None of us have being talking about Red Bull much over the winter. It’s all been mainly Mercedes and the return of Schumacher as well as the Button and Hamilton pairing at McLaren. However, Red Bull were the quickest at the end of last season and many people have put them as favourites to win in 2010. Actually, not many people, most people have them as favourites and their launch at Jerez today has been eagerly anticipated.
Red Bull, a team renowned for its flamboyance, launched its new car without the glamour and showmanship of other teams. Webber and Vettel simply pulled the cover off their car in the pit lane. No razzmatazz, nothing special happened, not very Red Bull-esque at all. So does this mean now they are contenders they are now getting more serious or are they experiencing problems/doubts?
Time will, of course, tell about Red Bull but on the face of it the new car looks good and the team is boasting a schedule of new developments and parts to be added in the early part of the season. However, although they talked confidently about their continuity in a strong driver line up of Webber and Vettel, one could pick up signs and reading between the lines that they are perhaps not actually that confident and a little unsure about how competitive they will be.
Red Bull mentioned that some of the delay in getting the car ready (they had to miss the first F1 test) was due to deciding whether to stick with the Renault engine or move to the Mercedes, which they believe is a better engine. They tried to play down the delay and were vague, which means it was a significant delay. They said all the correct things about how great it is to work with Renault, blah, blah, but they clearly have doubts about the competitiveness of the engine. This can be strongly inferred from team boss Christian Horner’s comments about car manufacturers pulling out of the sport due to freeze on engine development.
Horner said that “The problem with engine freeze is that you freeze an advantage” and continued “I think there is a disparity currently with engine performance … The engine isn’t supposed to be a key performance differentiator and therefore the ruling body will balance out somewhat the differences there are at the moment”. (Read full Autosport.com report here)
When Red Bull’s Chief Technical Officer Adrian Newey was asked about staying with Renault in 2010 rather than Mercedes he responded, “The reason we looked at other manufacturers was because it was clear one had gained a large power advantage. But we’ve had discussions with Renault and are confident they will redress that imbalance.” The key word in that statement is ‘will’ and not ‘have’. If it hadn’t been for ‘political’ reasons Red Bull would have preferred to have had the Mercedes engine and so must feel they are at a disadvantage.
Although it must also be said that the Renault engine has low fuel consumption which will be an advantage in 2010 as they will not have to carry as much fuel at the start of the race.
The delay caused by the engine decision (Red Bull were readying themselves for a Mercedes engine) ultimately caused them to miss the first test session at Valencia and although not a massive disadvantage it is still a disadvantage that Red Bull recognise and the wet weather at Jerez makes the situation worse.
Mark Webber piloted the new car in testing at the Spanish circuit today and managed to complete only 50 laps. The car got to 47 laps in the morning before an oil leak shortly after midday halted Webber’s car and red flagged the session. He was not able to return to the track until the very end of the day and completed only 3 further laps. There was not time for Webber to put up a quick time whilst it was dry at the very beginning of the day and his times in the wet appeared (as we don’t know fuel levels) to be of a similar pace to the other cars. Not a terrible start, but not a confident reassuring one either.
The fact that Red Bull seemed to emphasise the additional parts due on the car also indicates they think the car is not as good as they know it can be. This is true for all teams, of course, but did not come across in the same way as it did with Ferrari or McLaren for instance. These two teams and Mercedes had confident launches displaying a lot of expectation in the car and enjoyed the attention from the media. Red Bull seems conspicuously quiet. Is this just a ruse to lull the other teams into a false sense of security or do they know that they are significantly lagging behind and have some work to do to catch up?
This is all speculation as that is all we can do at this stage and nothing is certain until we are actually at Bahrain. After last year Red Bull have the highest expectations and at this stage Red Bull do not seem confident they will be performing at their best at the start of the season. Also, just because they are not confident, does not mean they are not the quickest!