Will Limited Laps for Renault Engines Give Other Teams a Leg Up on Red Bull?

Matthew WalthertFeatured ColumnistJanuary 29, 2014


Renault-powered cars have won the last four Formula One Drivers' and Constructors' Championships, along with six of the last nine. In the first two days of 2014 preseason testing, though, Renault has looked like anything but a dominant force.

Renault is supplying engines to four teams this season: Red Bull, Lotus, Toro Rosso and Caterham. With completely new and more complex engines being developed, though, reliability has been a key concern for the teams.

The only way to know for sure whether the new machines are reliable is to use them on the track, testing their limits.

So far, in terms of totals laps run at the Circuito de Jerez, the Renault-powered teams are lagging significantly behind those using Mercedes and Ferrari engines.

Laps Completed in Preseason Testing
EngineDay OneDay TwoTotal

Renault's total has been affected by the Lotus team's decision not to bring their cars to the first test, but that does not improve the situation. (By the way, remember when former team principal Eric Boullier told BBC Sport he knew "for a fact" that other teams would miss the first test? Not so much, as Marussia rolled into the paddock on Wednesday.)

Driving the cars on the track does more than test the durability of the new engines. Every second the cars are running, they produce data for engineers—both on the teams and with the engine manufacturersto analyse and build on.

Marcus Ericsson only managed 12 laps over two days in his Caterham.
Marcus Ericsson only managed 12 laps over two days in his Caterham.Mark Thompson/Getty Images

The less time on the track, the less data the engineers will have; the fact that Toro Rosso and Caterham have also run limited laps has the potential to hurt Red Bull, as Renault will have even less data on its new engines.

So far, Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel appears unconcerned with his limited track time.

"Obviously we’ve not had a lot of running and have a few problems to sort out, but with such big rule changes it is usual to have some teething problems," he told Formula1.com. "That's what tests are for, to sort those issues out. The next two days will be important to get some track time to prepare for the tests in Bahrain."

Meanwhile, Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner is criticizing the new engine regulations, saying the additional costs are too much of a burden for the smaller teams, according to ESPN F1.

Of course, this seems slightly disingenuous, as Red Bull (along with Ferrari) has been one of the major barriers to introducing a cost cap in Formula One.

Could Horner be worried about how the new engine regulations will affect his team and their run of four straight titles?

Horner and Vettel, looking relaxed at the first 2014 test.
Horner and Vettel, looking relaxed at the first 2014 test.Mark Thompson/Getty Images

The fact that all three teams teams running Renault engines at the first test either had issues getting onto the track or once they were on it must be worrisome.

We are still only two days into the preseason tests, and testing results are not always indicative of what will happen during the season (see day one of McLaren's 2013 preseason test for a recent example).

With such substantial changes to the regulations, along with completely new engines, every second of testing time takes on increased importance this year.

Still, even the teams that have been running have not necessarily been doing so at peak performance. Although the 2014 cars will be slower than the 2013 cars due to the new regulations, the fastest lap so far this year—Jenson Button, 1:24.165—is more than six seconds slower than Felipa Massa's pace-setting lap of 1:17.879 during 2013 testing at Jerez.

Once the engines have been broken in, we should expect the teams to turn up the revs and really push them to the limit.

Unfortunately for the Renault teams, they may be a few days behind.


Follow Matthew Walthert on Twitter @MatthewWalthert