It’s probably an understatement to say that Red Bull Racing has enjoyed massive success since entering F1 in 2005. The stats tell their own story – 4 driver’s titles, 4 constructor’s titles, 53 wins in 233 races and so on. But beyond the numbers, lies a team like no other seen in F1 and over the years they’ve provided us with many talking points.
Now approaching the half way point of their 13th season in F1, Red Bull Racing has made an indelible mark on the sport. In his first article for F1PP, Rob Jones takes a look at how they divide opinion and how they’ve changed the F1 landscape.
When you think of RBR, it’s hard not to think of Renault for good and bad reasons. The combination that delivered so much success during the tail end of the V8 era, soured as F1 turned Hybrid. The protracted PU saga was one of the key narratives of the 2015 season. The public lambasting of their partners and the repeated threats to leave the sport from Dietrich Mateschitz, left many to question the sporting and moral integrity of RBR. In a sport where success is hard earned through the relentless pursuit of marginal gains, RBR appeared unprepared to work through their challenges. They instead played the blame game with Renault receiving the most public of criticism.
I’m not alone in thinking that RBR didn’t handle the situation in the best way, they should have been far more strategic. With the benefit of hindsight, Christian Horner and Co. would probably have handled the situation differently – But who wouldn’t? Maybe this wasn’t RBR’s finest hour and perhaps they didn’t conduct themselves in the same democratic way the more corporate and politically neutral teams on the grid would, but is it fair to criticise them for this?
For me RBR is a driven, edgy and exciting race team that delivers results and accepts nothing less. So why should we expect them to ‘crisis manage’ in the same expert way that say Toto Wolff or Eric Boullier would in their respective positions? Fans find honesty from the teams and the drivers refreshing and sanitised, media trained spiel frustrating. While the relationship with Renault may have been damaged in the process, RBR may well argue that F1 isn’t about relationships – It’s about winning.
The Red Bull Young Driver Program again divides opinion. Whist the success stories of Sebastian Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo, Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz make the program’s merits difficult to attack. The growing list of former RBYDP starlets that have disappeared from the F1 radar, probably never to be seen in the sport again may have a different view. The treatment of Daniil Kvyat didn’t exactly win RBR any popularity contests either. Although with Verstappen winning on debut in Barcelona, RBR were perhaps justified in their philosophy that the RBYDP is all about cultivating excellence, and that anything less is just not acceptable.
Brutal? Maybe, but you have remember that these young drivers get a fantastic opportunity in F1 generally because someone further up the chain didn’t deliver and was quickly moved aside. It’s therefore difficult to complain when the pressure is on – It cuts both ways unfortunately.
Red Bull puts massive investment into the future of F1 talent and I believe this has raised the bar that drivers are measured against. No longer is it acceptable for young drivers to get a free pass and spend a few seasons learning their craft steadily whilst making rookie errors. Red Bull has shown the F1 world that if you’re good enough, you’re old enough and if you’re not good enough, there is always another prospect waiting to take your place. Therefore, the more established drivers are under even more pressure to perform as perhaps, experience is not the sought after attribute it once was. Speed has always been king in F1, but these days the level of performance that is expected from drivers (regardless of age) is arguably higher.
Off the track
Liberty Media’s recent efforts aside, F1 has traditionally had an issue with fan engagement – In particular, with a youthful audience. If anything is going to captivate a young person, it’s watching a teenage Max Verstappen driving the wheels off a Toro Rosso or winning on debut in a Red Bull. With the support of a team and a precocious brand that encapsulates fun, excitement and energy. In an F1 world that many would argue lacks glamour, with loud music played in the pit garage and the occasional backward summersault into a rooftop pool, RBR have set themselves apart from the overtly corporate F1 paddock. They have broadened the appeal of F1 by creating their own style and showing that you can be serious competitors and not be so serious at the same time.
Whilst all of the above makes RBR extremely marketable (after all this is the Red Bull model), nothing engages fans of all ages like winning and relentlessly winning. Let’s not forget that behind the parties and the cool image, lies an out and out team of racers. RBR’s pretty much unrivalled domination of the sport from 2010 – 2013 elevated the team to a new status amongst the F1 elite. An era fuelled by the sort of technical agility the establishment couldn’t match.
This lead to associations with brands such a Tag Heuer, Puma, ExxonMobil and Aston Martin. Brands previously reserved for the aristocracy of motorsport, demonstrating the value of an association with RBR. The type of fan base RBR has been able to cultivate is something the rest of F1, including Liberty Media can learn from. It may not be the most scientific of measurements, but it would surprise many to know that RBR has more Facebook fans than Ferrari and McLaren combined. It’s not difficult to see why prestigious brands will continue to associate themselves with RBR.
F1 needs fun
F1 needs glamour
F1 needs audience engagement
F1 needs technical innovation
F1 needs exciting young drivers
F1 needs winners
RBR delivers all of the above in abundance and demonstrates an infectious drive to win that harks back to the original DNA of F1. Yes, they don’t always cover themselves in PR glory, but they offer fans something different to the established names of McLaren, Ferrari, Mercedes and Williams.
Whatever you think of RBR, what they have achieved since 2005 has been remarkable and F1 would be a poorer place without the Red Bull brand. The contribution they make to the development of young drivers should be commended and is the lifeblood of the competitive and enthralling F1 we all love. Despite the casualties that have fallen along the way, we have to remember pressure has always been on F1 drivers. The RBYDP has merely built this into a structure that balances pressure with opportunity.
But most importantly, RBR has challenged the establishment, had a blast along the way and created history in doing so. And it doesn’t matter where your allegiances lie, you can’t help but admire RBR and what they have brought to F1.
Including the shoey.