[Updated] The season is winding down, but there is no shortage of passion going on in the paddock and Saturday in Interlagos has seen a furious row escalating between Toro Rosso and Renault.
It was always one of the curiosities of the deal that saw Toro Rosso switch from Renault to Honda engines for 2018 and with it an early swap for Carlos Sainz to Renault before the end of this season, that they were in direct competition in the constructor’s standings.
Toro Rosso is on 53 points in sixth place and Renault has 48 with two rounds to go.
So when Toro Rosso makes a suggestion that the chronic reliability of the Renault engine recently on its car may be linked to this battle, that really lights the blue touchpaper with Renault, not surprisingly.
Toro Rosso took exception to suggestions from Renault’s senior management that the problems they have had with the power units are linked to the way Toro Rosso uses them.
They issued a statement on Saturday morning refuting this suggestion: “We would like to clarify that all the MGU-H and Shaft failures Toro Rosso has recently suffered are not associated with how the team is operating or with how the PU is integrated in the chassis,” the statement said.
“Nothing has been changed or altered in this installation during the 2017 season, other than cooling improvements mid-season. Since the summer break Toro Rosso has suffered continuous power unit related failures, and the resulting grid penalties has cost the team points and relative positions in the Constructors’ championship.”
They then took it up a level with this passage: “One of the primary reasons for the issues we are seeing is the lack of new power unit parts available. In Toro Rosso’s case the team is constantly having to change parts from one PU to another during the weekend and, on many occasions, is forced to run old specification assemblies.”
This is not new; there have been complaints from the team on this score recently.
But the real sucker punch is this line: “We mustn’t forget that they are fighting with Toro Rosso for a better position in the Constructors’ championship, as suggested by Mr Abiteboul the situation may not be a coincidence, but it is certainly not due to STR’s car.”
The big picture
The next move will be interesting, with Renault likely to be incandescent with rage at the suggestion of sporting impropriety by a major manufacturer. While one frequently hears this kind of thing murmured, it’s unusual to see something like that written down in a statement.
A meeting was held at 4pm in the Red Bull team offices at Interlagos with Renault represented by Alain Prost and Cyril Abiteboul. This has the potential to become legal.
It will also have dismayed Honda’s management, to see their new partner for next season doing this to an engine partner.
At the same time, we must not forget that the engine in the sister Red Bull car has won two of the last four Grands Prix with Max Verstappen.
Behind the scenes there is the ongoing wrangle between the drinks manufacturer and its long time engine partner over supply from 2019 onwards. Red Bull believes that the FIA rules mean that the French manufacturer has to supply them an engine if they require it, but Renault has made it clear that they would prefer not to.
They have recently signed a contract with McLaren to supply engines from next season.
Stepping back a pace or two further, one has to consider that we are now in the early stages of a major conflict between three of the manufacturers in F1 and Liberty Media. This was highlighted last week after the statement was put out regarding the engines for 2021 onwards, which Mercedes, Ferrari and Renault all pushed back on, as it does not align with their views of what F1 engines should be. They want to lock in their advantage. Liberty is looking to level the playing field.
Red Bull is a top team, but it is also an independent and as such does not enjoy the power in every sense that the manufacturers have and indeed is motivated to try to diminish that power.
Hence Franz Tost’s comments on Friday in an FIA press conference that the hybrid turbo engines have been a disaster for F1 and Christian Horner’s refrain at the moment that Ferrari and Mercedes are so aligned it’s hard to tell which one is speaking in meetings.
Throwing very negative spotlight on a manufacturer, highlighting the powerlessness (literally) of the independent teams and insinuating a lack of sporting equity on the part of a manufacturer, is a tactic at a time like this.
What do you make of this spat? Where will it end? Leave your comments in the section below