Analyzing Red Bull’s F1 dilemma

Ricciardo in the Red Bull in Singapore
Ricciardo in the Red Bull in Singapore

No doubt, racing is a bottom-line, cutthroat, what have you done for me lately business. That said, I think one would be hard-pressed to come up with a nastier, more drawn out, more it-really-didn’t-have-to-end-this-way divorce than what we’ve witnessed between Red Bull and Renault over the last 8 months. And while the general belief is that the Adrian Newey-designed RB chassis from 2010-2013 were the primary driving force behind the team’s four consecutive Constructor and Driver championships, Renault’s contributions to that historic run cannot be disputed.

I wrote back in April that while things between Red Bull and Renault had gotten nasty, the only logical conclusion was the two staying together. After all, Renault had gotten out of the team-operating business after 2010, opting to solely be an engine supplier. With all the top teams tied to another manufacturer, Red Bull was realistically, Renault’s only option to be relevant. Nor did it make sense that Mercedes or Ferrari would be willing to share the fruits of their labor with an organization that employs Adrian Newey. Logically, I believed it made sense for the two to iron out whatever their differences so happened to be and move forward – together. Cooler heads, I believed, would prevail.

Obviously, I was wrong.

Red Bull brass including Christian Horner and Dietrich Mateschitz seemed keen to overlook the tremendous historic feat of four straight championships together, opting instead to trash the proud and accomplished manufacturer at nearly every opportunity. While one could argue Renault never maximized the potential exposure of their monumentally successful partnership with Red Bull, they were left really with no other option but to sever ties.

However, I wasn’t wrong in noting that Red Bull would have few options other than Renault. Mercedes have already stated Red Bull will not receive their power plants, while Ferrari seems to be deliberating internally over the prospects. Red Bull for their part have insisted that their ‘customer’ engines must have parity with the ‘factory’ power units, else they will not be participating in F1 next season. At this point, that means Red Bull is either running Ferraris or not running in F1 at all.

And they’re not bluffing.

Will Ferrari play nice with Red Bull?
Will Ferrari play nice with Red Bull?

But if you don’t believe me, I imagine you might take the word of Bernie Ecclestone, who is attempting to mediate between the two parties. Ecclestone obviously wants to keep the two Red Bull teams in the fold, and is of course known to have a rather cushy relationship with the folks at Maranello. Recently, Ecclestone told Autosport that Ferrari chairman Sergio Marchionne is torn over the prospect of Red Bull having Ferrari power, believing it will “upset his team." No doubt, the prospect of Red Bull-liveried cars parlaying the blood, sweat and tears of the fine people at Maranello into Grand Prix wins and championships at the expense of the scarlet cars would be a morale killer within Maranello. For example, it is nearly impossible to imagine Sebastian Vettel leaving Red Bull for Ferrari a year ago facing this potential prospect.

After all, Red Bull was competitive with Ferrari last weekend in Singapore with their reportedly weaker Renault power units? What would they have been able to do with Ferrari power?

Hard to say. But we know that from a competitive standpoint and in the interests of morale Maranello, Marchionne’s decision is easy: he doesn’t give engines to a team that employs Newey, reduced role or not.

Also, I imagine Marchionne, like everyone else, is no fan of Red Bull’s act. Ferrari, of course, is a traditional F1 team, which has weathered the inevitable ups-and-downs of more than a half-century in Formula One. They are committed on no uncertain terms to Formula One.

Conversely, Red Bull seems to be the vapid, petulant new money, glam boys, who have reacted to an unfavorable change in wind direction by essentially threatening to take their toys to a different sandbox.

Why would Marchionne feel compelled to indulge such behavior, particularly when it was nothing but Red Bull’s arrogance and petulance that has placed him in such a position?

Well, it’s important to also keep in mind that no team or manufacturer is as attached to the overall health of Formula One than Ferrari. Winning Grand Prix and World Championships is fundamental to the DNA of Ferrari more than it is any other manufacturer. In short, if Formula One suffers, Ferrari suffers, and Formula One needs more than 9 teams. Plus, Ferrari is going to supply 6-8 teams whether Red Bull competes or not. From a certain perspective, supplying Red Bull is more appealing that say, Sauber and/or Manor/Marussia?

Further, the relationship between Ferrari and Ecclestone is well known, just as it is known Ferrari receives larger payouts per terms of the Concorde Agreement for their status as a historic F1 team. Ecclestone wants another competitive team and the marketing dollars a multi-national conglomerate like Red Bull brings. The F1 Supremo will mediate and/or persuade in some way, and Marchionne will feel the pull.

In short, Marchionne must weigh the options between what is best for his company, what is the best for the sport his company is so much a part of, and how it all fits together.

Very Interesting times indeed. Hard to say what will happen, but Red Bull has clearly put Marchionne in a difficult position. Is the Ferrari boss willing to potentially compromise his own team for the good of Formula One? I’m not sure. But it’s hard to foresee a scenario that works for all parties.

Josef

[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]Reading the tea leaves mid-summer, I was 100% sure that Josef Newgarden would not be back at CFH Racing for 2016. And like my thoughts on Red Bull/Renault, I was wrong.

However, my guess is the talented Newgarden will be with a top team in 2017, if he hasn’t signed already. Also, in the interests of competitive balance, Newgarden being with CFH Racing is very good for IndyCar.

Silly Season

Newgarden finalizing his 2016 plans means the IndyCar Silly Season will probably be something of a routine one. On the Chevy side, it doesn’t look as though there will be too much movement. The #4 KV Racing Technology entry is expected to have a new driver, and the #8 Chip Ganassi Racing entry is of this time not confirmed. Otherwise, it looks as though it will be status quo in the Chevy camp.

As for the rest of the field, I imagine we will be in a holding pattern until the not-so-minor technicality of Honda confirming they will be around in 2016 is finalized.

Speaking of 2016

It’s been rumored that IndyCar might start its 2016 season this February in Mexico City. I’ve written in the past that IndyCar can and should look at finding foreign venues to race IF done properly. Also, there was a time when Mexico City was truly a great event for CART/Champ Car, once drawing more than 300,000 spectators.

However, with less than six months to promote the race, the ever-diminished stature of IndyCar globally, no Mexican driver even remotely on IndyCar’s radar, no Mexican sponsors of consequence and Formula One now racing at the same venue, this has disaster written all over it. I hope Mark Miles has gone into this with eyes wide open.

Road America

The big news this week was of course IndyCar testing at Road America ahead of next June’s Indy car racing return to North America’s greatest road racing cathedral. While many were understandably excited to seeing Indy cars lapping the picturesque four-mile circuit, my first thought was to once again ponder how stupid it was to actually leave in the first place.

Remember, Road America was scheduled for August 10th on the 2008 Champ Car schedule. However, the genius decision makers at the time decided for whatever reason running Kentucky the Saturday evening that weekend was a better idea. Crazy when you think about how long it has taken to get what was for the longest time a hallmark event back on the calendar.

Brian Carroccio is a senior columnist for AutoRacing1. He can be contacted at BrianC@AutoRacing1.com.

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