FORMULA One is often caught airing its dirty linen in a very unseemly public fashion, the latest example being the tensions over engine reliability and the tit-for-tat statements played out in pit lane between Renault and one of the teams it supplies power units to, Scuderia Toro Rosso.
The supplier-customer relationship between Renault and Toro Rosso has frayed noticeably recent times in the wake of the Red Bull B-team bearing the brunt of a series of failures in recent races, with Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley taking grid penalties for yesterday’s race in Brazil.
Speaking to the media on Friday at Interlagos, Renault Sport F1 boss Cyril Abiteboul hinted that the supplier couldn’t accept all the blame, pointedly declaring that "we do have a little bit of a concern about the way that our engine is operated in the Toro Rosso car".
“There are never coincidences in this sport," Abiteboul added.
Toro Rosso returned serve on Saturday with a very unambiguous statement slamming Renault’s suggestion that the reliability problems were about how the team operated its engines.
In part, it read: We would like to clarify that all the MGU-H and shaft failures Toro Rosso has recently suffered are not associated with how the team is operating or with how the PU is integrated in the chassis. Nothing has been changed or altered in this installation during the 2017 season, other than cooling improvements mid-season. Since the summer break Toro Rosso has suffered continuous power unit-related failures, and the resulting grid penalties has cost the team points and relative positions in the constructors’ championship. One of the primary reasons for the issues we are seeing is the lack of new power unit parts available. In Toro Rosso’s case the team is constantly having to change parts from one PU to another during the weekend and, on many occasions, is forced to run old specification assemblies. The last race in Mexico saw only two [Renault-engined] cars out of six finish the race, highlighting the poor reliability. We mustn’t forget that they [Renault] are fighting with Toro Rosso for a better position in the constructors’ championship, as suggested by Mr Abiteboul the situation may not be a coincidence, but it is certainly not due to STR’s car.
Toro Rosso team boss Franz Tost was unapologetic. “The statement was a reaction to Cyril's interview yesterday where he blamed the team for the power unit failures, which is absolutely wrong," Tost told Sky Sports F1. "What for should I apologise? For all the damages we have? [He's upset], I'm as well upset, we're both upset."
With the row threatening to escalate into open hostility, Red Bull motorsport adviser Helmut Marko slipped into the unusual role of diplomat, releasing a statement: Over the last 10 years, many successful, we have been through every emotion with our current engine supplier. As usual at the end of another long season, emotions are running high but it is a valued relationship and will remain so. There has never been any question that we have not been treated fairly and equitably by our engine suppliers. And that is still true today."
The very public verballing does nothing to sink a long-held idea that F1 likes to stir up off-track controversy to distract punters from the reality of humdrum racing.