28 February 2014
Kate Walker: Rash predictions
In her latest exclusive column for Crash.net, Kate Walker warns against writing Red Bull off this season even if Melbourne is a disaster...
It's tempting to look at the series of problems that have beset Red Bull over the course of winter testing and to predict a new world order for Formula One in 2014.
The Milton Keynes racers managed only 176 laps in the first nine days of the pre-season tests. The bulk of most days were spent in the garage, fixing problems relating to the engine, to the electronics, to the cooling… To say that it's been a nightmare few weeks for the team is to undersell things somewhat.
But to write Red Bull off before the season has even started is to seriously underestimate the potential harnessed in a multi-title winning team.
It looks certain now that Red Bull will be starting off the season on the back foot, lacking in both miles and data when compared with their rivals. But this year brings with it the return of limited in-season testing, with two days provisionally scheduled to take place immediately following both the Bahrain and Spanish Grands Prix.
These two early slots (there will be two more post-race tests later in the year) will give any struggling teams a better chance of catching up than they would have had over the past few years. But additional track time is of benefit to everyone.
Where Red Bull have an advantage while still on the road is in their impressive ability to stream data from circuit to factory in real time – something no other team is currently doing. Add to that the impressive resources back at base, both in terms of the manpower they employ and the tools they have to work with, and Red Bull are incredibly well-equipped to play catch-up, flying new updates around the world as needed during the early fly-aways.
Which isn't to say it will be a cakewalk for the team. For as long as they are working on the ironing out problems in basic systems, improving reliability while maintaining performance, they will not be in a position to take the sort of innovative design risks that have proved to be so successful in the recent past. Meanwhile, their key rivals in Mercedes, Ferrari, and McLaren will be pushing ahead with revised packages and new components, confident in the miles they've logged so far.
The idea of a Red Bull on the podium at Albert Park is currently an ambitious one, and very unlikely. But with the calibre of personnel in and out of the cockpit, a Red Bull on the podium at Monaco is not entirely beyond the realm of possibility.
To find themselves in the position to mix it at the front of the pack during the European season will require a Herculean team effort, with the pick n' mix selection of issues troubling the RB10 all needing to be managed without affecting the rest, but Red Bull are a team used to achieving the impossible. After all, ten years ago who would have thought Jaguar Racing could turn into a powerhouse?
Kate Walker is a senior F1 writer for Crash.net. A member of the F1 travelling circus since 2010, she keeps an eye on the behind the scenes wheeling and dealing that makes Formula One a political melodrama.
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