Red Bull are proving McLaren-Honda right.
Daniel Ricciardo finished some 75 seconds behind the leading pair in Barcelona. His Red Bull team brought a whole host of new upgrades to the event which were aimed at bringing the four-time champions back in the fight. Unfortunately for them, it seems that aerodynamic performance is not the only thing they are lacking. Adrian Newey was very quick to defend the performance of his new parts. He told anyone who would listen that the upgrades had performed exactly as he had hoped. Therefore, you have to deduce that the team has more complex problems.
Substantial progress…. or not
Both Mercedes and Ferrari have made substantial progress with their power units this year. Renault, Red Bull’s long suffering engine providers, do not appear to be able to match their rivals. The fact that Renault’s works team are struggling to score regular points tells a story. Although the car has made some gentle improvements in the hands of Nico Hulkenberg, the engine is still very much third best.
Here lie two problems for Red Bull. Firstly, their engine supplier is still struggling to deliver. Secondly, their engine supplier is no longer prioritising their number one customer. Red Bull have brought an awful lot of success to the French company, but the extremely public disputes between team and supplier have added a whole lot of salt to their relationship in recent years.
If you’re going to win, you must be a works team
Of course, if Renault are going to have success, they would rather achieve with the team that carries their name. As a result, you have to assume that they will not be working as closely with Red Bull as they once did. In this way, former McLaren man Ron Dennis looks to have been proven correct. It seems unlikely Red Bull are going to be given the tools they need to win as long as they remain engine customers. Based on Dennis’ evaluation, McLaren forsook their Mercedes engines in favour of a works deal with Honda.
While it is difficult to find any positives from McLaren’s current situation, Red Bull’s recent performances look to have at least proven that they made the right decision. We can say pretty confidently that McLaren would have found themselves sat in the void between podiums and points had they remained Mercedes customers. At least with Honda, they have an opportunity to join the fight at the front. If Honda can ever get their engine right.
So, the final question is, where do Red Bull go front here? Do they begin the search for an engine partnership a la McLaren-Honda? Or do they put faith in their design team, and hope that Renault are able to provide them with an engine that they can drag to the front? Either way, they have an awful lot of work to do.