“There are some things in the chassis that do not work optimally,” said Dr Helmut Marko, the ex-F1 driver who is a countryman and the motorsport adviser to Red Bull tycoon, Austrian Dietrich Mateschitz.
“There is the need to wake up in England,” added Marko in reference to Red Bull Racing’s headquarters at Milton Keynes, about 90 km north of London.
While Renault’s hybrid V6 unit is well down on the power of the Mercedes and Ferrari that have won the first two grands prix this season, there also was an obvious problem with the front brakes of Red Bull’s RB11 cars at the second race in Malaysia on March 29.
Marko has alluded to an imminent change of brake supplier for the team that won both the constructors’ and drivers’ world titles four years in a row (2010-2013) and with which Australian Ricciardo won three GPs last year.
Red Bull’s chassis, especially the aerodynamics, traditionally has been its strong point, but in the war of words between the team and its engine supplier this season Renault’s F1 chief Cyril Abiteboul accused Red Bull’s long-time technical director Adrian Newey of lying.
Abiteboul withdrew that slur in Malaysia, where Ricciardo and his new Russian teammate Daniil Kyvat said Renault’s power unit was more “driveable” than it had been in Melbourne two weeks earlier.
However, Ricciardo has finished a lap down in both races so far this season – in sixth place in Australia and 10th at Malaysia’s Sepang circuit.
At Sepang he crossed the finish line behind not only Kvyat but also the two rookies – 17-year-old Dutchman Max Verstappen and 20-year-old Spaniard Carlos Sainz Junior – in the similarly Renault-powered cars of Scuderia Toro Rosso, Red Bull’s junior team.
Mercedes dominated the Australian race, with its drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg half a minute ahead of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, while in Malaysia it was Vettel beating the Mercs because of better tyre wear and overall race strategy.
Renault has won 47 GPs this decade, almost as many as Mercedes and Ferrari combined, but the French manufacturer’s “marriage” to Red Bull has appeared on the rocks in recent times, even if they are now making more conciliatory noises.
Red Bull has quietly had Mario Illien, the man behind the Mercedes V10 engines with which Finnish driver Mika Hakkinen won two world titles in McLaren cars in the late 1990s, working in the background as an engine consultant.
While Renault has acknowledged the need to lift its game, especially as it is now reputed to have as much as 100 horsepower less than the benchmark Mercedes power unit, it sees Red Bull as having tried to interfere too much in its efforts to improve.
Red Bull is still not satisfied with Renault’s development, although Toro Rosso technical director James Key said the engine supplier had made “a massive step” between Australia and Malaysia.
“It’s still not perfect, but Renault has recovered very effectively,” Key said.
“We need that performance because Ferrari has made that step forward and Mercedes are strong.”
The Toro Rosso cars upstaging the Red Bulls in Malaysia was a sure sign that there are problems with the RB11’s chassis.
At the third race of the season in China this weekend tyre life will be another issue for the frustrated but diplomatic Ricciardo.
The 25-year-old, now in his fourth full season of F1, said tyres could be destroyed within seconds at the Shanghai circuit.
“I’d call it [the circuit layout] technical. Turns one, two and three are all very long and technical. I don’t think there’s any corner like it on the calendar. And it’s very, very aggressive on the front tyres,” Ricciardo said.
“It’s pretty extreme, but I’d still prefer it to the scenario with a tyre that takes three laps to ‘come in’ [optimise]. The fact that it ‘comes’ in straight away is awesome.
“In qualifying you drive the out-lap like your grandma, desperately trying to not kill it [the rubber] before the flying lap starts.”
The Shanghai circuit also has the longest straight in F1 at 1.17km and on which drivers admit they can get distracted.
“You could drink a can of Red Bull driving down it,” Ricciardo said, adding that the straight felt even worse when he was driving a Formula BMW car along it almost a decade ago.
“It’s the sort of straight where I’d definitely have been reaching for a book if I’d had one,” he said.