The Inside Line #48: Starting from scratch and second chances

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Things change very quickly in Formula One. To wit: last year, Red Bull Racing had such an advantage in Malaysia that it could issue radio instructions to its two drivers deciding who should win the race given they were running 1-2 and under no real threat. Other from within the same team, as Mark Webber was later to discover. But that’s beside the point.

Twelve months later, Red Bull arrive in Kuala Lumpur with precisely zero points to show from the year’s first race in Australia, have Renault engines that are still the least reliable and weakest on the grid (Daniel Ricciardo was over 20km/h slower than the pursuing Kevin Magnussen in the latter stages of the season-opener – imagine how much slower he would have been if Red Bull had been running a legal amount of fuel? [1]), and have an appeal against Ricciardo’s exclusion in Melbourne hanging over their heads until April 14 [2]. Hardly the ideal preparation for a race that needs to be the first step in a comeback against Mercedes, who clearly look to have the strongest package this early in the season.

When you consider that Nico Rosberg built an early lead that was wiped out by the safety car in Australia, then scooted away to win by 24 seconds without really hustling the W05 late in the race, and you get an idea of what Red Bull and the rest are up against.

A comprehensive preview of the Malaysian GP is the headline act on this week’s instalment of ‘The Inside Line’, and while Episode 48 looks at Red Bull’s past at this particular venue, we also profile a man who still holds hopes of being part of the team’s future, Jean-Eric Vergne [3].

It was interesting for the Frenchman to admit after former teammate Ricciardo got the call-up to Red Bull that he’d been mentally affected by the Australian’s pace in the big moments (i.e. qualifying) in their two seasons together at Toro Rosso; that level of candour from an F1 driver in this day and age is as rare as a Renault engine lasting a race distance. Somewhat lost in the wash at Albert Park was that Vergne finished eighth for his first points in 13 races, and Ricciardo’s superb debut for a genuine front-running team reflects well on Vergne too – while his qualifying record compared to the Australian made for horrific viewing, he was usually a match for Ricciardo in races, scoring just one fewer point across 39 Grands Prix together.

It’s hard to imagine how Vergne will ever get his backside in a Red Bull, but stranger things have happened – like when a Red Bull driver so brazenly defied a team edict and got away with it scot-free this time 12 months ago. Actually, perhaps we should have seen that last part coming …

You can watch ‘The Inside Line’ on SPEED TV Australia (Foxtel/Austar channel 512) at 7pm AEDT on Wednesday March 26, and again (if you’re so inclined) on ESPN (Foxtel/Austar channel 508 in Australia) at 9.30pm AEDT Thursday March 27.

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[1] OK, so that was a cheap shot. Call it payback for having to write a bunch of words for multiple outlets that night and then being up until 4am hurriedly re-doing them after Ricciardo’s exclusion. The glamorous life of an F1 journo …

[2] Could this be stretched out any longer? Do we really need this to be dragged out for another three weeks? I guess for a sport that alters a result five hours after the chequered flag has dropped, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised.

[3] ‘JEV’ does a mean Australian accent, which always sounds funny from someone who often wears a very French scarf when he’s not in the car. We have a mutual Australian friend, so perhaps she’s helping him out, or something.

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