Rumours to the effect that Renault could be planning to sell its F1 engine department in Viry come at exactly the same time as suggestions from Helmut Marko that Red Bull wants to do its own thing on the power unit front – and it’s not hard to tie the two together.
Sources suggest that rather than attempt to start its own engine operation from scratch there are plans for Red Bull to take control of the Viry operation, although whether that would involve an outright purchase of the facility in the short term is not yet clear.
It’s worth noting that Dr Marko has been spending a lot of time at Viry recently. The suggestion is that Caterham boss Cyril Abiteboul, respected by Red Bull and previously a leading light at Viry as Deputy Managing Director of Renault Sport F1, might return to oversee any restructuring.
With Renault’s agreement Red Bull would introduce its own systems and key personnel in an attempt to improve the current power unit within the homologation rules for 2015. It would then use the Viry facilities to build a new unit to a Red Bull design for use in 2016 and beyond.
If that happens it could transform the future prospects of Red Bull Racing and help the team to hang on to the frustrated Sebastian Vettel.
On Sunday in Austria Christian Horner hinted at a restructuring at Viry: “There needs to be change at Renault, because it can’t continue like this. It’s not good for Renault, it’s not good for Red Bull. We need to work together as partners – there will not be another engine in the back of the car next year. We want to be competitive, we want to run at the front, and these kinds of issues can’t and shouldn’t happen.
“Something needs to happen, because whatever’s being done there is not working at the moment. It’s not our business, it’s not our responsibility, we’re the end user. It’s just frustrating that the product is just not working at the moment.”
As Horner noted, Red Bull is committed to using the current Renault engine next year. While the immediate priority will be to take full advantage of the FIA’s winter update window, the intention is to abandon the currently homologated engine and start afresh using all the knowledge gained by Renault and Red Bull in recent months, and from observations of the route Mercedes has taken.
A brand new power unit – perhaps badged as a Red Bull or Infiniti – could then be homologated for 2016. In theory it would be several steps ahead of what the regulations would allow Renault to update should the company simply continue with the current unit.
This new engine would not be designed by the team that produced the current Renault, but will instead be a product of the new Red Bull technology centre, which will be overseen by Adrian Newey. His old pal and Ilmor founder Mario Ilien is expected be part of the process, and it won’t be hard to draw on ex-Mercedes/Cosworth personnel in the Milton Keynes/Northampton area.
Mercedes and Ferrari clearly won’t be happy at the idea of Renault/Viry having this opportunity to in effect by-pass the homologation rules and enjoy a second chance build a V6 turbo power unit, even if is badged with a different name.
However, the key thing as far as the FIA is concerned is that Red Bull would own the IP of the new engine, and it would not be seen as a second attempt by Renault.
While this would be an expensive exercise, the drinks company is already paying two substantial power unit bills each year for RBR and Toro Rosso, and simply adding those figures together represents a good starting point for the budget required.
In addition sources say that Red Bull (and in particular Dr Marko) has been paying close attention lately to the future of Caterham, which is expected to announce a restructuring in the near future. The team is already a customer for the Red Bull gearbox, and it would be natural for the deal to be extended to cover a power unit package as well, which would provide further income to offset Red Bull’s costs. Caterham would be even more closely allied to Red Bull than it is now, as a ‘friendly’ third team.
With the more influential Lotus now expected to defect to Mercedes (see yesterday’s story) it would be much easier for Red Bull to have control of Viry. However, there could still be a fourth paying customer in the form of the new Romanian team, FRR.
The loss of Renault identity would suit Infiniti, which is keen to distance itself from the Renault name, which does not have the high-end associations it desires. Indeed Infiniti could help Red Bull to ultimately buy Viry or even, in a bit of intra company corporate business, take it over from Renault.
Some of the details are yet to emerge, but sources suggest that the scenario as explained above is a realistic one. Having said that when I asked Horner on Sunday if it was possible for Red Bull to do its own engine, he said: “It’s highly improbable. First of all we need to see what the plans of Renault are. Obviously a team like Red Bull isn’t short of choices, but we want to make sure that we’re competitive for the long term. Obviously designing and manufacturing our own engine currently isn’t part of our plan.”
It could be argued that he didn’t deny that someone else could manufacture it on Red Bull’s behalf. Indeed when I asked Christian if it would be possible under the rules for Viry to build a new engine for Red Bull, badged as something else, he simply smiled and said he believed it was…