Red Bull’s quest for en­gine op­tions

F1 Racing - - POWER PLAY - DI­ETER RENCKEN

Red Bull/Re­nault di­vorce, in­stead of al­low­ing the agree­ment to run its full course – ‘for the sake of the kids’, so to speak. Red Bull have form in that re­gard: they ef­fec­tively an­nulled their for­mer en­gine con­tract with Fer­rari to gain Re­nault power for 2007, by shunt­ing their Ital­ian units to­wards sis­ter op­er­a­tion Toro Rosso.

The big ques­tion, then, is: what power units will Red Bull (and Toro Rosso) run in 2016-17? Un­less Red Bull owner Di­et­rich Mates­chitz au­tho­rises an in-house en­gine pro­ject – un­likely since he re­cently sug­gested he would rather exit F1 than go that route – the two main op­tions are ei­ther a re­turn to Fer­rari, or a deal with Mercedes, on ei­ther a shared or split ba­sis. A third pos­si­bil­ity has also been mooted: Red Bull takes one of the above op­tions; Toro Rosso goes with Honda.

Al­ready Red Bull are ratch­et­ing up the pres­sure by al­lud­ing to their pri­or­ity sta­tus as ‘works team’ when­ever Re­nault’s fu­ture team own­er­ship plans are dis­cussed. This is in­tended to re­mind Re­nault that they are not per­mit­ted to pri­ori­tise any other team above Red Bull un­der the terms of the cur­rent con­tract. This would put Re­nault in an un­ten­able po­si­tion, were they to pro­ceed with their widely ru­moured plan to pur­chase the Lo­tus F1 team in the near fu­ture.

Per­haps the most in­ter­est­ing as­pect of these ma­noeu­vres over mo­tors is the be­hind- the-scenes pol­i­tick­ing for the gold-stan­dard Mercedes PU106B hy­brid. When F1 Rac­ing’s sis­ter publi­ca­tions Au­tosport and Au­to­car broke the news that Red Bull were angling for Mercedes en­gines (via a livery deal with As­ton Martin, of which Mercedes holds a ve per cent share, granted in re­turn for an AMG en­gine sup­ply ar­range­ment), the Sil­ver­stone pad­dock was as­tounded.

Such an air­box/side­pod ‘badg­ing deal’, is another area that is fa­mil­iar to Red Bull, since they en­tered into just such an ar­range­ment with Re­nault/Nissan al­liance brand Inniti. The deal en­ables the Ja­panese lux­ury brand to be seen to be tak­ing on Mercedes for (al­legedly) the cost of en­gine sup­ply only. That deal was bro­kered by the very man­age­ment team now in­stalled at As­ton, who are keen to be in­volved “in any con­ver­sa­tion where Fer­rari are men­tioned…”

While Mercedes ini­tially shrugged off the re­ports, a fort­night later, Mercedes motorsport chief Toto Wolff spoke of “con­sid­er­ing all op­tions” and “leav­ing doors open”. Au­to­car then pub­lished ren­der­ings of a fu­ture AMGpow­ered As­ton Martin road-go­ing su­per­car – to be de­signed and built in con­junc­tion with Red Bull Tech­nolo­gies.

As For­mula 1 pre­pared for ac­tion at the Bel­gian Grand Prix, Wolff ad­mit­ted to be­ing in two minds over what had be­come a dis­tinct pos­si­bil­ity – with or with­out As­ton war paint – adding that: “It’s not re­ally ideal to strengthen a com­peti­tor who knows how to build win­ning cars.” Asked to com­ment in Hungary, Red Bull team prin­ci­pal Chris­tian Horner said only that he ex­pected to have greater clar­ity af­ter the sum­mer break.

Clearly in the in­terim some­thing had hap­pened on the top oor of Daim­ler-Benz’s palace in Stuttgart, with in­sid­ers sug­gest­ing that Andy Palmer, Inniti-ex­ec­u­tive-turnedAs­ton-CEO, had called Di­eter Zetsche, head of Mercedes-Benz Cars, to ap­ply pres­sure.

Whether the sight of Red Bull’s team(s) be­decked in three-pointed stars comes to pass de­pends on myr­iad fac­tors, but the saga proves that no mat­ter how much F1 fancies it­self as liv­ing in an in­su­lated bub­ble, that bub­ble ex­ists within a very real world.

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