While the debate rages on surrounding the outcome of the 2021 Formula One world championship, won by Max Verstappen over Lewis Hamilton amid a controversial conclusion to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, it is easy to forget the rest of drivers and teams.
Their relationship may be limited to the next race, but Toro Rosso and Renault are winding down their collaboration in decidedly hostile fashion, triggering sabotage claims from both parties.
Having appeased McLaren’s need to find a home for beleaguered Honda in order to acquire the French manufacturer’s services for 2018, Toro Rosso has endured a forgettable conclusion to the season, with recurring power unit failures.
Matters reached boiling point following last weekend’s Brazilian Grand Prix, as Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley again incurred grid penalties for MGU-H switches. The latter has now suffered this fate at each of his three outings, having debuted last month at Austin.
Renault is adamant that the issues lie within the outfit’s processes rather than its own shortcomings. Managing Director Cyril Abiteboul remarked to motorsport.com that “we do have a little bit of concern about the way that our engine is operated in the Toro Rosso car”, while inferring that the Red Bull junior squad has been pursuing an agenda, reasoning “there are never coincidences in this sport.”
A strongly worded statement from Toro Rosso observed, “We mustn’t forget that they [Renault] are fighting with Toro Rosso for a better position in the constructors’ championship, as stated by Mr Abiteboul the situation may not be a coincidence, but it is certainly not due to STR’s car.”
Indeed, Renault has moved within four points of sixth-placed Toro Rosso heading to the season finale, amid Carlos Sainz’s switch from the Faenza outfit to the former prior to Austin.
Toro Rosso team principal Franz Tost refused to back down, despite Renault’s infuriation, saying to Sky Sports F1, “What for should I apologise? For all the damages we have? I am also upset… who started all of this nonsense? Cyril yesterday with his stupid interview.”
Accounting for Red Bull’s scorched earth relationship with its supplier since conceding its champion mantle in 2014, the notion that there’s smoke where there’s fire is applicable, with Toro Rosso a feasible pawn in the longer game.
Speculation that Renault will terminate its supply to Toro Rosso with immediate effect, rendering it powerless for Abu Dhabi, appears wide of the mark, yet both the French manufacturer and the Milton Keynes outfit possess respective motives for poking the bear.
Next season looms as the final in the Red Bull-Renault ‘partnership’. Despite the likelihood that no alternative manufacturer other than Honda will be willing to fill the breach, in the absence of which, a continuation of the status quo would almost certainly be enforced, it wouldn’t be beyond Renault to enact a performance-related breach of contract ensuring this doesn’t come to pass.
As though Toro Rosso’s current predicament isn’t dire enough, while finishing eighth at Brazil, McLaren’s Fernando Alonso believes Honda’s “lack of power is worrying” ahead of its switch to the former.
For the outfit which commenced the season amid much hype, enduring multiple driver switches and an inglorious run with unreliability have represented a damp squib in place of stability, and the final indignation will arrive should it be overhauled by Renault in a fortnight.
Formula One is a selfish environment, and in tandem with the rhetoric concerning its lack of coincidences, it would be altogether unsurprising to learn when push comes to shove that measures are taken by participants at the direct detriment of competitors.