(It’s much later than it was meant to be, but neglecting to make an untimely assessment would be worse than actually doing it. Right? Sorry. At any rate, there will be some more timely material coming at the end of this weekend.)
Ten years ago, a fizzy drink company took over the Jaguar F1 squad and the resultant creation was instantly labelled as a wealthy man’s flight of fancy: a hobby team. The last four seasons have proven quite the contrary, as the Milton Keynes-based team has taken both the drivers’ and constructors’ championships, sometimes with unflinching dominance.
With the team’s dominance hitting a rarely seen level last season, fans of rival teams began to beg and pray for the new regulations to break the form of the team. It would seem their wishes have been granted, as Red Bull has started the year on the wrong hoof.
The evident condition of the team went from blatantly terrible in preseason testing to half-respectable in Australia—until a disqualification put any measure of their progress in question.
With high expectations, a massive gap to Mercedes and controversy swirling about the incumbent champions, their performance at Malaysia promises to be a talking point.
Penned by Adrian Newey, the same aerodynamicist who brought Red Bull their four double championships, the Red Bull RB10 has a graceful body that encapsulates the usual minimal-compromise approach taken by the world’s most sought after aero engineer. It’s that aggression that has magnified the already obvious shortcomings of Renault’s subpar engine—though the car has shown itself to be on equal footing with McLaren (and possibly Williams) when it is working.
Exceptionally tight bodywork around the engine and transmission made the car extremely prone to overheating—so much so that the body panels around the exhaust were catching fire during preseason testing. With electronics also suffering for a lack of open air circulation, the car was so unreliable that the team said they only wanted to finish the Australian Grand Prix.
Australia would prove to be bittersweet for the team as it turned out. For nearly the whole weekend, Sebastian Vettel’s car was suffering software problems that left him unable to compete. On the other hand, newcomer Daniel Ricciardo split the Mercedes in qualifying and drove the car to second place, withstanding pressure from Kevin Magnussen the entire race.
The celebration was to be short-lived, as Red Bull used an unapproved fuel sensor instead of the FIA supplied one. As a result, the Australian was stripped of his podium and points, and the real pace of the RB10 remains unclear.
Red Bull plan to appeal the ruling based on a vague clause in the regulations that fails to demand fuel sensors come from a specific maker (in this case the FIA).
Where ever they stand now, the car will need Renault to have a better handle on reliability for the RB10 to show its potential. An expected ambient temperature of 31°C will be an effective measure of their efforts.
Sebastian Vettel – Call it a character building start
A holder of numerous records, a four-times consecutive world champion and never satisfied with anything but victory, Sebastian Vettel will be eager to actually get his 2014 campaign under way. An absence of further problems would be welcome, of course, but are unlikely.
With low mileage to his name during the preseason tests, Vettel seemed excited to get to racing in Australia. A software glitch left him down on power during qualifying, and he was unable to advance to Q3, while his teammate continued on to nab a front row start—Vettel had no qualms about voicing his disdain for the situation either.
The race would prove an even more dismal affair, with the gremlins getting so out of hand that Vettel found himself rapidly falling into the backfield. Unable to answer, and over ten seconds off the pace of the slowest cars, the team pulled him in after only a few laps.
Under-estimating him as a threat later in the season would be a grave mistake, however. Hard working, extremely fast and well-liked by the team, Vettel is capable of leading the team back onto the right path. A strong record at Malaysia bodes well for his prospects this weekend as well.
For those who have forgotten, his DNF at Australia has killed Vettel’s run at breaking Alberto Ascari’s 60-year-old record for consecutive wins. Unless he has another strong of unchallenged success, he will remain tied with Ascari’s nine consecutive victories.
Daniel Ricciardo – A new young pretender?
Always cheery, always smiling, always optimistic: even when his podium was stripped away from him, Daniel Ricciardo still found comfort in completing a race distance. The young Australian certainly has the sort of disposition that will keep him moving on while Red Bull regroups from a rocky start to the season.
Whether he will be able to match Vettel or not remains to be seen. His qualifying speed easily eclipsed former Torro Rosso teammate Jean-Eric Vergne, but in race pace he found himself losing positions while at the junior team. Race pace is, obviously, a strong suit of the four time champion in the other car.
Ricciardo’s impressive race performance at Australia is marred by the possibility that Red Bull were secretly running more fuel than allowed during the race (or more than their competitors). And with Vettel’s car working poorly at Australia, there is still room to wonder if he really is capable of challenging his teammate or not.
It is his performance and Vettel’s absence at Australia that has shifted an additional mass of attention onto Red Bull. Hopefully they will be able to provide some answers in the coming week. With any luck, an intense rivalry could emerge too.
Qualifying Times (Wet)
Vettel: 1’44.668 (12th, Q2*)
Ricciardo: 1’44.457 (2nd, Q3)
Fast Lap: 1’49.947 (20th)
Ricciardo: Disqualified – Unapproved Fuel Sensor (2nd)
Fast Lap: 1’33.066 (6th)
*Ricciardo’s Q2 time was 1’42.295 – he was second quickest in Q2.