Going, going, gone for Red Bull?
Lewis Hamilton’s runaway victory this weekend may well have signalled the beginning of the end for this season’s title race. Having now created a cushion of fifty plus points over his dispirited team mate, he has broken through that all important barrier of being able to have a Did Not Finish (DNF), Rosberg gain a win, and still stay top of the table.
But this weekend wasn’t simply about Hamilton’s ability to outdrive his team mate, but equally about their equipment. Or more precisely their engines (or power plants as they are now officially called).
While Hamilton was on a high, Nico Rosberg faced the grim prospect that his problematic new powerplant would have to be swapped with an engine that was very definitely second hand, whilst Lewis would have the very latest spec power plant under his bonnet. And during the race that got even worse when his power plant expired in flames two laps from the end. Talk about kick a man when he’s down…
Meanwhile at Maranello the boys had obviously been busy getting ready for their home race in front of the tifosi. With their wick well and truly wound up, the Ferrari’s delivered a tantalising prospect for the race start with Raikkonen alongside Hamilton on the front row. Vettel directly behind him ready to pounce.
But a botched launch left Raikkonen stranded while Hamilton’s clean start allowed him to lead comfortably into the first corner. Then it was ciao bambinos as he strode away into the distance leaving Vettel following in second and at the end gaining his first podium finish in front of the home crowd. What a difference the welcome was from his Red Bull days when the crowd was less than complimentary. They have short memories in Monza!
But when the cheers and a spat about incorrect tyre pressures on Hamilton’s car had dissipated, the underlying story of the weekend was about engines. The haves, the have nots and the wannahaves.
At the top of the list were Red Bull who came to Monza declaring their clear intention was to sign with Mercedes for next year. Their love affair with Renault definitely over. A new German mistress beckoning…
But you have to ask yourself was that outcome really likely to happen? Would Mercedes be happy to welcome another, even more threatening cuckoo in their nest than Williams? Had the foot shooting season started early? Surely not.
And now at time of writing, it seems that maybe it never really was on the cards.
The latest rumour has it those level headed guys in the Stuttgart boardroom have, not surprisingly, vetoed such an unholy alliance. Who wouldn’t? So you’re left wondering did Red Bull ever seriously think that they would allow it? Or is the whole thing a carefully calculated act of self destruction?
We know that owner Dietrich Mateschitz has been unhappy for some time with the lack of results from his jewel in the crown. Rumours have flown thick and fast about him quitting Formula One, or at least disbanding Red Bull while perhaps leaving the crumbs of Torro Rosso on Bernie Ecclestone’s table.
Well now he has a team with no engine for next season and it seems unlikely that Ferrari will help for the same reasons as Mercedes. What more can he do? He tried and failed and now has no option but to retire with honour. Or does he?
There is of course one other manufacturer who as yet has only one customer on the grid. The only trouble is, that based on this season’s performance, it seems likely that customer list could remain very short indeed. But surely Honda must come good? Failure is not in their DNA (nor for that matter is it in McLaren’s). Their power plant is apparently incredibly well packaged, something that would be immensely appealing to Adrian Newey, who like all the great car designers (think Colin Chapman for one), has never been a fan of excess baggage.
But somehow no matter how intriguing a prospect that might represent, logic seems to dictate that it not going to happen and that Red Bull may well be about to bid arrivederci to F1. Why so pessimistic?
Well as we all know, as soon as this year’s car hits the grid the development team start the next generation. With engine packaging being such a major factor in car design, trying to accommodate something new and unknown at this late stage in the season seems highly unlikely and quite frankly a recipe for sub standard performance for yet another season.
Then again there is another factor bigger even than engine packaging yet at the same time somewhat small. It’s called Bernie Ecclestone. One can barely imagine what he will be doing behind the scenes to keep Red Bull in the F1 circus. After all as a man willing to pay the wages bill for Lotus last month, maybe offering to underwrite the whole of Mercedes F1 bill as a sweetener to supply Red Bull isn’t so far fetched? £340 million isn’t a lot when you’ve got the future of F1 at stake is it?
No doubt we’ll all be kept in the dark until the time is right (if indeed we ever find out the real truth). Maybe the night race at Singapore in a fortnight’s time will be the place where all will be revealed? But for now we’ll just have to wait and see what the smoke and mirrors of F1 will reveal.