One of the most fascinating episodes of big F1 politics is rapidly drawing to a conclusion. The Renault – Red Bull Racing civil war may feel as though it’s been forever, but in reality it is less than two. The new V6 Turbo Hybrid era has seen a significant rise in the power of the engine manufacturer both in terms of influence and the ability to produce the best F1 racing machines. RBR realised this in the early part of 2015 and began to hatch a plan which would see them – like Mercedes and Ferrari – gain control over their power unit in a way their current relationship with Renault does now allow. This was only to be expected given the Red Bull way of doing things in general.
TJ13 revealed 6 days ago, that Red Bull Racing are set to ‘build’ their own power unit going forward. This will see Milton Keynes ultimately design and manufacture the PU either in house or by subcontracting elements to others with specialised skills. Under this new arrangement, Renault will supply on a subcontracted basis a limited number of components for the RBR power unit.
Today Renault has revealed the final hurdle required to get this new deal under way via an article written by Ian Parkes, published in Autosport. The title is “Red Bull on brink of new Renault engine deal”. This is absolutely true – but the ‘new’ deal is like comparing chalk and cheese when considering the existing arrangement between RBR and Renault.
The Parkes story is clearly from Renault for the following reasons. In a recent statement, Dietrich Mateschitz led us to believe the deal signed with Renault for 2015/16 had been cancelled. Parkes refutes this out of hand stating: “With alternatives exhausted, Red Bull sought new talks with Renault, which at no stage voided its side of the long-standing arrangement”. Renault are making it clear, that if they wish – they can enforce the old 15/16 contract and RBR will then have to power the RB12 with whatever Renault deliver for next year. The alternative is to agree a ‘new deal’ and were Red Bull to just walk away they would suffer a breach of contract penalty believed to be around $50m.
The article continues, “Autosport now understands the two companies are close to renewing the partnership, at least for 2016, potentially for longer, but with financial implications for Red Bull. Renault-affiliated sponsors Infiniti and Total will remain on the RB12 next year, but then disappear from 2017 onwards”.
Parks explains that the sponsorship from Infiniti and Total has been worth more than double the amount that Red Bull pays Renault for its power unit. This is an interesting revelation given the repeated accusations from Red Bull that Renault have failed to invest enough in terms of money and time into developing their new Formula One PU. It appears the financial pain for Red Bull begins now, according to Renault.
“Under the terms of any new agreement there will be significantly reduced funds from the two big sponsors for 2016, increasing what Red Bull itself must pay Renault. That additional revenue for Renault will, in part, help fund its works team revival, with its deal for a majority stake in Lotus set for completion around the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix later this month. It will also have more money to invest in its engine development programme as it chases Mercedes and Ferrari”.
RBR intend to only use a small part of the Renault PU going forward. TJ13 revealed this to bethe lower part of the ICE, with a new Mario Illien designed cylinder head sat on top – and maybe also a turbo unit for now. This makes the next comment from Renault even more entertaining. “Any engine performance gains will also naturally aid Red Bull, with the Milton Keynes-based marque scheduled to play its part by running Renault’s updated engine from this weekend’s Brazilian Grand Prix”.
Two key pieces of information lie within the final part of Ian Parkes story. Firstly, that Renault are more than happy for Red Bull to re-brand the engine. A humorous source from Renault is quoted as stating, “[The rebranding] could be something exotic, it could be nothing, or one of those marketing things Red Bull is very good at. Because they have the Energy Station they could call it the Energy power unit, something leftfield.”
Then given that Renault will be removing the Infiniti and Total sponsorship from RBR in 2017, the engine is unlikely to now be badged ‘Infiniti’, unless Horner et al are feeling super generous. The point of an ‘unbranded’ engine as explained in a TJ13 article last week – is for the manufacturer to distance themselves from the unit, just as did Porsche with the TAG engine when the engine was initially launched back in the 1980’s.
The tantalising thought of a 2016 battle royal between a better funded Renault F1 power unit division and an RBR built/assembled power unit – makes the coming winter months appear long and dreary.
Finally – this is a take it or leave it offer from Renault, because: “Autosport understands the new contracts have already been exchanged, but another source added: ‘No decision has been made because it is Mateschitz who needs to make the call. The big boss hasn’t decided yet whether Red Bull stays in Formula 1 or not, that is still up in the air.’”
Were both parties happy with the terms of the contract – they would be exchanged and signed. However, Renault is making it plain it has delivered its final offer in the form of a contract to RBR and in the meantime has explained its offer to the world.
It is now obvious why Maranello declared yesterday that Ferrari was ready and waiting to subcontract out its engineering services to RBR. It amusingly provides the scenario that Red Bull Racing have ‘other’ options for 2016. Why do this? Maybe Mr. Marchionne is just helping out Mr. Mateschitz, because Red Bull are not happy with the financial arrangements being imposed by Renault.
The reality though is as Parkes states categorically. RBR are not free to leave Renault in 2016 and collaborate with Ferrari because Renault, “at no stage voided its side of the long-standing arrangement [for 2016]”. So Renault’s final offer is simple. ‘We see out the 2015/16 power unit supply contract as it stands, or here are the final terms of a revision you asked for. Red Bull have little choice if they wish to further their ambitions quickly to gain greater control over their F1 power unit.
We await Red Bull Racing’s response following the TJ13 revelation last week and Renault’s announcement today, but it does appears RBR are running out of wriggle room. Further it seems that 2016 is going to be very expensive for Dietrich Mateschitz – and one final thought; Hasn’t Dr. Marko has been remarkably quiet for a week or two?