Where Red Bull, Renault have gone wrong

© F1 Pulse, 5 March 2014
© AP Photo/Hasan Jamali

Helmut Marko has admitted that the start of the season is "at least two months too early" for the underprepared Red Bull, while defending world champion Sebastian Vettel has pegged his hopes of scoring points at the opening race in Melbourne on the failure of others. What has gone wrong for a team that has convincingly clinched the championship in the last four years?

1. LEAST MILEAGE

After the three pre-season tests in Jerez and Bahrain, the mileage covered ahead of the opening race in Melbourne sheds plenty of light:

Power Unit Teams Distance
Mercedes 4 17,994kms
Ferrari 3 10,214kms
Renault 4 8,743kms

Mercedes power units have accrued the most amount of mileage while Renault the least. This is further highlighted by the fact that three of the four Renault runners were at the bottom of this table:

Teams Distance
Mercedes 4,973kms
Williams 4,893kms
Ferrari 4,489kms
McLaren 4,153kms
Sauber 4,039kms
Force India 3,975kms
Caterham 3,313kms
Toro Rosso 2,436kms
Red Bull 1,706kms
Marussia 1,686kms
Lotus* 1,288kms

*Lotus skipped the opening test at Jerez

2. LACK OF MEANINGFUL RUNNING

It's obviously good to get some mileage before the championship begins. Of course, the Mercedes power units have covered twice the distance that the Renault runners managed in the three tests. It can be argued that Renault, like any other manufacturer, has the know-how to crunch the data it has in its bag, no matter how limited.
But it's to be noted that the Renault teams, perhaps barring Caterham, haven't had meaningful data logged. If a programme that should have lasted ten laps is truncated to just a handful, it means very little for the engineers.

© F1 Pulse (Source: Alberto Blanco, @White_F1 on Twitter)

Williams ran so reliably that it recorded nearly 5000 kilometres before stopping on track. McLaren was next with about 1,300 kilometres before its machine was forced back to the garage. In contrast, Red Bull and Toro Rosso halted, on average, after just over 400 kilometres of running. Lotus was the worst of the lot with just 180kms per stoppage.

Also, data from the first test at Jerez, for instance, weren't too relevant as Renault reportedly ran at only half the capacity of the energy recovery systems.

3. RED BULL TECHNOLOGY GEARBOXES

Speculation has led to believe that the gearboxes in Red Bull and Toro Rosso, developed by Red Bull Technology, has been unable to cope with the massive torque amounts the power units are producing. Caterham is the other Renault-powered team that has been using the same gearbox although the team's troubles are far less ominous.

4. PACKAGING

© AP Photo/Hasan Jamali

Adrian Newey is a gifted designer who can design a car that perhaps produces the most downforce. For that, he tends to be aggressive with the packaging of the internals in the car. And that's a problem. This year, it's just not an engine and an 80hp-creating KERS that needs to be accomodated in the challengers. Teams now also to have house an MGU-K, which has nearly double the output of KERS, an MGU-H, batteries and the engine as well. The vast power unit laid out in Newey's crevices have led to overheating issues. And Red Bull has accepted that it's a problem that was limited by the car and not solely the Renault power unit. Also Renault, it was rumoured, was not happy with the way its components were packaged in the RB10 with Red Bull perhaps underestimating the cooling requirements of the vast power units.

5. WORKS TEAM ADVANTAGE

© AP Photo/Hasan Jamali

It's probably no surprise that Mercedes has emerged as the top team in pre-season testing. After all, the German manufacturer not only fields a works team but also develops the power unit, integrating the two entities smoothly. Ferrari is the other team, and it won't raise any eyebrows should the Maranello squad take giant leaps to better the F14 T.

Late in the V8 era, with the engines frozen, the performace from the units were more or less the same, the technology better understood as well. Renault doesn't have a works team and has for the last half a decade saddled and driven Red Bull's success. The formula has now changed and so have the demands. The new regulations are more suited to attract car manufacturers, at least in the initial year. It's then no co-incidence that Honda is returning to Formula One next year solely with McLaren, which in effect will emerge as the Japanese car maker's works team.

6. RED BULL KEEN TO BLAME RENAULT?

© Ker Robertson/Getty Images/Red Bull Racing

In an interview with the official F1 website, it appeared that Red Bull team principal Christian Horner was keen to place all the blame for its problems on Renault. Here are how some of the questions were dealt with:

Q: What were the biggest fears bringing the new car to the track?

CH: The power unit is such a fundamental change and so complicated that it is a game changer in Formula One. We will be relying extremely heavily on our engine partner. Power unit and reliability will be the decisive factors this season.

Q: The last big rule change in F1 racing was in 2009. Then there was suddenly one team - Brawn GP - that got it ‘righter’ than anybody else. Could that happen again?

CH: Unlikely, as the chassis rules aren’t so different. The power unit is the massive change - and where the opportunity lies. That’s why Renault is so critical to our success this year.

Q: That sounds like this season is a race among the engine manufacturers…

CH: In many respects, yes.

7. TOO MUCH FOCUS ON 2013?

© AP Photo/Felipe Dana

Vettel won a record nine races in a row in the latter half of the 2013 season with none of Red Bull's rivals emerging as a real threat to the German's dominance. That suggests that Red Bull's rivals had given up. Ferrari, for instance, had made it clear that it would decide whether to pursue its championship hopes after the Singapore Grand Prix, a race which Vettel dominated. It's likely that the teams had simply and understandably given up on trying to rattle the hegemony and instead refocused nearly all their efforts towards the new regulations. Red Bull, meanwhile, may have missed that boat.

 

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