Will Gray

Gray Matter: Will Red Bull troubles last?

If Red Bull’s dominance was truly the cause of the 10 percent drop in global F1 viewing figures last year, then their recent troubles could be good news for the sport – but will they last?

Red Bull managed just under 100km on track in Jerez compared to over 1,300km clocked up by Mercedes. With McLaren and Ferrari also putting in plenty of running, the world champions are firmly on the back foot.

While rivals plan for the next test in Bahrain with a focus on pushing engines harder, evolving set-up and evaluating aerodynamic and tyre performance, Red Bull are still simply looking at how to get their car out the garage for longer than a few laps at a time.

The problems in Jerez were down to cooling issues with the Renault turbo unit and the electric power supplies. All their teams experienced the problems but Red Bull was hit harder than any other.

Reports suggest the control systems were not working due to high temperatures. High vibrations were also causing problems too. A hardware change during the test solved energy storage issues but other problems did not have a quick fix. Since the test, however, Renault made hardware and software improvements that enabled Lotus to have a trouble-free run on the second of two filming days last week.

So the troubled first test does not mean it’s all over for Red Bull. Far from it.

The new regulations gave Red Bull perhaps the biggest performance loss of any team, with a ban on blown floors, reduction in downforce and re-location of battery positioning all going against the core philosophies that have built up their long-term advantage.

But the RB10 is a very neat looking solution to the design brief, with an innovative teardrop nose, a sweeping front chassis and very slender sidepods, and that’s without the secret tweaks they, like all teams, are probably holding back ready for the opening races.

The only problem right now is that the neat solution may have pushed the boundaries a bit too far.

It is understood that the problem is Renault had to make changes to their engine packaging late in the design process, which had a knock-on effect on the teams and would likely have hit Red Bull more than others due to Adrian Newey’s no-compromise approach to packaging.

That is nothing that cannot be rectified with additional ducting and cut outs – but the big challenge is how to fix it quickly and get on with the job of understanding the car before Melbourne.

This is no McLaren MP4-28. In fact, it’s not a performance issue it’s just a teething issue.

As team boss Christian Horner said last week: “these cars are so complicated that little problems cause big failures."

The small cooling exit hole they tried on the last day in Jerez was not enough, so they will have to investigate alternative solutions. The Renault improvements may help, but it seems the team may still have to work on some cooling solutions of their own to get back off the edge.

In the worst case, they may need to develop a revised sidepod layout inside and out – and such big changes are not easy.

If they really do have a significant cooling issue then, put simply, they need a quick and dirty compromise solution for the Bahrain test that gets them out on track then they need to try to keep picking up as many points they can until they work up the optimum solution.

Yes, it’s a setback for Red Bull, but even with a stuttering start, once they find a solution, it would be brave to bet against them finding their way back into the mix.

It’s just a question of when, not if...