The inevitable was finally announced this week. Red Bull Racing will pair with engine supplier Honda from 2019 onwards, at last putting at an end to the once illustrious partnership between the energy drinks giant and French manufacturer Renault.
There is plenty of positivity around Red Bull, as they look forward to starting a new chapter in their Formula One journey with Honda – who themselves seek redemption from their maligned exercise with McLaren.
However, with the once successful chapter now coming to a close, it begs the question of whether the Red Bull Renault legacy will forever be a tarred one – given the acrimony endured since the transition into Formula One’s hybrid era in 2014.
Amongst the snide criticisms and public humiliations between the two camps across the last four and a half seasons, it is almost forgotten that the duo has achieved an incredible 57 race wins and eight world championships – split between four consecutive driver’s titles and four constructor’s crowns.
So symbiotic Red Bull and Renault were, that at the 2013 Japanese Grand Prix there was a great gesture in which the French manufacturer’s Remi Taffin was sent to the podium to collect the winning team’s trophy, following another Sebastian Vettel victory. This signified the unity between the two entities and highlighted that they were very much a single team.
Hardly vivid now are those scenes, given the recent turmoils which ultimately date back to 2014 and Renault’s failure to hit the ground running with the new regulations. In stark contrast to Mercedes-Benz who spent the years of Red Bull’s dominance building towards the hybrid era.
2014 was still a good season for Red Bull, given they still finished second in the constructor’s championship and had tallied three wins thanks to their new driver in Daniel Ricciardo. Though the gap to the Silver Arrows and the departure of their golden child Vettel almost overshadowed these accomplishments.
The following season is where the toxicity really came to the fore. Renault’s power-unit continued to falter, and the reliability almost went backwards, resulting in Red Bull’s first winless season since 2008.
Little is it documented that Red Bull themselves had produced a dud of a chassis in the RB11, given that their chief designer and silver bullet in Adrian Newey had elected to scale back his involvement in Formula One that year. Though a lacklustre power-unit was made the public scapegoat.
Such was the desperation from Red Bull at the time, that on a whim they were looking to terminate the partnership and explore options with Mercedes-Benz and Honda, whom both rejected the notion almost immediately.
Thus, Red Bull were to remain hitched with Renault going into 2016, in what now was a fractured relationship which publicly wouldn’t even be advertised given the fact that the energy drinks team had elected to badge the French engines as Tag Heuer.
Despite the improvements from Renault since that beleaguered 2015 campaign, strengthened too by the return of the marque as a works team in 2016 – Red Bull have continued to be critical of the French manufacturer’s performance, given the deficit to Mercedes and now Ferrari.
Even entering the final days, Red Bull in their spite exploited the generosity extended by Renault as far the deadline for a decision on 2019 was concerned. Citing that they needed further data from the upgraded Honda unit aboard their junior team in Toro Rosso – Red Bull had all the information they needed to make their call.
Worse yet for Renault, is the fact the announcement of Red Bull’s future has come on the eve of the French Grand Prix’s return, which’ll be the manufacturer’s first home race since 2008.
It seems regardless of whatever is achieved in the remaining races this season, that for the large part this once great relationship has had its legacy tarred by the war of words in the recent past.
On paper, Red Bull Renault will be remembered as a dominant force and the numbers will favour that judgement. Though in comparison to their contemporary rivals from Brackley, there is no argument in deciding who is the greater entity.