Saturday, September 20, 2008

Red Bull were handicapped by Renault, and Newey?

According to Red Bull founder Dietrich Mateschitz, Red Bull Racing's biggest handicap for not being 4th in the Constructors' Championship is engine supplier Renault. "Since a couple of months we have one of the best chassis' in Formula 1. But we also have a handicap, which is the Renault engine. Toro Rosso doesn't have that problem with Ferrari engines. That is the reason why Toro Rosso's combination is faster than Red Bull Racing." As everyone knows, Toro Rosso shares a similar chassis to that of Red Bull. It became rather clear in recent races that the chassis was very good, particularly in the last three Grand Prix.

Since Renault's return to Formula One in 2002 as a full constructor their engines never had the most horsepower; they were always reliable and had good drivability especially in their championship years. However, Renault has misjudged the engine freeze regulations and have been vocal about it. Flavio Briatore: "Renault have stuck to the letter of the current regulations on frozen engines, and we've been buggered: others didn't do that and are far ahead, while we suffer. It's not fair." Fair or unfair, it is Renault's fault for not exploiting the 'legal' aspects of engine development. It is a bit disappointing to see Renault not being innovative. It was talent and innovation that led them to Constructors' titles in 2005 and 2006. Perhaps they are indeed hampered by a smaller budget, something that they were rather proud of in the title years.

Frankly, it is surprising to hear that Renault CEO, the famous and very successful, tightfisted Carlos Ghosn increased the F1 budget by some 30-40% according to team principal Flavio Briatore. This leaves me no doubt that part of the increase is for "development" work on the engine. What is ironic about this situation is Renault was behind the idea of freezing engine development in the first. They originally proposed the idea to the FIA in a letter dated January 20th 2005, as part of a wider cost-cutting proposal. You would think they would have a more complete grasp at what was to happen when the FIA instituted the new regulations.

With all that said, what of Red Bull Chief Technical Officer, Adrian Newey? Let us look back at the Red Bull and Renault engine deal. Adrian Newey has been famous or infamous, depending on your viewpoint, for his tight aerodynamic packaging on his Formula One designs. His designs have largely caused some reliability issues for just about all the teams he designed cars for, particularly McLaren. However, his winning designs and winning record are unquestioned.

In late 2006, it was widely reported and understood that Adrian Newey had been pushing hard for a supply of Renault engines for the 2007 Red Bull chassis. He reportedly favored the Renault engine primarily because of its cooling characteristics, which would allow Newey to sculpt a more aggressive aerodynamic car. There had been numerous cooling issues with his designs at McLaren. Newey sought and pushed for what he thought was a sensible trade off given that the Renault engine just won another world title. Moreover, it would help resolve the reliability and cooling issues that plagued his designs. As Newey usually does, he eventually developed an excellent chassis that became reliable with the guiding hand of Red Bull Technical Director, Geoff Willis. However, do to the engine freeze that his suppliers Renault pushed for, his eventual strong chassis had an average engine that was still reliable and cooled efficiently, but was down on power.

Maybe perhaps if Newey was able to make more compromises in his design to make the car more reliable, they would have stuck with Ferrari power when making that fateful choice of what engine to choose. Perhaps Red Bull Racing would not only have a win, but could have had multiple wins.


Senor Soup said...

I think Deitrich is a bit presumptous when he says RBR has the best chassis on the grid. The Renault engine may lack balls, but the car is far from the best either. It sounds like marketing speech to me, with Red Bull maybe trying to pass the buck in order to convince potential sponsors to invest in the team.

Pete DaSilva said...

I don't think so. I think he can certainly claim having a top chassis. The fact that Vettel dominated at Monza in essentially a Red Bull chassis in a team whose budget is not even the same as the Red Bull says to me, a Red Bull Ferrari chassis could have had them in the top 3. Look at Webber's early season performance; then as the season went on, a lack of points finishes when they got to the faster tracks. No doubt the chassis continued to develop as evidenced by STR performance, what has not changed for Red Bull is the engine performance.