If you zip round a little on the Internet you can find a lot of F1 stories related to the word “threat”. You can read about Fernando Alonso threatening not to stay at McLaren, you can read about Pirelli threatening to quit if there is no testing allowed. You can read a lot of stuff about Red Bull: “Horner outlines reality of Red Bull quit threat”, “Red Bull boss Marko issues fresh F1 quit threat” and so on.
Threatening to do something is often a sign of weakness. If you need to threaten, the other parties in the negotiation obviously do not consider that quitting is an option. The threat only really works if the other parties believe that it is in your best interest to follow through on the threat.
To establish a credible threat, one also needs to have an adequate alternative. Fernando Alonso threatening to quit McLaren, for example, is not that credible because there is nowhere else that wants him, that he would go to. So his only real alternative is to retire. Thus, there is no real threat. Retirement or a sabbatical is not what Alonso wants. He is getting old in F1 terms and what he really needs is to be in a fast car and to add to his score before his career runs out. If he makes the wrong decisions in his career, he has only himself to blame. Stopping because he is frustrated is not ultimately of any value to him. If he wants to break his contract – worth $40 million a year – McLaren would probably be only too happy, as it would save them money at a time when that commodity is in short supply than usual. And it has no shortage of drivers. Yes, perhaps Alonso is a bit special, but does it matter if the car is not good enough?
The Red Bull quit threat is one that seems to suggest desperation. Red Bull has been in the sport and used it to good effect for more than 20 years, thus to quit would be illogical unless things have changed and Red Bull does not see F1 as being as good a way to deliver a message than it traditionally has been. Red Bull has enjoyed plenty of success in F1 and does not like to have put itself into a position where it will be tough to be successful in the years ahead. But does Red Bull have a better alternative?
It is a bit like when Ferrari used to threaten to leave F1. This was never a credible threat because no other form of motor racing offers Ferrari the exposure and the money that allow it to not even bother with traditional advertising. Motorsport is Ferrari’s only form of advertising and everything except Formula 1 gets minimal coverage. Audi may win Le Mans a dozen times but if one has to back up sporting success with advertising the only value in the sport is in the technology it is developing and (perhaps) in the attitude it fosters in engineers and throughout the company in general
Red Bull needs to face up to the fact that it has put itself into a corner by ditching one engine supplier and failing to have another one lined up. It now finds itself over a barrel and must accept the terms on offer or stomp away and disappear from the F1 scene. Red Bull has tried IndyCar and NASCAR in the past and given up both of them. It is involved in various other championships but it knows the value these have, in comparison to F1. It is involved in soccer. The fact that it has been in F1 to such a huge degree indicates the importance of F1 and thus the weakness of the Red Bull threat.
The only real option that makes sense is for Red Bull to do what McLaren did a generation ago when it lost Honda engines. There were no real alternatives at the time but McLaren agreed terms to run Ford customer Cosworth engines, at a time when Benetton was the Ford factory team. The fact that McLaren went on to beat Benetton 5 victories to 1 showed that McLaren was a better option for a manufacturer and so that enabled McLaren to land a Peugeot deal and when that did not work out, to sign up with Mercedes. And that led (eventually) to a new era of great success.
If Red Bull wants to leave F1, a lot of people in the sport really do not care. Someone will come along and buy the teams and the sport will make modifications if the costs continue to make life hard for the midfield. It would be nicer to see Red Bull knuckle down and get back to winning ways.