Red Bull’s threats to quit Formula One are getting louder and clearer. Unless Red Bull Racing secures Ferrari engines on par with the works team, then it will walk away from the series at the end of 2015.
Red Bull is set for a messy divorce with Renault. The French manufacturer’s engine has been unable to match the speed of the Mercedes-Benz and Ferrari this season. And with Renault set to take over the Lotus team to run its own operation, there’s no point in Red Bull and Renault persisting into 2016.
Mercedes-Benz have already knocked back Red Bull’s request for engines, understandably protecting its works team and the advantage it currently has over its rivals. So hopes rest with Ferrari generosity to keep Red Bull Racing and sister team Toro Rosso on the Formula One grid in 2016.
The following appeared on Red Bull’s own Speedweek website:
“For those among us who have listened closely to what Red Bull chief Dietrich Mateschitz and his motor sports consultant Dr Helmut Marko said recently and who interpret it correctly and put together one and one, a clear scenario emerges: Red Bull Racing and Scuderia Toro Rosso will pull out of Formula One after the 2015 season.
“Red Bull doesn’t want to have customer engines that have 30 to 40 hp less and can be manipulated by the constructor in case of the customer team endangering the works team.
“Red Bull would like to continue in Formula One only if Ferrari is willing to provide true works engines that are on the same level as the engines of [Sebastian] Vettel and [Kimi] Raikkonen.”
Red Bull founder Mateschitz added:
“As a customer team you will only get an engine that is good enough to take away points from their immediate rivals. But this engine will never be good enough to beat the works team.
“With such a customer engine we will never be world champion again. And if that’s the case we lose interest.”
Without Red Bull’s support, Formula One faces the abyss. Not only the loss of two teams, at a time when the series is struggling to fill a grid of sufficiently funded teams, but the likely absence of a sponsor so active in grooming young drivers in various junior categories.
Red Bull is reportedly in negotiations with German carmaker Audi over a takeover bid, though it seems to be hedging its bets on a deal with a brand that’s repeatedly snubbed Formula One in favour of its successful sports car program.
Red Bull knows very well of the perilous state of Formula One at present, so holding its powerbrokers hostage to negotiate a stronger engine deal is a political ploy that’s likely to work.
But Red Bull’s ability to play such games exposes yet again the key flaws in Formula 1: its failure to support independent teams who exist solely to race in the series without adequate funding; complex and costly engine regulations leaving so few competitive options for teams; and the centralisation of power and influence to the leading teams that can dictate their own terms.
And for companies like Red Bull, for whom selling energy drinks is at the core of its business with other advertising possibilities out there away from motorsport, running Formula One teams appears a very tenuous long-term prospect.
A sport relying so heavily on such brands is doomed, a prospect Formula One faces if Red Bull goes through with its threats.
Adrian Musolino is editor of V8X Magazine, and has written as an expert on The Roar since 2008, cementing himself as a key writer who can see the big picture in sport. He freelances on other forms of motorsport, football, cycling and more.
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