The tension between Red Bull’s Christian Horner and Renault’s Cyril Abiteboul was palpable on Friday, as the warring F1 partners appeared headed for divorce.
Horner said Frenchman Abiteboul, who earlier this week accused Adrian Newey of telling “lies”, was “brave” to be seated right alongside him in the official FIA press conference. Franz Tost, the boss of Red Bull’s second team Toro Rosso, confirmed media reports that the Faenza based team is in discussions about being acquired by Renault.
“I think this would be a fantastic opportunity to take the next step forward,” Austrian Tost said. Horner replied: “Well, it sounds as though Franz wants to sell his team to Cyril, and then we’d need an engine.”
Tempers overflowed two weeks ago in Melbourne, when Red Bull repeatedly accused Renault of taking a “retrograde” step over the winter. Abiteboul admitted Red Bull’s harsh and public criticism had not been met by “a lot of enthusiasm” among those on the Renault board. He said Renault is indeed rethinking its approach to the sport, including the option of “getting out of formula one” altogether, “if it is that bad for our reputation”. “First of all I don’t think we are miles away and doing that bad,” said Abiteboul. “We think there is light at the end of the tunnel, and the tunnel may not be as long as some people think.”
As for buying Toro Rosso, Abiteboul admitted it is a possibility, while representatives for Force India and Lotus denied there are any similar talks taking place with Renault.”Lotus isn’t for sale,” said the Enstone team’s chief executive Matthew Carter said, while Bob Fernley, of Force India, confirmed that the Silverstone based team also has a contract with Mercedes through 2020.
So if Toro Rosso does become ‘Renault’, where would that leave Red Bull? Horner denied reports the energy drink company is making plans to build its own engine. He said concerted efforts at Milton-Keynes, and now working hand-in-hand with engine specialists Mario Illien and Ilmor, is simply to help Renault.
But a combative Abiteboul, turning to an equally combative Horner, said: “I’m not sure Christian will confirm that there was a lot of Red Bull in the engine in Melbourne.” Indeed, Horner insists Renault is struggling badly, as the thought of the long straights in China and Bahrain next month is nothing short of “depressing”. “It’s getting better — so Cyril keeps telling us,” said the Briton.
Horner played down Dr Helmut Marko’s threat that Red Bull might quit the sport in protest of the rules, but he also suggested that the 2010-2013 world champions may be forced out. “We could find ourselves without an engine supplier. We could find ourselves forced out of the sport,” he said.
And as for Abiteboul’s fiery accusation that Red Bull designer Newey tells “lies”, the Frenchman insisted his comments were taken out of context, “just like Helmut’s were”.