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Realistic Expectations for Red Bull in 2016 Formula 1 Season

Oliver Harden@@OllieHardenFeatured ColumnistFebruary 9, 2016

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 28:  Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Infiniti Red Bull Racing and Daniil Kvyat of Russia and Infiniti Red Bull Racing park their cars in Parc Ferme after qualifying for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 28, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

One of his staunchest allies may be helping to turn Red Bull Racing's fortunes around, but chief technical officer Adrian Newey isn't expecting any miracles ahead of the 2016 Formula One season.

Having tried and failed to secure an engine-supply deal with Mercedes, Ferrari and Honda in the closing months of last season—a pursuit of excellence that nearly resulted in the downfall of the Red Bull empire—the team will continue to run Renault power units this year.

Sure, they can give the engine a quirky name in an attempt to distance themselves from the French manufacturer, and, of course, engine expert Mario Illien, a colleague of Newey's from the Leyton House days, has been assisting the development of the powertrain, per GPUpdate.net.

LE CASTELLET, FRANCE - JANUARY 25:  Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Red Bull Racing sits in his car in the garage during day one of wet weather tyre testing at Circuit Paul Ricard on January 25, 2016 in Le Castellet, France.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Get
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

But the simple fact remains that Red Bull's cars, despite the relentless, often distasteful bickering between the two parties since the V6 turbo regulations were implemented in 2014, will still be fitted with Renault engines.

As such, there appears to be a feeling of impending doom at Red Bull; that despite their best and bravest efforts to force change they remain braced for the same old disappointments—so much so that Newey already seems to regard the upcoming season as a write-off.

With Mercedes and Ferrari preparing to engage in direct combat for the world championship, Red Bull, Newey feels, will be Red Bull—operationally flawless with an impeccable chassis design—and Renault will be Renault—unreliable, stubborn, useless.

Not to mention the manufacturer will now be preoccupied with its own team, as Red Bull adviser Dr. Helmut Marko told Austrian publication Salzburg Nachrichten (h/t Motorsport.com's Jonathan Noble) following Renault's takeover of Lotus.

Newey told Motorsport.com's Jonathan Noble

I think it is going to be an extremely difficult season for us frankly.

If we start the engine with the same power as we have had throughout 2014 and 2015, which I think may well be the case, then we are going to be even further behind.

According to our own research we found some reasonable gains on the chassis side, but the works teams will of course all move forward. Mercedes and Ferrari will move forwards. ...

So, next year's going to be very difficult for us. It's really down to, I think, what happens next with the sport, for 2017 and beyond.

For all Newey's pessimism, however, there are signs that Renault might not be too bad an option in 2016 after all.

Cyril Abiteboul, Renault's managing director, recently told Motorsport.com's Adam Cooper the new engine will represent its "biggest step since the new regulations have been introduced," while Red Bull team manager Jonathan Wheatley told GPUpdate.net how the French company has made "very positive" gains.

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - NOVEMBER 15:  Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Infiniti Red Bull Racing makes a pit stop during the Formula One Grand Prix of Brazil at Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace on November 15, 2015 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Get
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

"I think that's probably where we are at the moment," he added. "Is it going to be on the same level as the other [leading] power units in 2016? I think that's probably unlikely. But we only need to get close."

And that will be the key to Red Bull's season.

They may not be quite capable of challenging Mercedes and Ferrari on a regular basis in 2016, but if the marriage of inconvenience can place Red Bull somewhere within touching distance of the front-runners, the team remains dangerous enough to win races.

Ricciardo came close to beating former team-mate Vettel in Singapore.
Ricciardo came close to beating former team-mate Vettel in Singapore.Peter J Fox/Getty Images

We saw it at various points in the second half of last year, when Daniel Ricciardo pestered Sebastian Vettel throughout the Singapore GP—he may have won were it not for a couple of ill-timed safety cars—before building a lead in the United States until safety cars and improving conditions dragged him back into obscurity.

Although Red Bull endured their first winless season in seven years in 2015, that they often manoeuvred themselves into such promising positions—even at venues generally unsuited to their car—provided much solace, especially given their rate of improvement with the chassis across the campaign.

Despite his unrivalled status as an aerodynamicist, Newey admitted at the midseason stage that, even with power parity, the RB11 wouldn't have been good enough to challenge Mercedes and Ferrari for the title, claiming Red Bull were "in the process" of moving in a "different direction," per F1i.com's Chris Medland.

As noted by Motorsport.com's Giorgio Piola, the team's philosophy of running the front of their car "as low as possible to the ground" was outdated in an era of short noses and titanium skid blocks, forcing them to follow the trend set by Mercedes.

Those improvements—which were noticeable at Silverstone and became obvious in Hungary, where the team claimed their only double-podium finish of 2015—unlocked the RB11's potential to the point where Red Bull had arguably reclaimed their position as the standard-setters in terms of car design come the end of the season.

Learning those lessons and implementing them so effectively was crucial ahead of 2016, when Newey—now enjoying semi-retirement, having been more visible than expected last year—will no longer have a significant influence on the design of Red Bull's car, as team principal Christian Horner told the official F1 website.

After a change in philosophy, Red Bull ended last season with arguably the best chassis on the grid.
After a change in philosophy, Red Bull ended last season with arguably the best chassis on the grid.Paul Gilham/Getty Images

He has left his colleagues with a firm platform in a year of relatively stable regulations, but Red Bull's success, as ever, will depend on those at Viry-Chatillon.

Should Renault still be unable to deliver on its promises and fail to address the issues with its internal-combustion engine—which as technical expert Craig Scarborough told the Racer's Edge YouTube channel remains the biggest flaw of the power unit—Red Bull's predicament may yet get worse before it gets better.

Yet if it finally provides an engine worthy of the chassis it sits inside, Red Bull could displace Williams as F1's third-best team and potentially win a grand prix or two.

Red Bull Racing @redbullracing

Is it go time yet? #F1 @DanielRicciardo https://t.co/kCycwiryBj

For a team that was celebrating its fourth consecutive world championship just two years ago, that still won't be good enough.

But at least, to use a popular motor-racing phrase, they can race from there.


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