Should Red Bull's threat to quit Formula 1 be taken seriously?

Following an Australian Grand Prix where Mercedes' dominance of Formula 1 caused uproar in some quarters, AUTOSPORT's team from the paddock offer their take on the key talking points

Should Red Bull's threat to quit Formula 1 be taken seriously?

1) Should Red Bull's threat to quit Formula 1 be taken seriously, or is it just spitting the dummy out after a poor first race?

BEN ANDERSON (@BenAndersonAuto): If Red Bull feels Formula 1 is a busted flush as far as popular interest is concerned then it will undoubtedly pull the plug.

So I think the answer to whether Red Bull's threat is serious probably depends more on the ultimate marketing value of Formula 1 to the parent company than how well its racing team does on the circuit. The more popular the sport, the greater the value.

But it has made a massive investment in its race team, plus a huge financial commitment to revive the Austrian Grand Prix (one of the most popular events on the calendar last season), so it would be throwing away a lot if it pulled out now.

Remember that Red Bull endured a poor pre-season last year, but recovered to win three races. There are another 19 to go (if Germany happens) this year, so plenty of time to sort things out.

Honestly, this sounds more like the Ferrari-style politicking of early 2014: 'change the rules or we'll quit'. Unlikely I feel...

EDD STRAW (@eddstrawF1): To a point, it should be taken seriously. But that doesn't necessarily mean that there's any need for the sport to respond to it.

After all, talk is cheap and F1 does currently work for Red Bull commercially, especially with the FOM money and sponsorship deals the team has ensuring that the parent company is only bankrolling part of the operation.

Red Bull's real problem is Renault. That and the fact it has produced a car that, right now, is barely faster than a Toro Rosso.

The implementation of equivalency measures is not going to change the fact that driveability is poor and reliability questionable.

A political game is being played, and Red Bull does wield significant power given it currently owns 20 per cent of the grid.

But there will always be at least one grandee team struggling. It would be a slippery slope to acquiesce even though the quit threat cannot be dismissed out of hand.

If F1 works for Red Bull commercially, then the quit threat is largely empty.

But if Dietrich Mateschtiz feels he can pull the plug and spend the money elsewhere without compromising the brand, that is when things become more serious.

LAWRENCE BARRETTO (@lawrobarretto): Red Bull is not the first team to threaten to quit Formula 1 - and it won't be the last.

In 2009, then Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo said the sport's most famous team would leave if a proposed budget cap was imposed.

And before that Enzo Ferrari often issued a threat when things didn't go his team's way. But guess what? The Scuderia is still here.

There's no doubt Formula 1 would be worse off without Red Bull because it's such a big brand and has been one of the sport's leading teams in recent years.

But if it does follow through with its threat, the sport will survive.

Big manufacturers like Toyota and BMW have come and gone while Honda returned as an engine supplier this year after quitting the sport at the end of 2008 after a dire stint as a works team.

Teams need Formula 1 more than Formula 1 needs them.

Red Bull is unlikely to leave - and will be licking its wounds after a dreadful opening race that was hurt by a lack of power from engine supplier Renault.

I see this as a threat that will act as a hurry-up to Renault that it needs to up its game - and fast.

2) Is Christian Horner right that something needs to be done to peg back Mercedes?

EDD STRAW: That depends on your perspective. According to the current ethos of the sport and a straightfoward reading of the regulations, no.

But if F1 decides that ensuring the field is very close is the first priority, then there is an argument for introducing such measures.

Most importantly, if performance balancing is needed, there must be an explicit mechanism put in the rules.

The bottom line is that this is a competition, so inhibiting the performance of one car artificially is questionable even though there have been times when rule changes have been directed at teams that are dominant in the past.

To decide whether F1 does need performance balancing requires in-depth research into the appeal of the sport to understand what really engages fans beyond simply asking if they like close racing.

Obviously they do; but how you achieve it is important in terms of credibility.

Performance balancing is a very slippery slope and is not what F1 is about. That should only change if compelling research dictates that it is crucial to its popularity and future.

BEN ANDERSON: Maybe. Horner is bound to feel this way given his team's engine partner has lost significant ground to Mercedes over the winter.

The question of equalisation is an interesting one. It's probably fair to say that Mercedes, Ferrari and Renault were fairly 'equal' by the late stages of the V8 era, and the racing was more competitive as a result.

From a pure competitor's point of view, pegging back the opposition (provided they are doing nothing illegal that should be pegged back) is a cop-out. It should be down to the opposition to do a better job.

From a sporting entertainment perspective, of course a closer competition would be better - but the danger of achieving it by these means is that you risk alienating your core fans in pursuit of the fickle 'floating voter'.

Not every grand prix can be a thrill-a-minute classic.

LAWRENCE BARRETTO: Red Bull is used to winning, having won four successive titles between 2010-2013, so it's part of the game that Horner will call for a rule to peg back Mercedes so his team can catch up.

Mercedes has outperformed its rivals in all areas of the car and is now being rewarded for that with podiums, race wins and becoming the championship frontrunner.

My view is that the sport shouldn't penalise a team for doing an outstanding job.

Williams proved that Mercedes can be caught as it produced arguably the strongest rate of development last year and was challenging the world champion team in the final few races.

So it's up to the other teams to do a better job and challenge Mercedes, rather than rely on a rule change to help them out.

3) Do you think that a second year of Mercedes' dominance would be bad for Formula 1?

LAWRENCE BARRETTO: Not necessarily. But it relies on Nico Rosberg providing a stern challenge for team-mate Lewis Hamilton.

Last year's battle was a thriller and was nothing like the Sebastian Vettel or Michael Schumacher years when one driver and one team were dominating.

There were fights on the track - and off - and that provided an exciting narrative throughout the season, regardless of the fact Mercedes was expected to win every single race.

Red Bull and Daniel Ricciardo proved that a dominant car won't always triumph when they snatched three race wins while Williams's Felipe Massa stopped Mercedes locking out every pole when he took P1 in Austria.

There's no reason why that can't happen again this year.

Yes, Hamilton may have won the opening race in commanding style, but there are still 19 races to go for Rosberg to fight back and give the fans Hamilton v Rosberg Mark II.

EDD STRAW: Ultimately, yes. But that isn't the fault of Mercedes, it's the responsibility of all those teams who can't get within a second of it in qualifying.

A second consecutive season of knowing that one of the two Silver Arrows drivers will win every race, barring problems, will understandably lead to some people turning off.

But the counter-argument is that there have been plenty of years like this before and F1 has still thrived.

In any sporting competition, excellence should be a selling point. So there is inevitably going to be some interest in why a team is able to be so dominant.

But that will be offset by the likely drop in viewing figures globally if the racing is too predictable.

Last year, the situation was saved by a combination of novelty and the fact the two Mercedes drivers went at it hammer and tongs all season.

So a lot rests on the shoulders of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, who need to have another epic fight and, frankly, escalate the needle to ensure the narrative of the season is engaging.

Sports are defined by rivalries and this one needs to flare up again.

BEN ANDERSON: Every fan of Formula 1 would have preferred to watch an Australian Grand Prix where Sebastian Vettel and Felipe Massa were racing Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton too, rather than just each other.

Another season of Mercedes dominance will probably be no real issue, so long as Rosberg can genuinely challenge Hamilton for the world championship. Best-case scenario for the sport is probably Rosberg winning narrowly this year. That at least would ramp up interest in their personal rivalry, while the others work on getting their acts together.

At the moment, Hamilton has Rosberg covered, which makes things far less interesting at the front of the field, which in turn throws focus on the massive gap to the rest.

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff seems to think Ferrari will become a genuine threat at some point, but I doubt it will be before 2016 - if indeed it does happen.

Until then, the sport really needs Rosberg to raise his game.

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