Red Bull Racing’s struggles in Melbourne come in tandem with a much bigger picture as sources continue to suggest that Dietrich Mateschitz wants to sell the team that won the 2010-13 World Championships.
Indeed Bernie Ecclestone has been telling people that such a scenario is in the works.
Asked about it by this writer after the race Christian Horner said: “You’re wide of the mark. There’s been statements from Dietrich to clarify that, It’s a non-issue.”
However just minutes later Helmut Marko revved things up by telling German speaking media that it was possible, adding that every year the company conducts a cost/benefit analysis and that F1 has to pay for itself.
So what’s happening? Mateschitz was frustrated by the downturn in form last year, and even before this race weekend had recognised that if anything life would be tougher this year. In addition the talismanic Sebastian Vettel, with whom he is very close, has moved on.
Meanwhile RBR has been embarrassed by Toro Rosso in Melbourne, and it’s clear that the relationship with Renault has completely broken down.
A reorganisation of Renault last year, led by the returning Cyril Abiteboul, was supposed to improve the situation – as was the departure of Lotus to Mercedes, which left the two Red Bull teams able to forge a closer works-style relationship with the French manufacturer.
Renault in turn is hugely frustrated with Red Bull, feeling it has received little credit for its contribution to four World Championships – and in particular for example for the exhaust blowing technology it developed. That was followed by the very public criticism of Renault from the Red Bull camp last year.
That’s why Renault has been urgently seeking a partnership with another team which it could support as a de facto works effort. Renault has visited the obvious candidates such as Sauber, Toro Rosso, Force India and even its former works partner Lotus. Indeed the second Red Bull team could end up in the hands of Renault.
As for Red Bull Racing, the disenchanted Mateschitz has a problem in that having had a very good deal when he took the team off Jaguar’s hands at the end of 2004 and then invested huge sums to build it up it is now a very valuable property – and very different from a struggling team with debts that could be acquired for a relatively modest sum.
Realistically the only potential buyer is a car manufacturer, and that means VW/Audi. Sources suggest that the company’s consultant Stefano Domenicali has backed a plan to take over Milton Keynes and turn it into a works team – and not simply join as a partner. However Ferdinand Piech, the man who really matters, continues to procrastinate about whether or not he wants Audi to commit to such a project.
The struggles of Honda, which reflect how difficult it is to come into F1 with one team and restricted testing, have probably not impressed Audi. In addition there’s uncertainty about the future direction of the F1 rules.
Meanwhile if RBR and Renault are heading for a divorce, and Audi isn’t somewhere in the mix for 2016, then the team would need another engine supplier. Last year this blog broke the story that Mario Ilien was in the frame – and that there was now a possibility that Red Bull would pursue its own engine. At that time it looked likely to be done with a TAG Porsche-style partnership with Renault, but that now seems unlikely to say the least.
Mercedes already has four teams, and in any case historically Mateschitz has a very poor relationship with Stuttgart. Red Bull used Ferrari engines in its early days but offloaded the deal to STR at the first opportunity, and it’s hard to see a reunion happening. Honda does not appear to be a bet for the forseeable future, and it’s hard to see Ron Dennis sanctioning RBR as a second Honda team.
All of this means that the pressure is now really on RBR and in particular Horner, which helps to explain chat about banning wind tunnels and equalising the field. Watch this space…