Things are not rosy at Infiniti Red Bull Racing. Calling your partner a liar before the second race as Renault’s F1 engine chief, Cyril Abiteboul did toward Red Bull’s Adrian Newey, shows the strains in the relationship but the cracks have been appearing for some time.
Both Christian Horner and Newey have been critical of Renault for a good part of last season and now it appears Renault needed to fire back.
Speaking to Horner at Silverstone last year – with Renault’s minders in earshot – he didn’t hold back, telling me that the engine was their “biggest handicap” being 80bhp down. But how do you come back after being called liars? The trust has gone and that would be my green light to search for a new technical partner.
Yet switching is not easy. The Red Bull/Renault alliance is an intricate weave with strings that stretch from the UK to Austria, France, Japan and Hong Kong.
If you walk through the Milton Keynes factory you will see bespoke manufacturing for Infiniti’s road cars. The team has access to Renault/Nissan’s 90,000 engineers and in return, the car giant can tap the race team’s 400 F1 brains.
Sebastian Vettel was Infiniti’s “Director of Performance” which required regular Hong Kong visits to discuss future models and test prototypes. We’ve not heard of Daniel Ricciardo taking over that role and while I’m sure he would if asked, it’s another sign that the relationship is not as cosy as it once was.
So who’s ready to power the four-time world champions if it came to that?
Volkswagen floated the idea of Formula 1 a few years back before diverting to Porsche’s WEC program and Le Mans return, to take on – of all things – its own company with Audi, the undisputed kings of WEC and Le Mans.
So now newcomers Porsche fight with the 13-time Le Mans winners over the same boardroom table for engineering and marketing budget to compete in the same series and that just doesn’t make sense.
Audi can leave WEC and hold its head high, allowing VW to keep dominating that arena with Porsche and take with it years of small-engine, hybrid technology to F1.
Toyota used endurance racing to build an F1 team and the only place Audi can go in WEC is down, most likely losing to its neighbours from across the hallway. In the meantime, it’s going to be a character-testing year for all at Infiniti Red Bull Racing.
Inside Line by Damien Reid