Can Red Bull Finally End Their Spielberg Suffering in 2016 Austrian Grand Prix?

Oliver Harden@@OllieHardenFeatured ColumnistJuly 1, 2016

SPIELBERG, AUSTRIA - JUNE 30:  Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Red Bull Racing and Max Verstappen of Netherlands and Red Bull Racing in their lederhosen themed race suits during previews ahead of the Formula One Grand Prix of Austria at Red Bull Ring on June 30, 2016 in Spielberg, Austria.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Throughout their time in Formula One, Red Bull have done an admirable job when it comes to promoting a sport with a nasty habit of shooting itself in the foot.

From performing demonstration runs on snow-capped mountains and signing one-off sponsorship deals with the latest blockbusters, to allowing one of their cars to take on an army of eight grizzly rugby players, the team have often been lauded for their inventive, enthusiastic approach to marketing.

Yet those famed PR skills were nowhere to be seen in the buildup to their home race at their own track a year ago.

"What else has to happen that we will lose our motivation completely?" Dietrich Mateschitz, the founder and owner of the Red Bull empire, asked himself in Speed Week magazine (h/t BBC Sport), Red Bull's in-house media outlet, just two days ahead of the Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring.

His frustration, of course, was borne out of Red Bull's fall from grace—their tumble from championship-winning status to the obscurity of the midfield in less than two years—and specifically the struggles of engine suppliers Renault, who he felt were sapping "not only time and money, but also the will and motivation" from his team.

Mateschitz's comments effectively set the tone for Red Bull's home race as they—12 months after their favourite son, Sebastian Vettel, was left limping at the rear of the field in Austria after suffering a loss of power on the second lap—hit the lowest point in what became the team's first winless season in seven years.

Austria 2015 was a particularly scarring weekend for Red Bull.
Austria 2015 was a particularly scarring weekend for Red Bull.Clive Mason/Getty Images

Behind the wheel of the clumsy-looking RB11 cars, Daniil Kvyat and Daniel Ricciardo were left to start 15th and 18th, respectively, as Red Bull—almost in protest against both their lack of competitiveness and the V6 turbo regulations—incurred grid penalties for exceeding engine-component usage limits.

After recovering to the dizzy heights of 12th in the grand prix itself, Kvyat perfectly captured the mood of the team's weekend, explaining how his race "was a bit like driving in hell" after a first-lap collision, per Autosport (h/t Eurosport).

Having made numerous quit threats in early 2015, that race—where Ferrari's Sergio Marchionne made a half-hearted engine-supply offer, per Sky Sports' Pete Gill—sparked one of the most dramatic off-track sagas in recent years as Red Bull almost found themselves chased out of the sport they had dominated as recently as 2013.

SPIELBERG, AUSTRIA - JUNE 19:  Daniil Kvyat of Russia and Infiniti Red Bull Racing drives during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Austria at Red Bull Ring on June 19, 2015 in Spielberg, Austria.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Clive Mason/Getty Images

But as they prepare for their third appearance on home soil at this weekend's Austrian GP, Red Bull will be relieved they managed to hang on.

A year since their title-winning days were thought to be long gone, the team are now very much in the process of moving out of the darkness and back into the light, pushing "in a good direction" and toward what they hope will be a championship challenge in 2017, as Ricciardo told Autosport (h/t Eurosport).

Having often resembled a one-man team since 2015—such was Ricciardo's performance advantage over an inconsistent, erratic Kvyat—they now have "one of the, if not the, strongest" driver lineups in F1, as team principal Christian Horner told Sky Sports' Matt Morlidge following the promotion of Max Verstappen in May.

And while their relationship with Renault had been volatile at the best of times, both parties can look forward to many more happy years together after a contract extension was formally announced at the Monaco GP.

The improvements made to the Renault powertrain last winter and, more recently, at the Monte Carlo race have undoubtedly played a huge role in Red Bull's resurgence, allowing them to challenge the likes of Mercedes and Ferrari on pure pace at specific circuits.

With three long straights, the Red Bull Ring was never regarded as one of the tracks that would play to their strengths. Yet Red Bull showed progress in the first two practice sessions in Spielberg, with the drivers classified no lower than eighth at a place the team finished no higher than eighth in the last two seasons.

SPIELBERG, AUSTRIA - JULY 01: Daniel Ricciardo of Australia driving the (3) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Austria at Red Bull Ring on July 1, 2016 in Spielberg, Austria.  (Phot
Charles Coates/Getty Images

When Friday's running came to a close, Verstappen—who along with his team-mate is wearing lederhosen-style overalls this weekend, further proof, maybe, that the team have rediscovered their old charm—explained he was pleasantly surprised by Red Bull's "good" pace, per Motorsport.com's Charles Bradley.

The teenager added it "will be very good" if stormy weather hits Spielberg in qualifying and on race day as expected, giving the RB12 car another opportunity to confirm its status as the standard-setting chassis on the 2016 grid.

That, you suspect, will be the only way Mateschitz and Co. will be able to realise the ultimate goal of winning their home race in 2016.

SPIELBERG, AUSTRIA - JULY 01:  A general view of the Red Bull statue after practice ahead of the home race of Red Bull Racing and the Formula One Grand Prix of Austria at Red Bull Ring on July 1, 2016 in Spielberg, Austria.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty I
Dan Istitene/Getty Images

But after being almost ashamed to welcome F1 to their own backyard when they were in a state of such despair and disarray last season, the team should have more reasons to celebrate this time.

And, perhaps, to put on the kind of show we would have expected when Red Bull's own track rejoined the calendar two years ago.

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