Can Red Bull stand another year out of title contention?

2016 F1 season preview

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Furious at Renault’s lack of progress with its power unit, Red Bull courted every alternative supplier available last year. But it was to no avail.

For 2016 the name on the engine cover has changed but the manufacturer remains the same: the Red Bull-TAG Heuer is truly another Red Bull-Renault.

Expect Toro Rosso run Red Bull close in early races
Worse, Red Bull now finds itself as the secondary partner to a manufacturer which is going to put its factory team first. But don’t expect that to mean Red Bull will immediately drop behind the new Renault outfit.

By the second half of last year the RB11 looked a match for anything else on the track aerodynamically. Fears that Adrian Newey’s reduced role in the team would seriously compromise them appeared to be ill-founded, especially once the team got to grips with the latest tweaks to the front nose regulations.

Heading into 2016, the team has a chassis which appears to have drawn on the strength of its predecessors. The team have always been tactically razor-sharp and it believes the new tyre rules will play into its hands.

Whatever gains Renault has found from its engine over the winter, Red Bull will surely be better-placed than the factory team to exploit them. An upgrade is already planned for the Canadian Grand Prix where the team expects to see significant gains.

At twisty tracks and on wet days Red Bull could be a threat, but a title shot is surely out of the question. Will they consider this sufficient?

Christian Horner’s bitter complaining last year made it clear Red Bull considers it worthless to be involved in F1 if they are not championship contenders. Last year they repeatedly threatened to pull out irrespective of the commercial deal they had signed with Bernie Ecclestone until 2020.

The team is favoured by Ecclestone and he made finding an alternative engine supplier for them a priority – even if it meant a controversial rewrite of F1’s engine regulations. This plan failed and there’s no sign of another engine manufacturer appearing in time for 2017.

Red Bull’s future in F1 therefore rests on the competitiveness of their Renault power unit. If it falls short, and they spend the year being beaten by Toro Rosso and their year-old Ferraris, don’t expect them to quietly accept the situation.

3: Daniel Ricciardo

Ricciardo has already won races and proved he can go wheel-to-wheel with F1’s elite. The Renault’s lack of top-end forced him to get creative with his overtaking last year, resulting in two of the stand-out moves of the season: on Lewis Hamilton at the Circuit of the Americas and Kimi Raikkonen in Monaco.

Behind the wise-cracking personality and trademark grin is a steely racer prepared to wing the best out of the car.

26: Daniil Kvyat

Surprisingly, Kvyat out-scored his more experienced team mate in his first season at Red Bull last year. Luck had more than a little to do with it but Kvyat’s efforts should not be underestimated and he produced a few stand-out drives.

He got the hurry-up from Helmut Marko early in the year, however, and will be well aware that Toro Rosso has a pair of exciting drivers eager to grab his spot at the top team.

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Author information

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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33 comments on “Can Red Bull stand another year out of title contention?”

  1. Unlike others, i think Redbull will give tough fight to Williams for 3rd, they were already faster than Williams by the end of the last season.

  2. “Christian Horner’s bitter complaining last year made it clear Red Bull considers it worthless to be involved in F1 if they are not championship contenders.”

    I really think that’s all just blowing smoke, you need to say these kind of things to keep the image of being a top competitor, even if you’re not one. It’s hard to say it hasn’t worked either, people expect them to be somewhere near the top, if not now then soon. I really doubt that would be the case if instead of the petulant outrage their tone was of quiet acceptance as the mid/back markers tends to be.

    It’s not hard to see from the comments here where people expect Red Bull to be vs McLaren for example, where as if McLaren boasted technical competence and was as critical of their lack of power preventing them from where they should “rightfully” be, people would expect them to be more highly placed.

    Red Bull’s media strategy was criticised strongly, but again, it’s hard to say it hasn’t worked.

    So… Quietly accept the situation; you’re right, they won’t. But accept it none the less; they will. I promise to literally eat my hat if Red Bull drop out before 2020. There’s way too much investment, and their brand still continues to grow, indicating something’s going right.

    1. Oh I should add, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them sell off the second team though. That being either RBR proper or Torro Rosso (depending on the situation with engines, team personnel etc, whichever contracts the Mat sees as more valuable). So I guess I could be eating my hat if technically Red Bull does drop out but TR remains.

    2. McLaren was pretty critical of their power unit. They made claims last year of having one of the best chassis, but it was only the engine which was letting htem down.

      The fact that RBR was the top team until the engine change, something they have no control over, doesn’t put them in a mid-field/backmarker stance either.

    3. RBR retain credibility because of performances like Austin last year, and Hungary. Newey built up an incredible cohesive department, full of positive feelings; and it’s not just the aero, the car is fantastic on the brakes as well. The front men do their best to make us dislike them (with some success afaic), but it’s obvious enough how good they are.

    4. Red Bull’s media strategy was criticised strongly, but again, it’s hard to say it hasn’t worked.

      Strategies are created with goals in mind. Red Bull’s goal was to get a rival engine manufacturer to supply them or bring about a favourable change in the engine regulations. Neither of these things has happened, so I don’t agree it has worked.

      1. Great point

    5. “It’s hard to say it hasn’t worked either, people expect them to be somewhere near the top, if not now then soon.”

      That has everything to do with the team’s credentials and nothing whatsoever to do with the nonsense Horner frequently spews. I find it pretty easy to say that it hasn’t worked.

  3. I think we should get some of the complaining into perspective.

    Red Bulls chief complaint was that Renault, after promising a lot, brought a terrible (and even less reliable) PU to 2015, and then showed absolutely no real effort in addressing that.

    That alone is I think fair cause for complaint.

    The rest, the railing against the FIA, Mercedes, threatening to leave… Yes definitely OTT, but I suspect all done by design to try and ensure the 2017 rules reduce the absolute reliance on PU’s.

  4. I have little sympathy for RBR. They and Renault cockily put off developing their PU in favour of Seb’s fourth WDC, and then found themselves behind the 8-ball. But with a fourth in a row in hand. Prior to that they were complaining about the curtailing of ebd. In the new chapter they immediately dumped on Renault after coming off 4 Championships in a row. Not saying all, but much of where RBR finds themselves is of their own doing. And it is entirely disingenuine for Horner to say it is useless to be in F1 unless you are competing for a Championship. So does that mean he will laugh is Haas’ face for even entering F1, or is the truth really that even back markers in F1 can say to the world they and the brands they represent are in F1. Btw Horner, if only the top 3 teams decided it was worth being in F1, you wouldn’t have a job as there would be no F1.

    1. @robbie

      I think this is a bit unfair. Different companies enter F1 for all sorts of reasons with all sorts of goals and ambitions. But in the end everyone wants to win. Haas know they won’t win this year, but long term the plan is to at least try. But that’s a long road with lots of things that need to happen before Haas can shape his team into a winning outfit. Red bull have gone down that road already and have built a team which is absolutely at the top of its game. It took years and massive investment to get there, and I think it’s not unreasonable to feel like in order for that investment to be justified, the on track results should reflect that. I don’t mean that they should expect to always win, but they earned their championships the hard way and want to stay at the top of the curve.

      But that’s the way it is. F1 is hugely competitive. Mercedes are in the same boat now – investing huge amounts into their programme. How long do you think it would take if they found themselves in the position Red Bull are in before the Mercedes execs decided to pull the plug? Plenty before them have done it. For a team at that level, winning can be the only acceptable result. And if winning suddenly seems out of reach, especially through a situation like the one in which red bull find themselves, then that’s the reality of business.

      I think the only thing Red Bull can be accused of is saying the things any team like theirs would say behind closed doors, out in public for all to hear. Which in some respects is quite commendable.

      1. @mazdachris That’s fair comment. I’m not sure different companies’ reasons for being in F1 are all that different from each other’s. Aiming to win but gleaning marketing impact while doing so would I think sum things up fairly well
        for most sponsors.

        I think for me the fact that RBR have built themselves up to be what they are is exactly why they shouldn’t be coming off as whiners, especially when they put themselves on their hind foot by concentrating on a 4th set of Championships. They should be a bit more reserved knowing that because they have built themselves up, they are closer to the top than to leaving, so why even talk like when the going gets tough they consider bailing.

        Definitely though when companies are no longer feeling an impact then they have to look at the value of their marketing dollars spent on F1, and I would think it is far from useless for them to be there, and I personally don’t find it commendable to present that kind of aura of F1 in public. Teams have been in F1 way longer than them without winning 4 straight, and find it far from useless being there year after year. But then I guess that’s for RBR to decide…behind closed doors please. Their public airing of their opinions has found them without a good PU partnership, and without sympathy from I’m sure more than just me.

        1. @robbie It really depends on what you want your brand image to be. While for some I’m sure it’s sufficient simply having their brands associated with F1, for others it’s crucial for their brand image that they are successful and not just making up the numbers. As I say, that’s the objective RBR have set themselves, and right now they are failing to meet that objective. In that position, there are two options – fix things and get back to the top, or just pull out. Red Bull appears not to have the first option. Not entirely. They’re relying on their engine partners developing a decent engine, and so far that hasn’t happened. And all of the other engine suppliers are refusing to supply them with engines because they are afraid of their factory teams being beaten by a ‘customer’.

          I think it’s totally understandable that RBR are utterly frustrated by that. The quality of the team hasn’t disappeared. It’s not like Williams who gradually slipped down the order because their best people were poached and they then had no funding. RBR have everything they need in terms of personnel, facilities, and budget. The only thing they need is an engine which matches the quality of the team they’ve built.

          Hopefully it’s academic. With Renault buying a full works team, they’ll surely now be committed to putting in the investment needed to bring their engine up to scratch, and then RBR can enjoy being back where they belong. And us fans can enjoy seeing more top teams fighting for wins and championships.

  5. A lot of positivity has come from Red Bull and Renault lately. Even Helmut Marco has made some nice comments about how Renaults approach has turned for the good since it took over Enstone. I think 2016 will still be a development season, they certainly won’t win the championshop. They might win some races at the end of the season, if Renaults promises come true. 2017 at least looks much better, which the PU performance gap hopefully reduced and an opportunity to out develop their rivals aerodynamically, there is a chance Red Bull will be back at the front.

  6. Yes, they can, like any other team have been waiting 10 years between championships win or fight.
    What’s the big dea? What should McLaren say? or Williams?

    1. Problem is RedBull think they have as much standing in the sport as Ferrari but in the whole scheme of things they are not equal to McLaren or Williams. Hopefully Renault give themselves all the good updates before RedBull just to annoy them.

      1. Over the past decade Red Bull has won more championships than Ferrari and McLaren combined. They are one of the most successful teams in the history of the sport.

        But in the end, all of that is history. What matters are results right now. No amount of trophies in the cabinet back at the factory will make an f1 car go even a nanosecond faster than it is capable of.

        1. No it will not but their standing in the sport is well below Ferrari and McLaren or Williams. I am not referring to current performance where Merc are the undisputed number 1 but in the way they go about their politics. They have won less than Ferrari, McLaren and Williams, been in F1 for a fraction of the time so one 4 year era and a decade in the sport means they have little standing next to those teams. They are no Ferrari. I have a feeling they will get squeezed on engines and end up as Alfa Romeo or something like that.

          1. By that reasoning Mercedes are no Ferrari. And a good thing for them too, since it means they’re winning.

            Ferrari are improving and I hope they’re able to mount a challenge but you can’t escape the fact they’ve massively underachieved since their last championship. Red Bull have dropped back because Renault dropped the ball on the engine formula. Ferrari dropped back because they’ve not been able to design decent cars.

            But in the end what’s the difference. You’re either winning or you’re not. History is meaningless.

          2. I’m not so sure history is meaningless in the sense that I’m sure Red Bull still gleans tons of marketing impact from having won the 4 Championships that they have.

          3. Merc win for now but over the years as with Red Bull now you can start so well but over time your win percentage will diminish. Ferrari are undisputed with many eras in F1 not just a 3 or 4 year stint. Ferrari lived through Lotus, BRM, original Merc etc and have been good over a number of decades. It’s the dedication and loyalty to the sport that sets them apart. Merc will leave once they start losing after getting high on some success same with Red Bull. That is what sets the holy trinity of F1 teams apart. Ferrari, McLaren and Williams.

          4. @mazdachris

            By that reasoning Mercedes are no Ferrari. And a good thing for them too, since it means they’re winning.

            In all fairness, the last decade of results have been shared between Ferrari (’07 & ’08), Red Bull & Mercedes (including 2009 as Brawn). If the latter win this year, they’re on level pegging with Red Bull, at least.

        2. agree 100%. My argument is that even for the teams that have raced decades, it’s normal and accepted to have long periods of poor competition. That’s it

  7. I’m not a RBR fan but I like the way they operate in technical aspects. I admire their approach of learning from mistakes and never repeating them as Keith says: “The team have always been tactically razor-sharp”. They probably have a very thorough and methodical approach in planing and running the team, aiming to win, of course. Consequently frustration grows when things are not under control and you aim high. I can understand that… Hopefully they’ll get a good surf from the wave of optimism coming from Viry and pleasantly surprise us for the sake of championship. They might appear to be ‘dead’ for some but I consider them ‘lethal’.

    1. I admire their approach of learning from mistakes and never repeating them

      And yet still Mateschitz lets Marko be interviewed by the media…

  8. What is it with teams developing this strong sense of entitlement after a period of success?

    You never used to hear anybody say stuff like “F1 is nothing without Ferrari” back in the 90s because hardly anybody outside of Italy gave much of a hoot about them. Then they win 5 in a row and suddenly they have this huge legion of fair weather bandwagon merchandise buyers who constantly bellyache about the state of F1 when Ferrari aren’t winning. Let’s not even talk about Ferrari’s own deplorable behaviour behind the scenes.

    Now it’s happening again with Red Bull.

    Ferrari once went 2 decades without a championship. Williams are coming up on 2 decades too. The Enstone outfit are 10 years out from their last championship. These things happen, just shut up and get on with it.

    1. Once victory comes easy… Its hard to loose all your superpowers. Same for everyone.

      Then blamegame starts.

  9. sunny stivala
    10th March 2016, 21:34

    The problem with red bull, an arrogance topped with a sense of entitlement and certified with a pedigree of hypocrisy, an apparent believe that the team has a divine right to competitiveness. people following F1 and visiting some F1 websites love the truth even more than they love the personal fluff of some opinion article writers, the red bull engine saga has left some of the top British based opinion writers red faced, remember when everybody and his dog has been assured that “Renault will provide red bull with the “block”, ilmor design and manufacture their cylinder heads, combustion and injectors system, whist providing technical assistance on theturbo for red bull/ilmor/infiniti unit, whilst red bull supply Renault with ERS components”.

  10. Neil (@neilosjames)
    10th March 2016, 22:56

    No fan of their recent behaviour, but I’d like to see them back at the front, along with McLaren and Renault. I miss the days of having at least three teams with at least half a chance of winning each race.

  11. I think, yes.

  12. I think this will be a good publicity year for them like 2009. Rightfully they can get some underdog fans. Maybe they can luck a victory?

  13. Harden up Red Bull! They’ve had it pretty good for a while now and im sure in the next 20 years they’ll be back

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