The decision of reigning F1 champions Red Bull and Renault to extend their deal with for a supply of customer engines for five more years was announced over the Monza weekend, before Sebastian Vettel went out and won a second race in a row on what’s always been considered a “power circuit”.
This deal is significant in that it means that not only will the team use the current V8 units with the Renault KERS system for 2012 and 2013, but is committed to the marque for the new generation of fuel efficient V6 1.6 litre turbo engines from 2014 onwards. Part of the deal is a technology collaboration between Red Bull Technology and Renault to work on innovations for the 2014 engine. These will benefit all Renault customers, which will also include Williams.
Despite occasional grumbles from Red Bull senior management about a lack of power over the last five seasons, the partnership with Renault has been very successful with both world titles last season seven victories and no engine failures in a 100% faultless record this season which is likely to lead to another clean sweep of titles.
With the Renault deal has come a technical and sponsor partnership with oil company Total. In addition to getting money from the deal, Renault also has branding on the drivers’ helmets and on the engine cover of the car. This reflects the company’s strategy for F1 to be a profit centre, rather than a cost. The Renault team, currently known as Lotus Renault GP, is owned by investment firm Genii and sponsored by Group Lotus. Renault’s only involvement is to supply engines, as it does to Red Bull. But there seems to be some activity around this team in terms of its ownership and branding moving forwards. The way is clear for it to rebrand as Lotus, if the two sides feel that this is appropriate.
Meanwhile Renault number two Carlos Tavares was asked recently by French colleagues about the possibility of Renault coming back as a team owner and he said, “Having an F1 team as a manufacturer is a double edged sword. You have to win. And if you do not win, it’s serious. The solution of being an engine supplier makes sense and is clearly more long term for a manufacturer.”
It’s clear that Renault Sport, the division of the company which runs the F1 engine programme, regards Red Bull as their number one team now, almost a works team and Christian Horner alluded to this when the announcement was made.
This is emphasised by statements from Renault about how they see the importance of the integration of the engine and the chassis aerodynamics, especially post 2014. They also couch their communications in terms of “They are world champions and we are world champions.” The evolution of the blown diffuser and Renault’s work on ignition timing to improve it are a good example of the close integration of the two sides.
There is also the Nissan/Infiniti connection, with Infiniti branding on the car and the likelihood that Red Bull will be able to benefit from Nissan/Renault battery technology in the post 2014 era, when electric becomes a more important part of the package than currently.
On a side note, young French driver Jean Eric Vergne is going to be doing some Friday driving for Toro Rosso shortly. But when it comes to the Young Guns test at Abu Dhabi, there seems to be a view that he might be given a run in the Red Bull car, as Daniel Ricciardo did last year.
This would make sense in terms of a benchmark. And as Ricciardo is now racing for HRT, he is ineligible for the Young Guns test, so they may as well turn to Vergne next.