Will Red Bull stay in Formula 1 beyond 2013?

No disrespect to Christian Horner and the Red Bull Racing team, but guarantees of Sebastian Vettel staying put at the Milton Keynes based team ring a little hollow after Lewis Hamilton’s switch to Mercedes from McLaren.

Hamilton repeatedly stated that he would never leave the team that supported him on his road to Formula 1 and gave him his big break. While Vettel seems more reserved in making long-term commitments than the Briton, the fact of the matter is that should Vettel leave for Ferrari after 2013 as has been suggested Red Bull won’t be able to prevent him from doing so. Red Bull adviser Helmut Marko who manages the team’s young driver program has admitted as much.

Vettel’s possible departure ties in with the fact that F1’s 2014 technical regulations have been drafted in a manner that will put the emphasis on the mechanical aspects of F1 rather than aerodynamics. Initially, at least, beyond which it will have to be seen if Adrian Newey and the aero brigade can fight back.

The much debated 1.6-litre, V-6, single turbo engines and doubly powerful Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems (storage capacity of 160 bhp from current 80 bhp) should give an advantage to manufacturer backed teams as far as Mercedes AMG team principal Ross Brawn is concerned. And he is someone who should definitely be taken seriously.

With the deep pockets of Red Bull’s parent company, the expertise of Newey – who it can be argued battled against Michael Schumacher and his supporting cast from 1994 to 2004 – the current world champions were ideally placed to take advantage of the revamp of the technical regulations in 2009 that left a lot of scope for creative designers to improvise.

Brawn GP beat everybody to experimenting with the diffuser area of the car but as the one-time Honda team ran short on funds, Red Bull comprehensively out-developed them and went a step further with the blown diffuser concept (and now Coanda exhausts).

For Red Bull to remain competitive from 2014 and beyond it would have to call on greater involvement from the Renault-Nissan partnership that backs the team on the mechanical side. Judging by a recent feature in motor sport magazine Autosport, Renault is definitely keen on the new engine formula as it will have far greater relevance to its road cars. But Red Bull have had documented trouble with KERS.

A KERS related fire in the team’s factory prior to the 2009 season was one of the factors that prompted the team to not use the device at all that year and develop a relatively smaller, less potent unit for further seasons. They instead chose to focus on mechanical grip derived through its diffuser concept around which their title challengers were built.

Should Vettel up and leave to Maranello, will the team lose the momentum needed to take on F1 v.2014? Other factors may prompt Red Bull to stay. They are seemingly the sport’s defacto promoter as far as new venues and new markets are concerned it seems. Case in point, the elaborate demo-run at the new Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, Vettel turning up to promote the proposed Grand Prix of America at New Jersey.

Not to mention driving an F1 car to the highest motorable road right here in India last year ahead of the Indian GP as well as a demo run on Rajpath in New Delhi.

Losing their presence on the grid would definitely be a setback for F1 and this leverage may even be used by the team to ensure that some leniency is given to factor in their modus operandi in the 2014 regs.

Worst-case scenario, they could just up and leave to focus on adventure sports and the World Rally Championship that they are set to promote from next year. Which will be a shame indeed if this very big IF has something more to it than just ‘ifs’.

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About Vinayak Pande

Journalist at autoX magazine.
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