I n just 19 days from today, we will have witnessed the launch of the 2019 Formula 1 contenders.
We also should, weather permitting, be watching day one of the first test session at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.
Although very little is revealed during the pre-season testing, certain aspects do tend to become apparent, particularly power unit problems.
We were informed by Mercedes chief Toto Wolff that the team’s new engine was not performing as expected, but he believed the engineers would resolve the issues before the start of testing.
Possible problems with power units must be uppermost in the minds of two specific teams – Red Bull and Renault.
The French team improved dramatically last season, finishing fourth in the Constructors’ championship with a far more reliable power unit offering better grunt than its predecessor.
However, Red Bull would not have agreed – they still continue to place the blame for the team’s poor performance in recent years squarely with Renault.
After four world championships with partner Renault, it became a love-hate relationship between the two. The latter emotion came about at the advent of hybrid units in 2014.
It was obvious that Renault lagged behind other engine manufacturers both in performance and durability.
In 2015, Red Bull announced the split with Renault and reported it was in negotiations with other suppliers for the next year. As you are aware no one took up the daunting challenge of supplying the Austrian team.
The bull had to eat humble pie and return to a surprisingly magnanimous Renault, albeit to use their power unit under the TAG Heuer nomenclature.
This year, we will watch Red Bull powered by Honda and that is really going to be intriguing.
After a difficult season when the team’s junior outfit, Scuderia Toro Rosso, helped in developing the Japanese engine after the split with McLaren, Red Bull have taken the brave step for 2019.
So, with the ending of the 12-year Franco-Austrian partnership, it is strange that the haranguing from Red Bull has continued since the end of last season into this year.
Over just 22 days, Dr Helmut Marko, Red Bulls’ motorsport advisor and Christian Horner, team principal of the Austrian outfit, have ensured that no one forgets the supposed reason for the team’s recent troubles.
In mid-December, Marko was reported as saying to Motorsport Magazine.
“For us it was clear at one point that Renault could not deliver us a victorious engine.” He continued: “With their budget, you cannot expect them to fight against Ferrari and Mercedes.
It was clear that we had to do something.” Horner, in an interview with Autosport, believes the problems are caused by Renault’s Enstone facility management.
After praising the engine that provided victories in Mexico, Monaco, Austria and China, he is quoted as saying. “I have total admiration for the Renault guys in the garage that are working their socks off, week in, week out.
“But I think they’ve ultimately been let down by the main house’s lack of commitment to development and reliability.”
Despite the numerous problems that beset the Honda-powered Toro Rosso last year, Marko is positive about the future and confident they will surprise Renault’s Cyril Abiteboul with the results.
A few days later Marko, talking to Servus TV, continued singing Honda’s praises, saying: “So far, all their promises on the technical side have been kept.
If this continues, we will have a great chance to compete for the title in the coming season.”
In early January, via an interview with Motorsport.com, he told the world that the gains made by Honda should put Red Bull in the “region” of Mercedes and Ferrari.
With such confidence, it was surprising to read over the off-season break that Marko has said if a new Concorde Agreement suiting their requirements is not concluded by the end of 2020, then the team could leave Formula 1.
They would then move to WEC in the proposed “hypercar” class, due to replace the now-defunct LMP1 category.
Along with partners Aston Martin’s Valkyrie car, this could be a way out of Formula 1 for the Milton Keynes team.
Still on Red Bull, I have lots of sympathy for new signing Pierre Gasly who replaces Daniel Ricciardo, as he apparently is already seen as a number two driver.
This follows Horner’s statement to Formulae 1, a Dutch publication, when he said.
“Max is now the experienced one. So the team will be looking towards him now”.
The last time that sort of statement was made was not so long ago resulting in the team losing their Aussie driver to Renault.
The intrigue of Formula One makes life interesting.