When watching some highlights from last weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix, one of the analysts from an overseas broadcast team made quite an interesting comment about Red Bull Racing at its home grand prix.
“The magic has died at Red Bull,” they said, reflecting on the team’s recent demise from world champions to midfield runners, as speculation about a possible withdrawal continues to intensify.
For some time now, we have heard threat after threat from the team about possibly walking away from the sport as a result of its disillusionment with the current state of Formula 1.
But has the magic really died at Red Bull Racing?
To answer that, it is important to consider the events of the past 18 months that have seen the team go from omnipotent front-runners to scoring just a solitary point at its home grand prix in Austria.
The biggest change has, of course, been in the technical regulations. It is normal for certain eras of the sport to be dominated by one or two teams, those who best equip themselves and prepare for the challenge. The last overhaul of the rulebook came back in 2009, allowing Brawn GP to steal a march on its rivals thanks to Honda’s heavy investment in a new car. Red Bull, of course, followed close behind, finishing the year second in the constructors’ championship.
Whereas Brawn’s success did not sustain to when it became Mercedes in 2010, Red Bull’s did. Renault produced the top quality engine and the team kept its half of the bargain with aerodynamically brilliant cars designed by Adrian Newey, a man from whom little less than perfection is expected.
And had this dependence on aerodynamics remained for the new F1 regulations introduced in 2014, Red Bull may well have remained at the peak of its powers. Instead, an engine-dependent formula was introduced, allowing Mercedes to flourish. It is for that reason that Renault has borne the brunt of Red Bull’s wrath.
The engine formula has made it difficult to cover up deficiencies in other areas. Ferrari learned that lesson the hard way in 2014, getting its power unit design completely wrong at the beginning of the year. The team accepted it and vowed to make up the ground with the aerodynamics of the F14 T, only to score just two podium finishes all year long.
Red Bull fared far better, with some suggesting that its chassis was in fact better than Mercedes’, but simply lacked the might of the German marque’s engine. In 2015 though, it has been caught short, with the departure of Adrian Newey to a more senior and wide-reaching role plus some other changes in staffing appearing to play against the team.
It goes far beyond that, though. The idea of the magic dying comes down to the very question of what Red Bull Racing actually is.
Think about Red Bull the brand. What are the immediate thoughts? Energy drink, little cans, blue and silver design, last-minute essay work from college – that sort of thing. The brand image is so very strong, and it has seeped into so many other ventures. Having an F1 team is just one example of this, with others including its extreme sports interests and even dropping a man from space.
So now think about Red Bull Racing. The connotations with the team are ever-evolving and changing, as is normal in F1, but where has the team got to now? What is it trying to be?
When Red Bull first entered F1 back in 2005 after buying Jaguar, it was the party team. It was the team that went against the grain, rocking up in Monaco with a floating motorhome and blaring loud music from out of its garage. It was the team of the future, cultivating young talent at Toro Rosso and supporting drivers in their junior careers.
Come 2009, that changed. Red Bull then became the successful team, dominating the sport with an iron fist between 2010 and 2013. Sebastian Vettel charged to four consecutive world titles, but was docked much of the credit by his naysayers who believed that it was all down to the car, not the driver. Regardless, in this period, Red Bull was known for being brilliant.
So now what? Red Bull is no longer the party team, nor is it the successful team. It doesn’t have the same kind of pin-point definition like it did in the past, and as others do now. The history of teams such as Ferrari, McLaren and Williams means that they can ride out periods such as these, particularly as all three exist to race. For Red Bull though, if there is no reward on investment, then it is difficult to justify pouring so much money into F1 only to finish tenth at every race.
And it is that final point which irks billionaire owner Dietrich Mateschitz so much. Any sensible businessman knows that there must be a reason behind investment. Money cannot simply be frittered away, particularly at the rate which it is in F1. As a result, he is perfectly justified in his comments.
What is required at Red Bull is a little self-evaluation, though. We have heard time and time again in 2015 that the team is threatening to quit unless changes are made. It may seem like sour grapes, but in truth, it holds water given that a number of other teams are saying the same thing.
However, they are passing comment and moving on. Red Bull appears to be dwelling on the same matter time and time again, saying “we’ll quit!” You want to quit? Then quit. The team should take a step back and carefully evaluate its future, just as others do, without the snide comments or digs at the current F1.
The magic has not died just yet at Red Bull, but it needs to work out what it wants to be. The fun still lingers – few other teams will blare out 90s music from their garages after the race – and success could be on the horizon. However, it may not arrive for another 18 months or so.
Red Bull is simply one of the biggest losers of the V6 turbo era of F1. When a raft of changes are introduced for 2017, things may change. However, for now, the team needs to knuckle down and focus on recapturing the magic that made it so successful at the beginning of the decade.