Red Bull deny RB10 will be ditched as Sebastian Vettel fends off fresh Ferrari talk
After four successive title doubles, challenging for victory appears to be beyond the World Champions' capabilities at season-opening Australian GP
By Pete Gill
Last Updated: 05/03/14 10:38am
No longer is the talk of winning runs and whether their dominance is damaging the sport. Instead, after a nightmare pre-season testing, the team have been moved to deny they are preparing to ditch their new car, felt compelled to dismiss claims their star driver threw a 'hissy fit', and had to listen on while Sebastian Vettel fended off speculation that their winter woes could trigger an imminent transfer to Ferrari.
Welcome to the mad-cap world of Formula 1 ahead of what promises to be the most dramatic and unpredictable season in decades.
It has certainly been a pre-season like no other, with the sport's groundbreaking 'rules revolution' already overtaken by the hugely-controversial introduction of double points in Abu Dhabi and 12 days of testing which saw the established pecking order ripped asunder and the four-times double World Champions suffer an almighty fall from grace.
From dominant frontrunners, Red Bull appear to have been demoted to struggling backmarkers in a blink, with the team's new car, the fragile RB10, proving to be neither reliable nor quick, and Vettel yet to complete more than a dozen or so laps in succession on track.
Ludicrously, Vettel was even asked mid-way through the Bahrain test whether the winter's trouble and strife could spark his sudden divorce from Red Bull. Never mind that the German, albeit improbably, will arrive in Melbourne seeking a record-breaking tenth victory in succession, crazy times call for crazy questions.
"I am not one to switch horses at the slightest indication of troubles," retorted Vettel with understandable indignation. "Right now, nothing is lost - no race has been run, no point has been allocated - but when I listen to some media we are right in the middle of a huge disaster. There is massive hype and most people don't know what they are talking about.
"Yes, sometimes you make mistakes, but there is no team in the paddock who can say that they can run a day without any issues. True there are some that have had less than we have, but we will fight through it. Everybody in the team - including me - is ready to fight."
That much was evident when the team responded with both barrels and a dollop of ridicule to the report that Vettel threw a 'massive hissy fit' following his first ill-fated outing in the sickly RB10 at Jerez. More pertinently, however, the raging bulls haven't yet been able to channel their fury into transforming their car into a realistic challenger for the start of the season.
A barrage of new parts will be bolted on to the Red Bull at Melbourne with the team equally indignant to the rather less-ludicrous suggestion the car will be replaced by a b-spec model for the start of the European leg.
"I don't know where all this speculation comes from," sighed team boss Christian Horner. "We will have an updated car as we have every year and that will come with developments at each grand prix - not just for the European season, but each grand prix throughout the year. There is no silver bullet in this game and it is a matter of engineering solutions to engineering problems."
Yet without that silver bullet it is impossible to envisage the World Champions being in a competitive state later this month in Australia, with their problems escalating rather than diminishing as pre-season continued. Most alarmingly of all, the RB10's most damaging flaws - essentially, a tendency to overheat after the briefest of on-track excursions - appear to be of Red Bull's own making and aggressive design rather than the responsibility of Renault given that the Caterham team, who the French manufacturer also supplies, were able to complete over 100 laps on the final day in Bahrain. Vettel, by contrast, managed just 155 over the entire winter.
Once the initial shock at their likely fall from grace has settled, the story of the season is set to centre on the intriguing question of how long it will take the World Champions and their genius designer Adrian Newey to fathom a solution to their problems. Playing catch-up will be new territory for a team used to bolting out of the blocks and disappearing in the distance.
Despite the post-Jerez insistence that the RB10's shortcomings were "nothing major", the Bahrain meets provided little solace. Vettel's two breakdowns without setting a single timed lap on the penultimate day marked a shocking new low.
There's little dispute amongst trackside observers that the RB10 could be a quick car but there's considerable doubt whether Red Bull will be able to make it reliable without sacrificing a significant chunk of that potential.
With little over a week before the sport descends on Melbourne, the start of the season can't come quickly enough. For Red Bull, however, it can't come slowly enough.