There are 12 days of Christmas and there are 12 F1 teams so I’m doing a brief personal look back on the season for each of them.
I’m starting with Red Bull, the champions this year.
Red Bull Racing, 9 wins, 20 Podiums 15 pole positions
Red Bull is involved in over 100 sports and currently sponsors 456 athletes, from volleyball players to freestyle motor crossers. But this year they won big in the world’s most high profile regular event, Formula 1. And they did it according to the values of owner Dietrich Mateschitz, which is that in sport Red Bull should “carry the responsibility for success and failure.” In other words they don’t want to just put their sticker on a car, they want to be intrinsically involved in the decision making, to play the game, to win.. to lose.
I find this absolutely fascinating and you have to admire the vision here. This is not something we’ve only really seen before with Benetton in the 1990s. Tobacco firm BAT started their own team in the late 1990s – BAR – but with different objectives.
But whereas Benetton was a more cynical exercise, focussed on winning at all costs, with Red Bull Mateschitz’s edict meant that the team didn’t intervene in the closing stages of the season when one of its drivers was well ahead of the other on points with a formidable rival to beat in the shape of Fernado Alonso and Ferrari. And yet it worked out the way Mateschitz wanted it to with Sebastian Vettel, the driver well behind team mate Webber on points with two races to go, coming through to win both races and take the title. Red Bull, an energy drinks company, had gone beyond sponsorship and had taken responsibility for the success or failure. Racing teams on the other hand are usually pragmatic, cynical and hard bitten. And 99% of them would have backed Webber with two races to go, as the odds of Alonso nicking the title at the time were huge.
The problem for many race fans is that these pure, Corinthian and very admirable values of Red Bull’s had been rather confused earlier in the season when the team appeared to be backing Vettel. The two flashpoints were the collision between the drivers in Turkey, where the management felt that Webber should have given Vettel an easier path to pass and Silverstone, where the front wing was taken from Webber’s car and put on Vettel’s without the driver being consulted.
The team didn’t handle these moments well and it rather spoils the story of how the team “let the drivers race” to this glorious outcome. But apart from that, it is remarkable that this group, built around designer Adrian Newey, has taken on and beat the great Ferrari and McLaren in particular. Newey has rediscoved his mojo and now he has to keep it going.
It is a well organised race team in England, under Christian Horner, but according to a quote in Der Spiegel magazine recently from Dr Helmut Marko, one of three directors of the team, “Austria decides everything.”
The RB6 was always likely to be a rocket ship, based as it was on the 2009 car. Every now and then a car comes along which is so in tune with itself, creating downforce from every surface, perfectly balanced and blindingly fast and the RB6 was one of them.
It’s a truism in F1 that when you are winning and dominating the sport, people have a pop at you, muttering darkly about illegal devices on the car, crawling around it on the grid to see the ‘naughty bits’. It’s as old as the hills and this year Red Bull were at the centre of it. At the start of the season the car had some kind of device to raise it up after after qualifying, it had flexi wings, it had an exhaust blown diffuser everyone had to copy.
Photos showed that the front wing was virtually touching the ground at speed and yet it passed all the FIA crash tests, even when they were made more strict. It was hard on the mechanics, they looked steadily more tired as the season went on, always having to work late into the night to fit new parts. They are the unsung heroes of this campaign.
The car always seemed to have an extra few tenths in the final part of qualifying, with the result that it was on pole for 15 of the 19 races. It only managed to win 9, however, and these were not all from pole, so that tells the story of how Red Bull actually made quite hard work of winning this title. I suspect that with one top driver leading the team, the title would have been wrapped up around Singapore time. But by having two drivers free to fight they blitzed the constructors’ championship and gave us some great entertainment.
Yes the winning is important, it justifies the vast sums spent. But all the talk about the team, with that soft drinks brand at the centre of it, that’s what Mateschitz was after and on that level it was a very successful year.