Posted on March 11, 2014
By David Coulthard
After a difficult winter, the reigning champions appear to be staring down the barrel. But a week is a long time in Formula One. There is still plenty of time for Red Bull - if they work together.
There can be little doubt about the main story to have emerged from Formula One's pre-season testing programme in Spain and Bahrain. With the first race of the new year coming up in Melbourne on March 16, Red Bull's winter woes have been splashed all over the back pages of newspapers around the world; countless online articles and discussion forums have speculated feverishly about the four-time world champions' lack of running and possible imminent dethroning.
This is the way I see it. It has always been the case that in a heavily-regulated environment you must adapt to change. The new engine rules for this season - which see smaller, greener 1.6-litre V6 turbo-charged engines allied to potent energy recovery systems replace the old 2.4-litre V8s - have shaken things up, as we knew they would.
After four years riding the crest of a wave, the market conditions have changed and Red Bull-Renault have not yet adapted.
Is it a Red Bull problem? Is it a Renault problem? Maybe it is a bit of both. Renault, by their own admission, have been struggling with torque delivery and driveability issues when the new power units are running and we are seeing the effects of that at all of their customer teams. But Red Bull are probably not blameless either and are maybe paying for the fact that they pushed so hard in the last iteration of rules that they had less time to prepare for these ones. Midfield teams, by contrast, diverted all of their energies to 2014 midway through last year.
In truth, it hardly matters. Red Bull-Renault are a team and teams must work together to get themselves out of a hole. This is when we find out what they are made of.
In such a culture, in which the potential rewards are great, this is when you find out who has integrity, who you can trust, who has your back. Red Bull and Renault will be working furiously behind the scenes to put things right and I have no doubt that they can.
I think back to my 1998 season at McLaren when we didn't manage to complete a full race distance in testing all winter. Then we went to Melbourne and finished one-two. It was a controversial race as my team mate Mika Hakkinen, who had been on pole, dived into the pits midway through the race when he wasn't supposed to and I was then instructed by Ron Dennis to let Mika pass me a few laps from the end, which I did. We were heavily criticised for 'manipulating' the race result but I think it showed a team in harmony. We went on to win the constructors' title that year, which is still McLaren's last constructors' crown to date.
It is going to be fascinating to see how Red Bull respond. Their team principal Christian Horner reckons they are 8-10 weeks behind schedule. But then he would say that, to take the pressure off.
One thing that is worth stressing is that we are right at the start of the development curve. So much is unknown. With everyone now restricted on fuel flow (you are only allowed 100kgs of fuel for the race, around 50kgs less than last year) it may be that cars with better fuel economy have more development potential. Mercedes, who look to have the most reliable package at the moment, could streak away in the first few races but then get diminishing returns as the year progresses, simply because they have already maximised their economy. Whereas Red Bull could have issues at start of the year but then achieve a greater potential. It is still all to play for.
At the moment I would put my money on Mercedes, with Lewis Hamilton beating Nico Rosberg if Pirelli's tyres are more stable this year. But this is Formula One. It will be marginal. McLaren were only about 2% off the pace last year and they had the worst season in the team's history. As ever in sport, and life, it will be the team who best work together to deliver on their vision that wins.