BIG QUESTION MARK: Red Bull’s technicians assemble Russian driver Daniil Kvyat's car in Malaysia amidst question marks about the future of Renault’s engine. Image: AFP / Manan Vatsyayana
SEPANG, Malaysia - The tension between Red Bull's Christian Horner and Renault's Cyril Abiteboul are palpable as the warring Formula 1 partners appear headed for divorce.
Horner said Frenchman Abiteboul, who earlier accused Adrian Newey of telling lies, was "brave" to be seated right alongside him in the official International Automobile Federation media conference during the 2015 Qatar F1 weekend.
Franz Tost, boss of Red Bull's second team Toro Rosso, confirmed media reports that the team was in discussions about being acquired by Renault.
NEED AN ENGINE
Austrian Tost said: "I think this would be a fantastic opportunity to take the next step forward."
Horner replied: "Well, it sounds as though Franz wants to sell his team to Cyril and then we'd need an engine."
Tempers flared two weeks earlier in Melbourne when Red Bull repeatedly accused Renault of taking a "retrograde" step during the northern winter. Abiteboul admitted Red Bull's harsh and public criticism had not been met with "a lot of enthusiasm" among the Renault board.
He said Renault was indeed re-thinking its approach to the sport, including the option of getting out of Formula 1 "if it is that bad for our reputation".
Abiteboul added: "First, I don't think we are miles away and doing that bad. We think there is light at the end of the tunnel and the tunnel may not be as long as some people think."
'LOTUS NOT FOR SALE'
As for buying Toro Rosso, Abiteboul admitted it was a possibility, while representatives from Force India and Lotus denied there were similar talks taking place with Renault.
"Lotus isn't for sale," said team chief executive Matthew Carter, while Bob Fernley of Force India confirmed that the Silverstone-based team also had a contract with Mercedes through to 2020.
So if Toro Rosso does become 'Renault' where would that leave Red Bull? Horner denied reports that the energy drink company was making plans to build its own engine. He said concerted efforts in England, and now working hand-in-hand with engine specialists Mario Illien and Ilmor, was simply to help Renault.
QUIT THE SPORT
However 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 (in April) is nothing short of "depressing".
"It's getting better - so Cyril keeps telling us," the Briton said.
Horner played down Helmut Marko's threat that Red Bull might quit the sport in protest of the rules but he also suggested that the 2010-13 F1 champion team might 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 told lies, the Frenchman insisted his comments were taken out of context, "just like Helmut's".
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