If Red Bull Racing left Formula 1, would anybody care?[Not a valid template]
In the wake of Daniel Ricciardo’s exclusion from second place in the Australian Grand Prix, Dietrich Mateschitz has revealed that Red Bull Racing may pull its support from Formula 1, citing what he claims to be ‘inappropriate politicisation’ of the sport as the reason. So far the cry from F1 fans has been “…so?” After all, how big a deal would it be if Red Bull Racing decided to leave F1?
It’s a fair question. Why should F1 fans mourn the loss of a team that has monopolised championship success during the past four years (a key reason behind dropping TV ratings says Bernie Ecclestone), whose team ‘heritage’ goes back less than a decade, whose cut of the overall prize money – thanks to championship performance and TV exposure – threatens to knock smaller teams out of business, and whose soul purpose in F1 is to further promote its energy drink rather than to stand as a de facto race outfit? Bearing that in mind, it seems unlikely that purists would mourn the loss of Red Bull Racing from the sport in the same way as that of series legends Tyrrell and Lotus Mk1. The demise of BMW, Toyota and even Renault after all raised few sniffles.
Tempting to say ‘good riddance’ then to F1’s top dogs. There is though slightly more to it than this. The threat may seem a case of toys being flung from the pram at high velocity from the gentleman whose team has dominated F1 over the past four seasons (from 77 races, Red Bull Racing has taken 41 wins, 52 pole positions and 2204 points on the way to four constructor’s championships on the bounce), but it would be harsh to put it entirely down to this. The timing for instance, given the team’s struggles during pre-season testing, could not have been worse: Ricciardo’s exclusion from a race many considered neither Red Bull car would finish is akin to stamping on the fingers of a man clinging from the ledge of an 80-storey building. Moreover, the penalty potentially teases a fundamental flaw in F1’s new technical regulations. In Melbourne, Red Bull’s equipment registered a legal fuel flow of 100kg/hour whilst the FIA’s did not, an argument that will only be decided in court. For the reigning champions to threaten a mass exodus, citing a vote of non-confidence in its governing body and its procedures, sends ripples through any sport. With such vast sums of money being forked out for new regulations that could prove erroneous, ripples – for both new and prospective teams – rarely make positive headlines.
Another big change concerns the four whopping gaps left in F1’s top ten, where once had stood two well-established (and financed) Grand Prix teams that in the past has made serious offers to former champions Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton. In an arena where stability is hardly a given (the Lotus F1 Team came close to closing its doors last year due to lack of sponsorship, and McLaren – a Grand Prix team since the 1960s – has yet to nail down a major sponsor for this season), simply waving goodbye to millions of Red Bull dollars would be foolhardy at least, and potentially devastating at most. The Austrian Grand Prix returns to the calendar this year for instance principally thanks to the A1-Ring now being on Red Bull’s books, while Sauber – a Red Bull-sponsored outfit for more than a decade – would arguably not be on the grid today without the company’s support.
Let’s not forget what effect Red Bull’s exit would have on drivers too. Unpopular as a Red Bull B-team may be, Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo have both proven that a stepping stone within the sport – at a time when pay driver’s are headhunted more than reigning lower formulae champions – really does make a difference, alongside young driver academies and development programmes. Names like Jaime Alguersuari, Sebastien Buemi, and new Porsche Le Mans racer Brendon Hartley may have hit the Red Bull scrapheap, but more than one has admitted that making it to the top of their respective ladders without the company’s support was close to impossible. It’s arguable that two new minnows on the F1 scene – replacing the departing Red Bull cars – paves the way for more young drivers. But given the struggles of Caterham/Lotus and Marussia/Virgin during three pointless seasons, it’s yet another long shot.
Were Red Bull Racing and Toro Rosso to pack up their respective kitbags and wave a fond farewell to F1, purists of the sport may applaud. Indeed, fans of the World Rally Championship and MotoGP – two other Red Bull heavy motorsport arenas – may even welcome the company’s additional support. It’s entirely possible that Red Bull’s disappearance could usher in a new, more exciting era for new teams and drivers, and renew some of the passion that many of the top teams have lost. It would be a brave man though to call that bluff.