Toro Rosso showed in Malaysia that Red Bull Racing and Renault are both at fault
The problem with mouthing off in public is being held to those words afterwards.
When Christian Horner, the team principal of Red Bull Racing, heavily criticised engine-suppliers Renault following a poor performance in Australia and essentially made them out to be scapegoats for Red Bull’s woes, he was always going to be slipping into a tricky territory.
“They are in a bit of a mess at the moment,” Horner had said in Melbourne.
“They need to understand things quickly. It’s not the start Renault can afford to have.”
The performance was not much better on Sunday in Malaysia as the French engine manufacturers were again slower than the Mercedes and Ferrari power trains. But, and this is a big but, Red Bull were not the fastest Renault-powered car in Sepang.
The Red Bull drivers Daniil Kvyat and Daniel Ricciardo finished ninth and 10th on a track where, two years earlier, the Austrian team had claimed a one-two finish. It was their sister team, Toro Rosso, who have smaller resources, who made best use of the Renault engine on Sunday with Max Verstappen finishing seventh, just ahead of teammate Carlos Sainz Jr.
Both Red Bull drivers were lapped by race winner Sebastian Vettel, whose joy at winning in only his second race at Ferrari is probably matched by his relief at dodging the bullet of being stuck with the Red Bull-and-Renault partnership again after a fruitless 2014.
The fact that Red Bull were beaten by Toro Rosso would seem to suggest not all their ills are the fault of Renault, something Cyril Abiteboul, Renault’s F1 chief, had been keen to point out before Malaysia, in reaction to Horner’s comments.
The RB11 chassis appears to lack the grip of its predecessors and neither Ricciardo, so good last year, or Kvyat, have been able to find a good balance.
It was the 2014 car’s exceptional aerodynamic performance that made up for the shortcomings of the Renault engine last season, compared to Mercedes.
Take that away and they look ordinary.
It was unpleasant to see Red Bull and Renault going so public in the blame game, achieving nothing positive from it and creating only more disharmony.
Red Bull and Renault dominated F1 as a pairing between 2010 and 2013, winning the drivers’ and constructors’ doubles four years in succession and accumulating 41 wins in that period.
But you often learn more about someone’s character in defeat rather than victory.
It is easy to win, but handling defeat, learning from it and trying to find a way forward, that takes character and drive.
Red Bull, and Horner in particular, have done themselves no favours with their behaviour this season, including the plea for the engine regulations to be equalised because it was unfair that one manufacturer, Mercedes, had an edge – despite the fact they had done a better job.
That was a low point, when you consider Red Bull is the team that hammered the opposition for four seasons and cared not one jot then about an equal fight when it was they who were in the ascendancy.
Renault, it seems, have not done as good a job as their rivals, but then neither have Red Bull’s engineers.
Less talk and more work in the factory is advisable for the team.
No doubt, Horner will keep a lower profile in China in two weeks as he and Red Bull come to terms with the fact their bid to get anywhere near the likes of Mercedes-GP, Ferrari and Williams will make this a long year indeed.
If Horner needs inspiration he only needs to look at Ferrari. A poor engine and an aerodynamically inferior car gave them their worst season in 21 years in 2014, yet one winter later they were the victors in Malaysia and have gone from being midfield runners to championship contenders.
It may not happen overnight but Red Bull and Renault can come back. First, though, they must end the blame game so they can begin moving in the right direction.
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Published: March 30, 2015 04:00 AM