One of the most regular features of pre- and post-race interviews with anyone at Infiniti Red Bull has been some Renault-bashing. Commentators – myself included – have postulated that Red Bull’s lack of progress with their engine partner via a softly, softly ‘carrot’ approach has seen them reverting to the big stick instead. Focus has been centred on this line of reasoning but here is a different take on the situation.
We came to win
Red Bull, as a brand, do not lose. They set out ambitious goals and achieve them – think Felix Baumgartner’s space jump. Conversely the brand is loathed to lose and its success has not been borne out of investing massive amounts of cash in fruitless activities. Their investment in Formula 1 has been substantial along with the cost of rehabilitation of the old A1-Ring circuit in the brand’s home country of Austria. A decision to leave F1 now – undeniably as losers and appearing more than a little like a spoilt brat taking their ball home – will not sit well with the brand. If they had left at the peak of their dominance it would have been more ‘on brand’.
The team has a contract with Renault that runs to the end of 2016. With little sign of Renault making any significant progress, Ferrari turning around their fortunes and Mercedes still the benchmark Red Bull are set to struggle for at least another two seasons. Renault may decide to quit the sport then. As Red Bull and their feeder team Toro Rosso are their only customers it would be a clean break. But Red Bull would then be stuck looking for a new supplier with limited options.
No new teams wanted
Ferrari and Mercedes would be unlikely to supply such a strong rival and there are major question marks over Honda. Aside from having 2015 and 2016 compromised, Red Bull could find themselves locked in to a position of being just another team supplied and not the lead team of an engine partner. Could Red Bull’s public and at times bitter criticism of Renault actually be designed to force their partner out of the sport earlier to open up a new opportunity?
2+2 = 5
Since former Ferrari chief Stefano Domenicalli joined the Volkswagen Audi Group, rumours have persisted that they are considering an F1 engine supply. Red Bull have plenty of links with VAG already having sponsored VW’s various Dakar Rally and Rally Raid exploits, plus their current WRC team. From the Audi perspective there have been long-standing sponsorships in DTM and World Rallycross. Such connections, links and successes are often enough to spark bigger partnerships in future.
Red Bull need an engine partner that is prepared to commit to the next 5 years at least in order to try and match the challenge offered by Mercedes, Ferrari and potentially Honda. Renault – having won everything in F1 during their latest foray in to the sport – do not need to commit to that at all.