renault gives the impression that they think the problems are with the teams and that the engines should be able to run unrestricted. To me, this only underlines the problem at Renault and that they don’t understand the issues. Of course this being F1 they are going to be political and not give away too much. The stories of Red Bull’s software engineers pulling 18-hour shifts to try and improve the control software again only proves to me that Renault don’t have the expertise in the electronic/electrical side of the modern power units and are going to struggle to finish races.

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