F1: 2014 Preview – Infiniti Red Bull Racing

Joel Sebastianelli Featured, Formula One, International, Sprints & Midgets 0 Comments

Welcome back to Race Chaser Online’s preview of the 2014 FIA Formula One World Championship! We continue our 11-day journey through the field today with a look at defending champs Red Bull Racing as we continue to lead up to this weekend’s season-opening Australian Grand Prix! Make sure to check Race Chaser Online all season long for all of your stateside-based news from the Formula One world!

March 12, 2014 — story by Race Chaser open wheel correspondent Joel Sebastianelli — LAT Photographic photo — Plenty has changed in the Formula One landscape over the past four years, but the one constant has been the domination of four-time World Drivers’ Champion Sebastian Vettel and Infiniti Red Bull Racing. In 2013, Red Bull swept the competition away with ease on the wings of a remarkable nine consecutive victories by Vettel, causing critics to rightfully assert the sport lacked parity at the peak of competition.

Thriving top teams often surge ahead and turn the fair division of power into a dictatorship. Red Bull’s reign of glory (or terror, if you prefer) was the first of its kind since Michael Schumacher claimed an unprecedented string of five straight championships from 2000-2004 with superpower Ferrari. In some cases, the modern superstar Vettel eclipsed his hero, smashing Schumacher’s record for seven straight wins that he shared with Alberto Ascari, and equaling the fellow German’s season total of 13 victories.

Veteran Aussie Mark Webber is out, leaving the tumultuous stage adjacent to F1’s most popular and favored team driver for Porsche’s LMP1 Sportscar program in the FIA World Endurance Championship. Countryman Daniel Ricciardo upgrades from occasional points scorer to frequent podium challenger, jumping from Italian namesake Toro Rosso to the more successful Red Bull team. However, after a frustrating series of preseason tests in which engine manufacturer Renault performed racing’s version of a tooth-chipping face plant out of the blocks, the sun now longer shines over the Austrian racing empire.

This season, there is still a guarantee surrounding the team, but it is not the familiar assurance of another runaway championship. Instead, the certainty in 2014 is that the switch to V6 turbocharged engines will make the ascent to the top step of the podium exponentially harder and maybe even out of reach in the early going for Red Bull.

The Drivers: Sebastian Vettel leads Red Bull for the sixth straight season, and at 26, his track record as one of the most successful drivers of all time continues to strengthen with each weekend. In addition to the records broken in 2013, Vettel already ranks fourth all-time in wins (just two behind Ayrton Senna), tenth in fastest laps, third in career poles with 45, and maintains the top mark for most poles in a season—15 in the 19 Grand Prix season in 2011.

More than any other trait, Vettel’s ability to squeeze the most out of the car in magnificent one-lap sprints must continue in 2014. The team is well-behind where they want to be in technical development as the Australian Grand Prix draws near, and that means they’re behind their competitors on the track too. New regulations will result in a mixture of tire and fuel conservation, so making up valuable places in qualifying is as crucial as ever.

During his tenure as world champion, Vettel’s detractors have criticized his success as being the effect only of superior equipment, but making something substantial out of something menial a la Fernando Alonso in 2012 would quiet the peanut gallery once and for all.

Alongside the living legend Vettel is Daniel Ricciardo, the promising 24 year old paid who his dues with lowly and now defunct HRT for the final portion of 2011 and then for two seasons piloting machinery for Red Bull’s co-called “sister team,” Toro Rosso. The former British Formula Three champion was outscored by his teammate Jean-Eric Vergne in 2012 despite tallying two more top 10s, but sailed away from the Frenchman with a strong campaign last season. Notching 20 points and a pair of seventh places finishes in China and Italy, he solidified himself as one of F1’s brightest young contenders.

His debut comes amidst several struggles for his new team, a scenario strikingly similar to Sergio Perez’s singular season with McLaren. Ricciardo and Red Bull are presumably partnered for the long haul, but his prospect of becoming F1’s newest first-timer winner might have to wait until the car performs close to the standards set by previous campaigns.

The Car: Assuming Red Bull is a lock for race wins is no longer a safe bet. The RB-10 is a beautifully constructed car, the typical work of brilliant designer Adrian Newey. Although it is fundamentally sound from an aerodynamic standpoint, Renault’s new 1.6-litre V6 turbocharged engine, the Renault Energy F1-2014, has been a sore spot for all teams under the manufacturer’s banner.

Early stages of development were hampered immensely by pitfalls in Jerez, limiting the team to below 100km on the track, the lowest of any team. Throughout the test, Renault teams (including Lotus, Toro Rosso and Caterham) were adversely affected by issues the prevented the individual components of the power unit from working together. Even as that plague was treated, Red Bull as beleaguered by software issues governing the turbo unit.

Progress was further stymied as the focus shifted to Bahrain, robbed of 150 horsepower after disabling the Energy Recovery System at the advice of Renault. These myriad malfunctions continued all the way through the final test, leaving Red Bull ahead of only Lotus and Marussia in kilometers covered and positioning Renault dead last among manufacturers.

The Challenges: The RB-10 isn’t as much to blame for the team’s issues as Renault is. The manufacturer has let its teams down, and team principal Christian Horner believes Red Bull will be off the pace set by top tier teams like Mercedes and Ferrari until at least the European leg of the championship.

“You could see a higher level of domination than we had last year. Looking at Mercedes’ race simulation, it wouldn’t be a surprise if they finished two laps ahead of everyone in Melbourne. They have a massive advantage,” Horner told The Daily Mail.

“I have every confidence in the team. There’s no panic. There are engineering solutions and there is no better set of engineers in the pit lane. By the time we get to the European races in May, we should be OK.”

Daniel Ricciardo is still a bit green in terms of experience, and under the intense microscope the media will hold over Red Bull this perplexing season, he could become uncomfortable and make similar mistakes to Sergio Perez in his first endeavor in the sport’s upper echelon in 2013.

Sebastian Vettel may be rightfully anointed as one of the most successful drivers in Formula One history, but he can’t do it all for Red Bull without a competitive machine in his grasp.

The Strengths: Still, there is a plenty Vettel can do to bring the car into the points and eventually contention for a race win as the year wears on. Even with the emphasis on innovation that tends to separate teams from one another, the overhaul in regulations means driving talent is still paramount in modern day F1. Ferrari’s season seemed destined for failure in 2012, but Fernando Alonso snagged a victory in the second race of the season at the Malaysian Grand Prix and nearly bested Vettel for the title. Red Bull is several feet behind where Ferrari was two years ago, but vying for podiums isn’t an unreasonable jump for the team to make at some point in the future.

Projected Result: Between Michael Schumacher’s stranglehold on the sport and Sebastian Vettel’s sensational championship clinching seasons, the German national anthem has become the unofficial theme song of Formula One. Fans will hear the familiar melody often in 2014, but more than likely due to the exploits of Mercedes AMG Petronas.

If the engine situation gets sorted out soon, Red Bull can compete for victories once more, but no promises for a quick or even a long term fix are in the cards for sure. With unreliable Renault power under the bodywork, the defending Constructors’ Champions have lost their dominant edge, resembling emasculated steers as opposed to the charging bulls we’ve become accustomed to. Final Position: 3rd.

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