It was meant to be their big race: Red Bull were competing at home for the first time ever and their recent win in Canada put them among the favourites at the circuit bought and renovated by billionaire owner Dietrich Mateschitz.
But Sunday’s Austrian Grand Prix proved a disaster for the home team, all the more galling for taking place on a track named after their sponsor – the Red Bull Ring.
After four seasons at the top of the Formula 1 world, German reigning champion Sebastian Vettel saw his race end almost as soon as it had started, due to electrical problems.
Daniel Ricciardo, fresh from his Canadian Grand Prix win, finished just eighth.
“It wasn’t a great race for us. We’ve got a bit of work to do,” was all the Australian could say afterwards.
Overall, a sense of helplessness and resignation seemed to dominate the team as the F1 circuit heads to Silverstone next.
“There’s a dark cloud floating over [Vettel],” team chief Christian Horner said gloomily.
Barely out of the start, Vettel’s car inexplicably came to a complete halt, making him lose precious time and causing him to pull out of the race early.
Contributing to Horner’s bewilderment was the drop in form even though the team has stayed relatively unchanged from Red Bull’s winning seasons.
“These are the same people who won races and won the title last year,” he noted.
Vettel, who won 13 out of 19 races last year, has now had to retire three times this season and a fifth championship title looks out of reach.
“You don’t need to be a genius. I’m standing here and not making any points, that doesn’t help anyone. Of course it’s bitter,” the 26-year-old said after Sunday’s race. “Obviously it’s been a bad first half of the season with a lot of retirements, and many more problems.”
“But I guess it’s part of the game. I’ve equally been able to learn a lot,” he said, apparently resigned. “It would be bad to say I got used to it but obviously we had lots of problems so far already. I think I got a bit calmer.”
Sunday’s race saw the return of the Austrian Grand Prix after an 11-year absence. And for Red Bull, established in 2004, this was the first chance to race at home. But a win proved elusive, with Mercedes and Williams sharing the spoils.
“Of course it hurts twice as much that I had such bad luck just today, at the home grand prix. But the bitter truth is that we can’t change anything now,” Vettel later said in a message on his website.
Red Bull now trail Mercedes by 158 points in the constructors’ standings and Vettel is just fifth in the drivers’ championship, over 100 points behind leader Nico Rosberg.
But things will soon change, said the reigning champion. Three retirements were tough to swallow “but we can’t let that discourage us. There must be a reason why these things are happening and we need to find it. I really believe that this must soon pass and I’ll do everything to catch up those points that I’ve lost.” (DPA)