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If you start throwing around time gaps and deltas at Dr. Helmut Marko, you’re going to get a quick correction if your math(s) isn’t correct.

Q: Helmut, before the Bahrain race Daniel said that Red Bull Racing are 1.3 seconds behind Mercedes and that this is the gap that is between him and the title. Is that the reality, or is he painting things a little too black?

Helmut Marko: Let me get our pace history straight: in Australia we were 1.8 seconds behind, in China it was 1.3 seconds and in Bahrain something in the range of nine-tenths. So we are improving and step by step closing the gap – but it is, of course, not enough. And looking at qualifying where the cars show their sheer speed, we know that Mercedes has a qualification mode – and to a certain extent also Ferrari – and that helps them a lot. And by constantly closing the gap to them I would say that the direction we are moving in is promising. And as you don’t get any points in qualifying, it is good news that in the race we are usually stronger if problems don’t stop us like on Sunday when Max suffered a brake issue.

That stands to reason if you are a part of the Red Bull team. Let’s not over-inflate our delta for drama and let’s get the time right to show what we are achieving even though our power unit is down on…well, power.

To those ends, an interesting Q&A over at F1.com revealed that Red Bull may not be around much after 2020. It seems the recent meeting with the FIA was a critical one for the future of Red Bull in F1. The discussion was about the next engine format and where the series goes from the current V6 turbo hybrid power unit.

Q: An engine customer will always depend on his supplier – you have probably learned that the hard way in the last four years. Is there any ambition from your side to change that situation one day?

HM: Of course – and not ‘one day’. The latest must be 2021 that an independent engine supplier comes into F1. This is more than necessary – and the engine has to be simple, noisy and on the cost side below ten million. We are talking about a much less sophisticated engine to what we have now – a simple racing engine. There are enough companies around that could supply. So we expect from the new owners together with the FIA to find a solution at the latest by the end of this season. If that doesn’t happen our stay in F1 is not secured.

This will be the single biggest hurdle. It’s hard to get the horse back in the barn once its run. I’m not going to recant the entire debate over road relevancy and the future being electric again. It think we’ve beat that dead horse until it moves giving some semblance of life.

No, I’d rather talk about the challenge of making a simple, inexpensive engine that get enormous fuel mileage through a normally aspirated format because that’s exactly what I think Marko is talking about.

I was one of the few defending Red Bull when they were throwing their toys out of the pram over an engine supply deal from Mercedes or Ferrari and neither engine giant would supply them. Sure, they berated Renault but is that much unlike what teams, fans and even some at McLaren are doing to Honda these days? No one seems concerned over that but comes an stray word from Red Bull about the Renault power unit being their Achilles heel and the world turns upside down.

Fact is, the sport needs privateers like McLaren, Williams and Red Bull. Large teams that spend large sums on the sport. Like an American presidential election, nothing is forever and F1 regulation changes are usually somewhere between 4-6 years. Why not try something affordable? We’ve bankrupted teams over this outrageously high tech hybrid stuff, let’s see if we can be disruptive and create an ICE that barely sips fuel. Why not? IT won’t last forever, regulations will change again and then maybe FIA president Jean Todt can have his hydrogen power plant in the backs of cars.

Hat Tip: F1.com

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An F1 fan since 1972, NC has spent over 25 years in the technology industry and as a CTO, he focuses on technology integration in commercial workspace design, AV systems integration, digital media strategies, technology planning, consulting, speaking, presenting, sales, content strategy, marketing and brand building.
  • Salvu Borg

    The good doctor of the red bullies is at it again, Renault should keep a good eye on their backs.

  • Codger

    As the man says, simple, noisy engines are what is needed. Racing is ( or used to be) all about sheer power, speed and handling Leave Hybrids and fuel economy to ordinary road cars where the savings in pollution are really significant.

  • maserati123

    THE RED BULLIES ARE LOOSING AGAIN,NOW THEY WANT TO QUIT F1 AGAIN.FERRARI DID WANT TO QUIT WHEN THEY WERE LOSING.THEY MADE A GREAT CAR,THE RED BULLIES HAVE ADRIAN NEWEY,WHO’S SUPPOSED TO BE THE BEST,SO STOP THE CRYING AND BUILD A GOOD CAR.

    • pmr

      Caps lock got stuck?

      • maserati123

        nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

  • VTMONSTER

    Same old song.

  • Fred Talmadge

    This happens when ever someone dominates racing in some form or another. There are solutions, but you may not like the results.

  • McSerb

    Once upon a time Formula 1 had multiple tire suppliers, different engines at the same time (V8,10,12), different tactics based on fuel loads and simply many variables. For quite a while everything became uniform and monotonous and the only variable was – aerodynamics. But actually there is nothing variable about aerodynamics either. It is a given that Adrian Newey wins in that field and you can understand why Red Bull do not want an ENGINE Formula. They want an ADRIAN NEWEY Formula. It took the fantastic Mercedes engine (now Ferrari too, to be honest) to offset the horrible presence of Adrian Newey in the sport. Why horrible ? Because he is an unfair advantage and he is only ONE man. Do you have any idea how many people worked on making those engines ? A whole lot more than ONE Adrian Newey. What is his salary ? Two million ? Three ? Five ? Whatever, it is a hundred times less than the top teams are spending every year and it is all useless if we go back to Adrian Newey Formula 1 because there is nothing they can do about him no matter how much they invest. So, I say let Red Bull go and, by all means, take Newey with them. If they limit the engines they had better limit aerodynamics too. The less the better and then cars can follow, race and overtake each other again. Newey took that away from us too, so, if he loses his job, he will get no sympathy from me. Sick of him.

    • Domenic

      Well said! Also love what Roger wrote above. Let RB and the good Dr say farewell. The two best parts of the RB machine these days, in my opinion, are their two lead drivers and they’re not going anywhere anytime soon.

    • Salvu Borg

      And do you have any idea of how many people work in an aero department?.
      While it is true that a man leading a team of very highly specialized people can make all the difference, the more technology advances the more the saying that “no man is an island” will become relevant.

  • Tom Firth

    Ahh the games continue – Red Bull can’t be being seen to be backing an FIA plan, if they did, Mercedes or Ferrari would vote it down. Far easier to threaten to quit if the FIA talk of a cheaper engine doesn’t happen after meeting with OEM’s outside of the series, and why do Red Bull want a cheaper engine? Because it’s the only option for them to get out of the marriage they are stuck in with an at best average Renault in this era of engine supply.

    They won’t quit, they want to see what commercial deal Liberty gives them, probably far higher than what Ecclestone offered them, because they weren’t Ferrari.

    Next Ferrari or Mercedes will threaten to quit for the opposite of Red Bull.

  • A_Rae

    Bottom line is that Red Bull would mop the field if they had either a Ferrari or Mercedes engine which is why they will never have one, Mercedes and Ferrari both know they would lose out.

    It is a really unfair scenario and Red Bull is in a no win situation unless they manufacture their own engines which I doubt they would be interested in doing.

    Red Bull takes a shit Renault engine and is a contender, that scares the hell out of the upper tier, their chassis and aero is miles ahead of everyone else.

    • Salvu Borg

      FERRARI and Mercedes are not willing to offer their hand to anybody that when it suits them best will bite it. further, after the red bullies Vilified Renault throughout the dirtiest mud ever seen in F1 racing and assuring everybody and his dog that they will out their supply contract with Renault, Renault were more than happy to see the back of them, the only reason they still hanging to that supply is because of the Renault reentry into F1 package negated with MR E which actually saved the day for the red bullies.

      • A_Rae

        Doesn’t change the fact that year after year they have a superior car. I understand their frustration, the cards are stacked against them.

        • jakobusvdl

          Hi A, I can’t agree with you’re views on RBR. They’ve had very good cars, some great drivers and a fantastic team for a number of seasons, but even when they had the best engine (the Renault 2.4l V8 for most of the time from 2007 and 2013), and were Renault’s primary team, they only ‘mopped the field’ a couple of times 2011 and 2013 (I think?) the rest of the time they were competitive but not dominant, certainly not in the way Mercedes have been in the last three seasons.

          • A_Rae

            Well if they were burning oil in their engine they would be ahead as well ;)

            I’m not knocking it, good on them for having the initiative and getting away with it for 3yrs.

            https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/8d5531ab55310c4f1b96be67a2c7b72361d7e4e4633efffa2d315dd26ea46134.jpg

          • Salvu Borg

            “burning oil?”, Will not be enough, according to some of the self appointed F1 experts force feed onto us followers, HCCI, Mahle JET combustion system, double anchor injectors, steel printed pistons and some other things right from inside the engine which they were able to see are all a must.

          • A_Rae

            Lolz, It was a poor attempt at being a smart ass. Agree, disagree, that is your liberty :)

        • Brian Williams

          I’m not 100% sold that RBR would “mop the floor”…that being said, I think Merc and Ferrari are, in fact, unwilling to sell RBR engines because they would be much more on par. Why would a manufacturer willingly & knowingly level the field and jeopardize their own success in the process?

          What would you think of setting some sort of precedent that each engine builder be required, if asked, to sell engines to a minimum number of customer teams? There are presently 3 engine suppliers, so each must be willing and capable, if approached, to supply 1/3 of the engines on the grid. Seems as though this concept might not necessarily be the best for Merc, Renault or Ferrari, but it might work to the betterment of the sport.

  • Roger Flerity

    Of all the discussions in F1, this has become the grandest bore. The current formula delivers lap times we have not seen in 15 years, from cars powered by engines smaller than a touring motorcycle, that last 5 races with no failures, while attaining an average of 2MPG over a race distance. This is exactly what F1 is about – the penultimate motor sport. Nothing is as fast. Nothing can touch its speed or quickness with double the fuel use. As far as relevance? Heck yeah its important, as by 2021, virtually every new car made will be powered by forced induction, hybrid enhanced PU’s. This technology is now as relevant as OHV was over the flat head, and OHC over that, and variable vale timing is over that. Purposefully blocking tech from F1 is wrong headed and backward. Brawn has it right in suggesting allowing active suspension. They should also allow traction control. They should also go back to ground effects and dump the flat floor mess that rewards aero gurus who are expert at creating massive trailing wakes that confound passing. This is not a sport for Luddites, it is a sport for the bleeding edge tech heads, as it has always been, and should remain. It is a constructors sport, always has been (follow the money). Red Bull’s spec racer vision is simply wrong. The idea that constructors should be set aside to make this a driver-focused sport is wrong. In the end, Red Bull may just be wrong for F1, and they should leave if the only way they can see staying is to insist it must change what it is to suit them.

    • jakobusvdl

      Well said Roger, if F1 is going to start getting into retro technology how can it claim to be any form of pinnacle of motorsport?
      There’s a long way to go in sorting out what the 2020 spec will be, lets hope that the discussions on what that spec should be are a a bit more far sighted than, Marko’s ‘my way or I’m out of here’ approach.

      • Salvu Borg

        As long as the manufacturers are present whatever specification the new engine will be settled on it will only be road relevant because that is what they will only except. and this is regardless of what Ross Brawn (now that he is sitting on the other side of the fence) and the red bullies wants.
        The only independent (non manufacturer) supplier entering and with a chance of success I can see is not Cosworth or Illmor but the French joint venture between Machachrome and IFP instruments “TEOS”.
        If the red bullies strategy is reverting to the previous canpaign of an independent engine supplier the red bullies are in more trouble in F1 than many believe. if they doesn’t think they can win a championship with what they have managed to get they ought to pay someone to build them an engine and than they can always stick whatever plastic sticker they like on the valve cover. after all they say there are many engine builders out there.

        • jakobusvdl

          I suspect that Red Bull are very concerned that they are at risk of going the way of McLaren, in the McLaren / Mercedes story.
          Now that Renault have decided to run a full team, as Renault F1 become a contender for the championship their commitment to the success of RBR will diminish rapidly.
          So they’re trying to change the game in such a way that they can still win, l just hope that they are doing more constructive things than just threatening to take their bat and ball and go home if they don’t get their way.

    • Zachary Noepe

      Agreed and I’m just not sure 1) whether this piece shouldn’t be in Editorial rather than News and 2) whether the givens in it are factually accurate. We have four engine suppliers one of which will be an independent non-constructor when Honda begins selling to the public if that happens as planned. We have Force India and Haas doing well under the current format. When Autosport polled journalists a few weeks ago it was actually evenly split whether people actually think the cars sound worse now, a lot of people like the sound and like the lower volume, so I think that’s presented as a fact but it’s actually very generational, what’s presented as a superior sound is dependent largely on reminiscence and is in no way universal.

      So I’m just not sure the shortage of engine suppliers is real, the engines making it impossible for non-manufacturer teams is real, the need for deafening engines is real. I think those are subjective views.

      I would like to see a solution to the cost problems like this – teams have to sell last year’s junk to a smaller team (giving small teams access and large teams some R&D recovery from the sale) and the small team gets something like 10KG more fuel or doesn’t have to use both tire compounds or something to get them into the game. That way you ease the finances for everyone without embracing this vintage/spec class a lot of older fans seem to want, and you continue reaping the gains from technological development. Ross Brawn feel free to steal this I grant you full rights may I please visit the pits once though if you do?

      • Roger Flerity

        I don’t buy into the cost concerns red herring issue. Red Bull spend more on aero development and testing than they do on the entire rest of the package. They want a cheaper PU so they can spend more on what they believe is an easier to achieve advantage in aero. Protecting lower grid teams from inevitable failure from the expense is also a false premise. Even when engines were simpler and cheaper, teams fail, as we have seen in HRT and Marussia of late. The current formula did not kill Manor, they died from lack of management skill and strategy. Haas proved that by entering the sport in its most complex – and has been, with no complaints, out-performing the whingers squawking about the costs involved, while Manor failed from lack of management prowess. Teams come and go in this sport, as it should be. James Hunt came in 4th in the WDC for a team that went under the very next season. Clark, Andretti, Schumacher and Stewart all won WDC’s for teams that no longer exist. Destroying the sport under the ruse of cutting costs to protect it, is just that, a ruse. Well managed teams, with strong strategic leadership can find their way forward, no matter the cost. F1 is a very very very small entity in the grand scheme of motor sport. It can thrive by being what it should be – an intriguing, shockingly fast/quick, exciting to watch, impossible to fully comprehend, ultimate representation of the bleeding edge of automotive out of the box excellence, that is unimaginably expensive to its fans. The sport should be exotic int eh extreme, like the most outrageous super cars, not easy to understand like some throw back muscle car of an era long past. Any effort to turn it into a spec racer series to placate some loud mouthed organization who is willing to see it destroyed to hand them the advantage so covet should be avoided – at all costs.

        • Zachary Noepe

          Agreed and just as well managed teams can survive without massive money, poorly managed teams can fail with lots, as we’re painfully watching right now. Before Honda was a factor, Force India was trading positions with McLaren using a few castoff McLaren customer bits, at best the same motor and a teensy fraction of budget.

    • Brian Williams

      I think we share some of the same feelings. F1 is supposed to be THE best racing in the world, and currently…it isn’t. Going spec is bad, banning tech is bad. I think simplifying top-side aero and opening up the undertray/floor would go a long way toward improving the sport overall.

    • jakobusvdl

      Did you mean to say “the penultimate motor sport”?
      If so what do you think is the ultimate motor sport?

  • Brian Williams

    Let me start by throwing this out there: I’m not anti-hybrid power units. There, I said it!
    From the beginning of this hybrid era, the “road-relevancy” argument has flown about from everyone’s lips, the teams, the FIA, the drivers even! If you want road relevancy, there are several avenues that would help generate, IMHO, better racing.

    1.) Bring back active suspension. I heard Todd and Paul mention this a few podcasts ago. The point could definitely be made that the teams have spend as much, if nor more than, what they would’ve spend on active suspensions trying to get that level of performance out of a passive suspension, i.e. F.R.I.C.

    2.) Lets have a truly honest conversation about the dependency these race cars have on aero performance. I thoroughly feel that the front and rear wings, barge boards, side pod shapes, etc. make F1 cars supremely sexy in appearance. I also feel that SOME reliance on aerodynamics will ALWAYS be a part of F1. There is no way, as Todd says, to put the horse back in the barn once it’s run. We can’t take these cars back to the pre-wing era of the 60’s. We can, however, talk about making some changes to these cars. I’m not sure that going back to the skirted sides, but how about freeing up some of the floor area to experimentation. Allowing designers to shape the undertray will reduce reliance on wings if they can gain downforce from airflow under the car.

    3.) Maybe we could come up with a dual-aspiration formula for racing? Similar to the old 4-Liter NA or 1.5-Liter S/C formula of the 50’s? Maybe not that extreme, but allow for a complex hybrid, small-displacement V-6, and a slightly larger formula NA V-8. You would introduce a new level of competition, which would be good for racing; potential this would also get the coveted private engine supplies (i.e. Cosworth) more interested in participating in the sport.
    Having 2 possible engine formats from which to choose would result in at least a solid years worth of growing pains, to be sure. However, the FIA could adjust regulations to prevent there being an extremely dominant format; small hybrid turbo formats could be more fuel flow restricted against under-performing NA formats; or if the NA format became too dominant, the fuel flow, boost level, etc. could be changed for the turbo engines.

    4.) I know there will be some safety concerns with this one, but: We should bring back in race refueling. I know there were bad accidents in the past, but, that’s racing. I don’t personally feel like refueling mid-race is, in and of itself, dangerous. WEC does it, as well as many other racing formats: NASCAR, INDY anyone? So let’s through another element of strategy to the mix again. It also adds the variable of how much loading is on a given tire, the lighter fuel load on a given tire, the longer it can run at a higher pace, the easier it would be to pass…on the flip side, you lose time every pit stop, so running a higher fuel load on a harder compound means less on-track pace overall, but you also don’t have to make up the time from an extra stop.

    5.) Has anyone heard of a company called FreeValve? Look it up, and tell me you don’t think that tech belongs in F1…tell me, I DARE YOU!

    Sorry for all the verbal diarrhea, but these thoughts have been rolling around in my head since the start of the turbo-hybrid era, and I just now got the gumption to spit-ball them up here for all to see. Let me know what you all think (Todd, I’m talking to you here!)

    • Zachary Noepe

      Your #3 has worked very well in motorcycles, from larger displacements for four strokes than for twos in dirtbikes, to larger displacements for fewer cylinders on road courses. I raced in a 600 single/500 twin/400 multi class at the bottom rung of racing and the same plan was working in world superbike with 900 ducks battling 750s from Japan. It does work, and puts different strategies and lines onto the track which produced scads of passes and intrigue.

      Regarding hybrids, an F1 hybrid is now more fuel efficient than a plug in electric. I think one view is not that hybrids are the enemy of the ICE but that they might actually save it so the sound-police will at least have SOME exhaust noise to listen to in the future.

      • jakobusvdl

        I don’t think the multi configuration/capacity format would create competitive racing. Trying to set equivalence across different I.C.E or hybrid formats would be fraught with difficulty, because the thousands of smart engineers in the teams will find ways around the rules that a small group of regulators put together.
        I could envisage a format where the amount of fuel (or input energy) is limited, and the teams have freedom on the power unit they develop to produce the fastest racing car using that energy.
        That could be really technologically exciting, it would be horrendously expensive.
        Alternatively, you could have ‘Balance of Performance’ rules like GT racing……urghhhh nooooooo!

        • Zachary Noepe

          Good points its not apples and apples.

        • Brian Williams

          Great point! I think the freedom for engineers and car designers to work toward a known input energy limit would see some exciting innovation. It would also be very expensive for anyone to start from scratch. I’d think it would be wise to set some sort of limitations, i.e. max. # of cylinders, or whatever seems to make the most sense.

          • Salvu Borg

            A known input energy limit and maximum number of cylinders for designers to work towards are part of the present regulations agreed upon by all involved.

  • Boycottthebull

    If this message was delivered by anyone else than Red Bull and even more specifically Marko then it wouldnt provoke some of the negative comments I read below. Firstly I dont see him wanting to go back to purely large capacity naturally aspirated engines. Like Prost also said this week simpler yes, and more power (meaning turbos still) just less complicated energy recovery systems. If you want road relevance then energy recovery systems need to be simpler anyways as they would need to be for the road. With less complexity does come lower costs that makes smaller teams more financially viable.

    With the independent engine issue its about having a engine supply not dictated by manufacturer teams on the grid. Dictating rules to suit themselves and their development program, dictating who they will supply too and dictating to the teams they do sell engines too ensure they wont be beaten with their own engines. Mercedes have proven they will only supply to someone that can readily beat. Ferrari too. It virtually makes it pointless to have any teams but the ones that make the engines. Renault need Red Bull for now to make their engine look better than it is. But when their own team comes into form you be assured Red Bull wont be getting the same level of service or engine that Renault gives themselves and like Mercedes and Ferrari simply provide team stocking fillers for the rest of the grid. The message is valid regardless of how annoying is the messenger.

  • geeyore

    Point made Merc/Todt: efficiency, road relevance, rapid prototyping, “pinnacle of motorsport.”

    But on the circuit they sound like bollocks compared to literally every support race; every other series in motorsport; and indeed even to the F1 medical and safety cars. They do not really provide the kind of visceral on-circuit experience that is the definition of all other motorsport. I suppose that’s a feature and not a bug?

    If you limit your F1 spectatorship to television and spec sheets – and you are desperately awaiting the “inevitable” hybrid/electric future – then I guess the hybrid engine formula is “great” (??). Thanks for that.

    But we must all live in the present, and there are dozens of motorsport series that pay homage to that reality.