The engine supplier and the race team don’t ever seem to be at peace with one another. It’s more that they take the occasional break from constant conflict.
Renault and Red Bull’s rift started at the dawn of the hybrid era, when the Renault power-deficit sobered Red Bull into chasing cars instead of winning races. It appears that the team has put pressure on Renault by announcing a big engine update for the Canadian Grand Prix, something that Renault’s Cyril Abiteboul claims isn’t true.
“Red Bull, as always, is making wrong communication about performance development. Frankly, what I want to play down is this sort of focus on the upgrade because the engine is improving every weekend.
[For] the gap to be fully closed, it’s not going to happen this year. We think it’s something for next year, but having said that, we think the step we are planning to make, which we have on the shelf for this year, is going to almost close it completely in the course of the season.
We already have a very clear idea of next year’s engine and the aim we have is to completely close the gap in the course of next season.”
– Cyril Abiteboul
It remains unclear as to whether Red Bull have been assumptive or Renault are back-pedalling. Either way, the admission is a damning one for Red Bull’s hopes of seriously catching Ferrari and Mercedes in 2017. This is not the news that the team would have wanted – if they weren’t aware already. It is clear that Ricciardo and Verstappen wanted more from this season, and Red Bull expected to be fighting for wins and mounting a real challenge to Mercedes and Ferrari.
A lack of major updates on the power-unit doesn’t necessarily completely confine them to 5th and 6th, there are other areas, especially in aero and minor efficiencies in the current spec of Renault power. There’s always the chance that Abiteboul is downplaying and managing expectations, not just for Red Bull but Renault too. The yellow liveried team predicted that they could challenge Force India and Williams for 4th in the Constructors this season. They’re currently a long way off of that lofty objective, despite the impressive efforts of Nico Hulkenberg.
If Abiteboul’s comments are completely honest, then the Renault power unit could be on par with its counterparts by the end of this season. What good is that for a team with the objective of winning titles?