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F1 2014 Season Team Preview: Red Bull - The party's over?

Pre-season was not encouraging for the almighty Woking based team, but do not erase them just yet, it is a long season.
Thursday, March 13, 2014

March 13th, 2014 (F1plus/ Graham Keilloh).- Time was that Red Bull was viewed - nay derided - as F1's party team. Even today four world championship doubles later the moniker remains apt to an extent, given the squad's tendency to act generally as well as to celebrate triumph with much greater abandon and expression than is the case for their rivals.

But is it so that as we stand before the 2014 season start that, finally after four years of living it up to the most raucous degree, the party's over? The bar's shut?

Major sets of rule changes - and we have just had about the most major of the sport's modern times - always carry more risk for whoever's on top by definition, given their tendency to repatriate everyone to base camp; to render irrelevant previous advantages.

History is littered with examples of such occurrences turning cheetahs into slugs at a stroke, sometimes irrecoverably.

So the risks were there. But even with these there were specifics that set perilous traps before the Bulls.

The tilting of the formula more towards engines and away relatively from aerodynamics, for a team for which aero usually was the trump card, was one.

Red Bull, unlike its two closest rivals in the 2013 championship table, does not manufacturer its units under the same umbrella - and either down the corridor or down the road - was another; instead they're made several hundred miles away and over the English Channel in Viry-Chatillon.

Add to this that even during the team's dominance it never appeared entirely at one with energy recovery systems either, which now are a bigger factor.

Yet even Cassandra would have struggled to prophesy what came to be when the RB10 first set out on track on testing.

Essentially in Jerez in test one the thing hardly appeared out of the garage, and when it did circulate it always was well off the pace.

It stuttering to a smoky halt was about as commonplace. Even now a few weeks on witnessing the champion team struggle to this extent seems rather the product of a deranged imagination.

Part of the problem is with the new Renault power unit, evidenced by all of its customers being behind the curve to varying degrees - the latest chat being it's down to software rather than hardware.

It didn't help either that, admitted by Renault's Rob White, the company 'created some moving targets' in its development of the power units, which set all teams back in their preparations (Red Bull boss Christian Horner's had some rueful words to say on the matter).

But there is equally strong evidence that even among the Renault-powered runners Red Bull has created a few problems of its own. These appear attributable in large part to Adrian Newey's tendency to package his machines tighter than anyone else.

Usually this is a good thing, but it's possible that this year it's all been just too swingeing for the new French power unit and its requirements in terms of getting nice refreshing air through it.

Things remained not much different after test two: over the two tests the longest stint by a Bull was but 12 laps in length, and the car had mustered a mere 17 laps a day on average.

The word was that the RB10 could not be pushed for any extended period of time without getting terminally hot under the collar. Edd Straw of Autosport opined amongst it all that if round one was taking place there and then the Milton Keynes cars would qualify nowhere and would do well to cover a third of the race's distance without conking out.

After a more encouraging start to test three, both team and engine manufacturer remain well behind where they would like to be both in terms of mileage and in lighting up the timing screens.


At Red Bull smiles can be seen in spite of the prsopects of facing tought times. 


False dawns have been fairly frequent too, such as in day one of the third test wherein Daniel Ricciardo completed 32 laps in the morning including setting Red Bull's most encouraging lap time of pre-season, but as soon as some tentatively ventured that this was point of the fightback commencing the car hardly appeared in the afternoon beset as it was with yet more cooling maladies.

Yet given all the whirlwind that has been swirling around Red Bull the most important question remains unanswered, indeed almost entirely unexplored.

One should not lose sight of the possibility - perhaps probability - that once the reliability matters are sorted the RB10 will be quick.

Indeed, Red Bull producing a car without fundamental pace when everything's working at once seems scarcely credible, while one other (albeit further down the grid) Renault-supplied team commented even at the height (or depth) of the French company's struggles that once the power unit's all singing in unison it is pretty much there on performance.

Red Bull and Renault too are both too good not to sort this mess out eventually.

The key question is when they do it: this will likely frame their season. And the trend since Jerez, although haphazard, has undeniably been upwards: indeed Ricciardo's 20-lap stint in day two of the second Bahrain test was not only long by the team's pre-season standards the lap times set therein also turned a few heads.

And for the first time too since the team got good in 2009 we'll get to see just how Red Bull responds after being backed into a corner; given how it has responded to all previous challenges the likelihood is that it will do so formidably. So far too all in the team outwardly are giving no impression of panic.

The party's over? Even after all of the woes of testing it remains way too early to conclude so. There remains a distinct possibility that there's still some life in this particular bash yet.

The RB10 from top.

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