4 Areas for Red Bull to Improve on in 2nd Half of 2015 Formula 1 Season
Red Bull Racing have made their worst start to a Formula One season in seven years.
Without a podium finish across the first nine races of 2015, a team who were storming to four world titles in succession as recently as 2013 are currently languishing in fourth in the constructors' standings, 308 points behind leaders Mercedes and 88 adrift of third-placed Williams.
Red Bull's season has been defined by bitterness, with the team responding poorly to their fall from grace by issuing multiple threats to quit F1 and frequently voicing their discontent with engine suppliers Renault, whose struggles to master the V6 turbo regulations have continued.
The team's plight has stunted the growth of two of the most exciting talents on the grid, Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat, who have this year been forced to feed on scraps after securing several impressive results across 2014.
Red Bull, however, have traditionally improved their performances in the second half of campaigns, and while their run of top-three finishes in the championship is almost certain to come to an end in 2015, the Milton Keynes-based outfit can still salvage some points, podiums and pride from this challenging year.
Here are four things Red Bull can do to ensure this season won't be remembered as a total write-off.
Renault's Long-Awaited Engine Upgrade
Engine manufacturers are allowed to develop their power units during the season in 2015, and while some of their rivals have wasted little time in introducing upgrades, Renault have opted to bide their time.
According to a Sky Sports graphic, the French company—despite their troublesome powertrain being at the root of Red Bull's struggles—were one of two manufacturers yet to spend any of their allotted tokens prior to June's Canadian Grand Prix.
Rather than being an indication of Renault's ineptitude, however, it is a sign of Red Bull sacrificing short-term pain for long-term gain, with the team having more scope to improve than their rivals across the second half of the season.
Red Bull recruited engine guru Mario Illien over the winter to work with Renault, and the Swiss is set to play an instrumental role in a major update, which Sky Sports' Pete Gill and Mike Wise say is likely to appear at August's Belgian GP.
As technical expert Craig Scarborough told The Racer's Edge, the improvements will be based around the internal combustion engine and provide Red Bull with a "massive step forward."
Scarborough stresses the update will not be enough for Red Bull to threaten the likes of Mercedes and Ferrari, but it should ensure the team are reasonably competitive on most circuits and not just high-downforce tracks.
Move with the Times
In 2014, Red Bull's chassis was arguably the finest on the grid and compensated for Renault's frailties in the engine department, but that hasn't been the case this year.
The RB11 was billed as the last Formula One car to be produced by Adrian Newey, the legendary designer who stepped back from his full-time role with the team in 2015.
But instead of being the brainchild of a genius intent on going out with a bang, the car is seemingly the creation of someone with half an eye on semi-retirement.
Newey himself told F1i's Chris Medland that the RB11 simply "hasn’t been as strong" as the cars produced by Mercedes and Ferrari and, even with power parity, it wouldn't have been in contention for this year's championship.
For a man behind 10 title-winning machines, it was some statement, although Newey told the same source that Red Bull's "revised" aerodynamic philosophy has resulted in their relatively mediocre chassis.
According to Motorsport.com's Giorgio Piola, the team's previously successful approach of "running the front of its car as low as possible to the ground" is ill-suited to this era of titanium skid blocks and nose restrictions, forcing Red Bull to follow the Mercedes way of doing things.
The introduction of a Mercedes-esque front wing at Silverstone—where they enjoyed one of their better weekends of the campaign—was evidence of Red Bull, who have become so accustomed to other outfits mimicking their designs in recent years, trying to beat their rivals at their own game.
Red Bull are in new territory, and their ability to adapt to the change will be fascinating to observe across the final 10 races.
Moan, moan, moan.
Red Bull's reputation has taken a battering over the opening nine races of 2015, as the team's off-track antics have overshadowed the little they have achieved on the circuit.
Their frequent complaints over the current regulations and Renault's incompetence, as well as their numerous quit threats, which appear to carry little substance, have become increasingly wearisome and resulted in Red Bull attracting the label of sore losers.
Questions over the company's future in the sport began just hours after the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, when team advisor Helmut Marko told Autosport's Gerhard Kuntschik and Glenn Freeman that the team "could contemplate an F1 exit" if Red Bull chief Dietrich Mateschitz "loses his passion." They have not stopped since.
Mateschitz himself has launched an attack on Renault, telling Speed Week (h/t BBC Sport) how the French manufacturer has drained Red Bull of "will and motivation" as well as "time and money." That same Austrian GP weekend saw the "sacking" of team principal Christian Horner, per the Times' Kevin Eason.
With constant speculation over potential technical partners—F1 journalist Adam Cooper reported a potential takeover by Audi in Australia, and Autocar's Jim Holder raised the possibility of an Aston Martin tie-up at Silverstone—Red Bull have behaved distastefully this year.
The team's sudden willingness to walk away from the sport at the first sign of serious trouble is a reminder that Red Bull—unlike outfits such as Ferrari, McLaren and Williams, who stay on the grid no matter how competitive they are—are, first and foremost, in F1 for marketing purposes. But 2015 has been a PR disaster.
Their long-term plans remain unclear, but Red Bull would be well advised to keep quiet and resolve their problems in a less aggressive, classier manner in the second half of the season.
Rediscover the Killer Instinct
When a team is starved of success for an extended period of time, it is natural for them to become a little apprehensive when faced with a chance to recapture the winning feeling.
Just ask Williams, who have blown several opportunities to win a grand prix since their return to competitiveness in 2014 despite winning countless world championships in the 1980s and '90s.
The most recent example came at Silverstone, where the team found a way for their cars to finish a distant fourth and fifth despite Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas leading the first phase of the British Grand Prix.
And while Red Bull, with three wins last season, are more battle-hardened than Williams, who have won just one race in the last decade, it will be interesting to note how, if at all, their barren spell has numbed their sense of victory and blunted their confidence.
Should they find themselves in contention for a podium place—or, indeed, a race win—in the latter stages of the season, will they trust their instincts as they did at the peak of the powers? Will they be as opportunistic as they were during each of Daniel Ricciardo's triumphs last year, or will they be too cautious, too conservative, too indecisive?
Will they panic, making one decision, then another, and ultimately trip over themselves, gifting positions and prizes to their rivals?
The key to a successful F1 team, as Red Bull proved between 2010 and 2013 and as Mercedes are proving now, is found in their ability to capitalise on opportunities.
Whether Red Bull rediscover that killer instinct in the second half of the year will not only define their 2015 campaign, but their status as an F1 operation.