Motorhead

Conspiracy or cock-up? F1 needs answers after Red Bull let their new star down

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Daniel Ricciardo celebrating what he thought was a second-place finish in Melbourne

"Two or three weeks ago I would have bet pretty everything I have that we would not be standing up here. Full credit to the team for an unbelievable turnaround. I don't understand how they did it but they did, so thank you guys."

Thus spoke Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo after what seemed a magnificent drive to come second in the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne. It seemed a fitting tribute to a Herculean technical effort which turned Red Bull's disastrous pre-season testing into a second place finish at Albert Park which defied all the critics.

Ricciardo admitted that he didn't know how they'd done it; sadly, the answer is that they clearly did it by cutting one too many corners, as the 24-year-old was disqualified for a breach of the technical regulations. Whether deliberately or not, the fact is that they grabbed an unfair advantage over the rest of the teams in the field. Or, to put it another way, they cheated.

It's important not to forget that if you're feeling sympathetic for the all-conquering team. The often impenetrable technical language of Formula One might make it sound as if Ricciardo and Red Bull Red were hard done by, falling foul of some minor technical regulation: "Race car number 03 has exceeded consistently the maximum allowed fuel flow of 100 kg/h."

But those deadpan words from technical delegate Jo Bauer hide what is, in layman's terms, a very simple and clear breach of the rules: effectively, Red Bull's car effectively breached the miles-per-gallon limit imposed on the rest of the field.

Leaving aside the inherent absurdity of fuel efficiency being regulated in the world's premier motorsport (which is akin to limiting Bayern Munich to a certain number of shots on goal per 90 minutes), and the fact that in F1 we're actually talking about gallons per mile rather than miles per gallon, it's clear that Ricciardo must have had an unfair advantage. If you have to drive your VW Golf as fast as possible while maintaining at least 40mpg, and I'm allowed to drive mine as fast as possible while maintaining at least 38mpg, who do you think will end up going faster?

The facts are not in question, but the real question is this: in a multi-million dollar sport, how on earth did the planet's most successful F1 team make such a fundamental mistake?

The answer, of course, is simple: sheer panic. Red Bull were nothing short of disastrous in pre-season, and in trying to fix one list of problems they have caused another.

Motorhead isn't for a second doubting the efficacy of the endless all-nighters pulled by Red Bull Racing's brightest engineers in Milton Keynes over the past few months. Sebastian Vettel's calmness in the face of those terrible tests in Spain and Bahrain said it all: he knew that Red Bull would do whatever it took to fix the car's problems. Our F1 expert blogger Will Gray explained as much in his pre-season look at the 2013 champions, speaking to the "resolve" and "inner belief" of the outfit that they will contend.

Gray predicted that the efforts to turn things round would stretch out over the "next few months"; in fact, it was just a few weeks - though Vettel did not end up being the beneficiary as he remained dogged by problems all weekend, culminating in his early exit from Sunday's race.

But his young team-mate Ricciardo did benefit. The only problem is that in their dedication to leaving no stone unturned, they appear to have dislodged a stone which ought to have been left alone.

Was it an oversight? A mere cock-up that could have happened to anyone? A software issue, perhaps, that hours of debugging the ECU failed to reveal?

Or was it something a little darker, perhaps? One too many corners cut, a piece of engineering taken too close to the limit in the hopes that they might just get away with it? In their eagerness to keep up Sebastian Vettel's winning streak, did they sail too close to the wind?

Motorhead is not suggesting that there was any intentional skulduggery on the part of Red Bull, but it is right and proper that tough questions be asked. The lessons of the 2007 'Spygate' controversy and the 1990s row over illegal software hidden in engine control units teach us that such things are far from unknown in the sport - and F1's investigators will do everything they can to get to the bottom of it and figure out what went on.

In the meantime, the losers in this sorry mess are the blameless Ricciardo, who drove beautifully, and the Australian public, who roared their man on in fine style to a podium place in his home Grand Prix. Let's hope that the likeable young Aussie can bounce back to claim his first podium once again - and this time, let's hope that the car he does it in is one that adheres to the rules.

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