Beleaguered Red Bull will take little comfort from a troubled week that culminated in Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel lagging behind in fourth and fifth respectively in Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai.
Last season’s champion team are also embroiled in an acrimonious argument with McLaren over aerodynamicist Dan Fallows, whom McLaren signed but Red Bull look certain to retain. They lost the FIA court of appeal action against Ricciardo’s exclusion from the Australian GP for fuel sensor irregularities and face further scrutiny over the issue after the FIA maintained in China that the aggressive chemical composition of the team’s Total fuel was affecting the sensors. Then, as the Mercedes duo of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg cruised to a one-two finish for Mercedes on Sunday there was a little spat with Vettel when he initially refused a request to let the faster Ricciardo through for the second grand prix in succession.
Red Bull’s team principal, Christian Horner, playing an unfamiliar defensive role, tried to put a brave face on things on Monday. Reacting to the McLaren chief executive Ron Dennis’s claim that Red Bull lack integrity over the Fallows affair and that a High Court action seems inevitable, Horner said: “Dan Fallows approached us to see if there was a situation still open, so it was 100 per cent his choice. I don’t know how McLaren can question the integrity of the team.”
Of greater concern is how to help Vettel regain his best form and also contain his mounting frustration after another defeat by his new team-mate, who is doing to him what fellow Australian Mark Webber did back in 2010.
“Seb is a race driver,” Horner said of Vettel’s initial refusal to comply with a request to let Ricciardo by in Shanghai. “We employ these guys because they have that fighting spirit. Seb hasn’t won four World Championships by not being a racer. Of course he’s going to ask questions if he is to understand, but as soon as he understood the reasoning he moved aside.”
Vettel himself said on Sunday: “There are a lot of things that I don’t really like at this stage, but at the end we have the same car and if you look at the raw result, Daniel was quicker today.”
Horner sought to shed some light on the world champion’s problems, which already make a fifth successive title look unlikely. “Seb can’t get that feeling from the car that he’s looking for,” he explained. “He’s tremendously sensitive to certain aspects of the set-up, but right now he’s damaging the tyres more than Daniel. It’s very unusual for him.”
Denying that there is a developing rift within the ranks, he added: “We are doing our best as a race team and trying to beat the cars ahead of us. It’s not just about our guys racing themselves.”
It could have been McLaren, Ferrari or Mercedes in any one of the previous four years. Perhaps that’s a sign of Formula One’s changing times.