This time last season the Red Bull/Renault civil war was in full swing, soon to be followed the claims from Milton Keynes they were being forced to withdraw from F1 because they would have no power unit supplier for 2016.
In the end a last minute deal was done by RBR with Renault and Toro Rosso were sent out to information gather by agreeing to run a Ferrari 2015 power unit for 2016.
What a difference a year makes!
6 races into 2016 and Red Bull Racing with their Tag Heuer engine have a race win under their belt and have thrown away another easy victory at the Monaco GP. In fact a number of unusual mistakes by RBR see them trailing Ferrari by 9 points at present in the constructors championship when in fact they could be ahead of the team from Maranello.
Such has been the improvement in the much maligned French designed F1 power that Red Bull Racing have signed a contract extension with Renault to continue with the Tag Heuer F1 power unit and Toro Rosso will be returning to the Renault F1 PU fold too in 2017.
So what has made the difference? How has the Renault turnaround been delivered?
As TJ13 extensively reported last year, there was extreme pressure from Red Bull Racing on Renault to influence the direction and pace of the F1 PU development. One example of this was during the season opener in Australia, Red Bull ran a development engine which Renault advised against because it had not completed the proper number of test hours. The result? Danny Kvyat didn’t make the starting line before his engine failed – and the ‘other Dan’ from Aus limped round and finished a lap and some down on the race winner.
Red Bull Racing recruited the services of Mario Illien of Ilmor fame to improve an area of the Renault power unit they believed to be deficient. Illien focused on redesigning the internal combustion engine and specifically the combustion chamber and the cylinder head. Red Bull wanted Renault to incorporate Illien’s design into their autumn upgrade however the French response was to be disagreeable and an eventually a Renault driven design upgrade was delivered with just a handful of races to the end of the season.
The upgrade was received by Red Bull Racing with what could be best described as disinterest. In fact the 11 token enhanced power unit was available at the US GP in Austin, though Red Bull declined to use it until 2 races later in Brazil. The late season upgrade was believed to deliver 0.2s per lap improvement, though Daniil Kvyat managed just P7 at Interlagos and the ‘other Dan’ finished outside the points in P11.
Heading into the winter break, it looked to most as though the RBR/Renault civil war would continue and any turnaround in power unit fortunes would be not for another year or two.
Yet behind the scenes a new era of co-operation and goodwill was being forged. Red Bull Racing agreed to continue their independent analysis of the power unit and building 9 activities and Renault accepted they would examine the results of any RBR power unit related work. Red Bull Racing also agreed not to pressurize Renault into bringing developments too quickly something Remi Taffin recently commented on when explaining how the first of the Renault 2016 upgrades was introduced.
“At the end of last year we used a lot of tokens that were not very fruitful due to the fact that we could not put everything in,” revealed the Frenchman to Motorsport.com
“That’s why this year when we used six tokens for the first race it gave us a lot, and then another three… Everything has been shifting, so we get the rewards from last year”.
The focus of the recent Renualt upgrade delivered in Monaco was around the Illien work commissioned by RBR last year. Taffin continues, “We have been raising our game in the internal combustion engine, so we basically tweaked the ignition system and took the benefit of a more efficient combustion system to try to get the most out of it.
“And the three tokens is basically based on the fact that we’ve been changing the combustion chamber.”
As Taffin says, there has been no ‘magic’ in Renualt’s improved power unit this year, just a little more co-operation and understanding from both sides of the once great divide.
As to the rest of the season, Renault are remaining cautious and at present have no new power unit upgrades in the pipeline despite them having a further 21 development tokens available.
“At the moment we don’t have any plans to say there will be a very good upgrade at that race and so on.
“We need to make this one work, which is the case and now we are going to get the most out of it and then, if we get anything in our development programme for next year to fit into this year, we will be doing that”.
The test of the new found RBR/Renault love in will be whether Milton Keynes can survive for most of the remainder of this season with no promise of a power unit upgrade, or whether their overwhelming desire to win will once again force them to pressurize Renault to step up the pace of design development and implementation.