Red Bull's big decisions: Renault or Honda for 2019? And can they persuade Daniel Ricciardo to stay?
Why the Canadian GP may be Red Bull's biggest weekend of the year so far; Sunday's race underway at 7.10pm, exclusively live on Sky F1
By Pete Gill
Last Updated: 07/06/18 7:13pm
After their best weekend of the season, now for the biggest weekend of the year for Red Bull at the Canadian GP.
The former world champions were dominant in Monaco and, despite Daniel Ricciardo's victory, arguably under-delivered: but for Max Verstappen's absence in qualifying, the team would have expected a one-two ahead of Ferrari and Mercedes.
The team should remain central to the story in Canada this weekend too - but for very different reasons.
Red Bull have a decision to make for 2019. Should they stick with Renault power or switch to Honda?
What happens this weekend in Montreal, when Renault are due to deliver an engine upgrade, will be pivotal to that decision.
And following on from their engine decision will be the task of persuading Ricciardo, F1's hottest property right now, to re-commit his future to the team.
Renault or Honda engines in 2019?
Red Bull are in the final year of their current agreement with Renault and opened talks with Honda about a potential switch last month.
Red Bull will already know precisely how strong the Honda engine is after their junior outfit Toro Rosso took on Japanese engine power for 2019, replacing McLaren in a switch many in the paddock predicted was a precursor to Red Bull following suit.
"We are about a month or so away," team boss Christian Horner said in Monaco. "End of June, beginning of July is the timescale we have always talked about."
And how the Renault engine performs relative to the Honda power unit - with both companies preparing upgrades for Montreal - will be at the crux of the decision.
"We're waiting with great interest to see the relative performance of the two engines in Montreal," confirmed Horner. "It will all depend on the data."
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But already there is a catch.
Renault say the "small" but "hugely important" upgrade Horner told reporters the French manufacturer would deliver in Montreal may not be passed on to Red Bull.
"I think we have six engines available," Renault chief Cyril Abiteboul told Autosport. "[We are] not sure it's actually the best to introduce it in all six cars, in particular Red Bull. We need to look into that."
Red Bull are yet to respond publicly to that statement. But it's not difficult to image the likely ramifications if a Renault upgrade is not passed on to Red Bull in Canada.
And in any case, Red Bull are already downplaying the significance of the Renault upgrade. According to technical chief Adrian Newey, the new engine may only deliver an extra tenth in performance - about one fifth of Red Bull's estimated power disadvantage when Ferrari and Mercedes turn up their engines in qualifying.
Mercedes, meanwhile, were also planning an engine upgrade of their own but have had to delay its introduction.
Could Red Bull challenge with an upgrade?
Aside from renewing the debate about whether the Monaco circuit needs to change, Ricciardo's victory last week in a car 25 per cent down on power after the failure of Renault's MGU-K unit underlined the potency of the RB14 chassis. "With all the problems he had, he was still quicker than us," accepted Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel.
Perhaps mindful of how a similar boast last year from McLaren has subsequently been debunked, Red Bull have shied away from describing their car as the best in the field. But the team have not been shy in identifying where their problem is this year.
"Our problem has been on Saturday. If we can just get a little bit more on peak power at the end of Q3, there is no reason why we shouldn't be able to give Ferrari and Mercedes a hard time regularly," said Horner.
How to follow the Canadian GP on Sky F1
|Friday June 8||Sky F1 digital live blog||3pm: P1 LIVE! (Build-up 2.30pm)||7pm: P2 LIVE! (Build-up 6.45pm)|
|Saturday June 9||Sky F1 digital live blog||4pm: P3 LIVE! (Build-up 3.45pm)||7pm: Qualifying LIVE (Build-up 6pm)||8.45pm: The F1 Show LIVE!|
|Sunday June 10||Sky F1 digital live blog||5.30pm: Pit Lane LIVE||6.30pm: On the Grid LIVE!||7.10pm: The Canadian GP LIVE!|
The facts back up that assessment: Red Bull have set the fastest lap in four of the six races this year. Their problem has been in the crucial final stages of qualifying when Mercedes and Ferrari's 'happy hour' power boost has meant that, outside of Monaco, Red Bull are yet to qualify higher than fourth this season.
If Monaco qualifying is excluded, Red Bull's average deficit to pole position in Q3 at the other five rounds this season has been 0.582 seconds. It's hard, if not impossible, to win world titles with that kind of starting disadvantage.
"If at some stage Red Bull get an engine [which is a match for Mercedes and Ferrari's], they are going to be even closer to us and they could win many more races," predicted Lewis Hamilton.
Away from Monaco, Red Bull's last pole position was at the 2013 Abu Dhabi GP, the final race before the current hybrid engines were introduced.
How reliable is the Renault engine?
The other consideration for Red Bull ahead of their decision for 2019 will be the reliability of the Renault engine - a consideration which has already been brought sharply into focus by confirmation Ricciardo will be hit by a series of engine-related grid demotions in Canada.
For the entirety of the 2018 season, each driver is permitted to run three Internal Combustion Engines, three turbochargers, three MGU-Hs, and two MGU-Ks, two energy stores and two control electronics.
A third of the way through the season, Ricciardo has already used all of his 2018 allowance for the MGU-K, energy store and control electronics, and two-thirds of his allowance for the ICE, turbo and MGU-H. On every count, he has used an extra unit compared to title leader Hamilton and future grid drops even after Canada look inevitable.
Max Verstappen, meanwhile, fitted a third MGU-K for the Monaco race and only avoided an instant grid drop because he was already starting last.
But Honda, while certainly showing marked improvement in this area since this time last year with McLaren, have already racked up engine changes of their own at Toro Rosso with Brendon Hartley using the most elements in the field in the six races so far.
F1 driver power unit usage - Table One (3 elements allowed)
|Driver and team||Engine (ICE)||Turbocharger||MGU-H|
F1 driver power unit usage - Table Two (2 elements allowed)
|Driver and team||MGU-K||Energy store||Control electronics|
Can Honda be trusted?
A switch to Honda power, just a year after McLaren divorced Honda, would inevitably be seen as a gamble. But Toro Rosso's switch to Honda has given Red Bull full access to the data on an engine which team adviser Helmut Marko predicted "should be at Renault's level by the end of this year."
Like Renault, Honda will deliver their first upgrade of the year in Montreal, making a direct comparison - on one of the calendar's most power-hungry circuits - potentially decisive.
Ricciardo has so far managed to swerve the 'Renault or Honda' debate. But his future is inextricably linked to Red Bull's big decision and contract negotiations will only begin in earnest once Red Bull have made their choice of power providers for 2019 and beyond.
"I am hopeful we will able to move things along in the next couple of months," said Horner of Ricciardo. "The first thing is to get the engine sorted and then move on from there with the driver."
In every respect, Red Bull's big decision could have been big ramifications...
Can Ferrari or Red Bull deny Lewis Hamilton a fourth consecutive win in Montreal? Watch the Canadian GP exclusively live on Sky Sports F1 this weekend. Get Sky Sports F1.
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