Plenty of reports in the last few weeks have suggested that Adrian Newey might leave the Austrian team at the end of 2014 and will pursue other interests. While some reports have speculated that Newey might take a Sabbatical from the sport, some have reported that Newey might join a rival camp. With Vettel also tipped to leave this Austrian team either at early 2014 or a season after that, We have to wonder if these moves will mark the deathknell of the Red Bull as their ideologies may be completely destroyed.
When Dietrich Mateschitz announced that his company Red Bull has purchased the struggling Minardi outfit at the end of the 2005 season, plenty of people were surprised by the ideologies of this Austrian company. There were lots of debate as to whether maintaining two outfits at the same category will solve any purpose or is there any logical reason for this move. There were lots of surprised and confused reactions when Paul Stoddart announced that out of the 41 prospective buyers for the team, Red Bull were awarded the deal as he believed that they could take the team forward. The Red Bull management had a firm plan as they distinguished the two teams with two complete different objectives with the main team acting as their championship aspirant while the sister team based in Italy serves as a B-Team with an objective to mould young drivers from their academy programme. So far, both their objectives are achieved successfully.
The Milton Keynes based main team has evolved largely from the remains from the Stewart/Jaguar era. In September 2004, when Ford announced its plans to sell its team in what has been reported for just US$1, it was Red Bull who announced their interest in the team on the last day of the sale. It was reported that Ford wanted assurances that the prospective buyer would invest US$400 Million for next three years and as the Red Bull ambitious programme were much more than that, the deal were signed to much fanfare. Red Bull registered its main team as a Austrian entity while its sister team was registered at Italy.
Despite the slow start to their high ambitions, Red Bull managed to make a solid name to itself only in 2007 season, their first two seasons were largely uninspiring although they can term it as a successful campaign as they managed to fare well as compared to its predecessors. RB1 had earned more points than what Jaguar could manage in the 2003 and the 2004 seasons. The team underwent through a massive change for the 2006 season as they have managed to get Adrian Newey on board and also managed to sign a deal with Ferrari for the Engines. Newey joined the team in February but failed to create an impact as the team managed to finish only seventh in the constructors championship. Newey joined the team amid growing speculations that he might take a sabbatical from the sport or might join his favorite grove’s based team. It is understood that the Red Bull’s offer for Newey is worth US$10 Million and this was much larger than what Mclaren could offer for his extension and more than what other teams offered. The Team management have announced their intentions for better performances in the 2007 season and announced that they are looking at targeting the fifth place in the constructor championship. RB3 was the first chassis to be developed under Newey and it was widely expected that the team would meet its tasks for the season and with the hiring of Geoff Willis, the technical committee looked strong and the results started flowing their way as the experienced duo of Webber and Coulthard steered their way to many strong finishes during the season including a podium from Webber who was assumed to be leading this attack and this driver lineup promised much more than their previous years where the team decided to field in a young driver to assist their experienced driver. Although the team managed to pickup the fifth place in the constructors championship, they were hugely hampered by the Reliability issues as the team faced a string of retirements either due to reliability or due to other issues. 2007 season also saw the team acquiring the services of Renault as their Engine supplier with their Ferrari contract being transferred to its sister team and they managed to get their desired fifth place in the championship largely due to the fact that McLaren was disqualified after the spygate scandal. 2008 season marked a continuity in this team which was a rarity as the team used to make major announcements during the off season which ranged from driver changes to staff or component changes. With the same driver, staff and supplier lineup for the 2008 season, the continuity managed to show in the performances of this team as Webber managed to squeeze in five point finishes in the first six races of the season. The team had a contrasting fortunes during the season with their first half being the fight for the fourth place in the constructors championship and the second half being the fight for their survival as with the contrasting fortunes, the team managed to score just five points in the second half of the season. Sebastian Vettel was promoted to the place of Coulthard and the 2009 season saw this Austrian team rise through the ranks as they eventually ended the season in a strong second place in the championship with Vettel clinching 4 victories and Webber finishing the season with two wins to his name. Vettel lost out the championship with 11 points behind the championship winner Jenson Button and Webber sealing the fourth place in the drivers championship. That was the season where it was widely expected that Brawn GP would just walk away with both the championships but with many improvements coming in for the Austrian team towards the second half of the season, they managed to cause some hurdle to the independent Brawn GP. From the 2010 season, it was all about the Austrian team breaking many records and creating some strong records to their name as the team won two consecutive constructors and the drivers championships as they helped Vettel to be named as the youngest double world champion. Although the start of 2012 season was proving to be unpredictable with the pecking order relatively unknown, the team managed to get into a good rhythm from the Singapore GP as Vettel is now powering his way to his thrid world championship.
On the other end of the line, the sister team registered at Italy were surrounded with lots of controversies from their debut season, the controversies ranged from drivers to sponsors and finally to the car itself. Lots of rival teams voiced their opinion that Toro Rosso has been infringing the concorde agreement as it didn’t allow customer cars. The 2006 chassis used by this Toro Rosso team is widely believed to the modified version of RB1 which was the chassis used by the main team for their debut season. However Toro Rosso has been adamant that its chassis was developed from the remains of the Jaguar Racing cars and had no resemblance to its sister team and that the car was developed by Jaguar racing and its intellectual rights belonged to FORD and that they have passed them to Toro Rosso. They also had a huge dispute on the drivers front with their driver Scott Speed being fired under controversial circumstances and even in the following years as well they were criticized for firing the drivers for odd reasons. The American driver Speed was replaced by then BMW development driver Sebastian Vettel who was initially long rumored for a developmental programme with Red Bull. Vettel was revealed to have signed a long contract with Red Bull as he was confirmed for the 2008 season as well where he enjoyed major success by having scored points in 9 races including a win at the 2008 Italian GP where he took the first win of the Red Bull teams. His Teammate for the 2008 season was revealed to be the four time Champ Car series winner Sébastien Bourdais. Although Bourdais scored the points in his first race, he failed to match the performance of his teammate and Bourdais ended up scoring points in just two races of that season. However Vettel’s performance helped the team to climb upto the sixth place in the constructors championship. The Team were thus under huge pressure to repeat their 2008 campaign and their team boss Franz Tost admitted that it was tough for them to repeat the performance of their previous season. With Vettel moving to the main team, the new lineup initially consisted of Sébastien Bourdais and Sébastien Buemi with Bourdais under tremendous pressure to perform and it was reported that he was given an ultimatum to perform or perish. True to their character, Bourdais was replaced midway through the season and Jaime Alguersuari took the American’s seat, it was again a controversial move by the Red Bull management as Bourdais performed better than his teammate in the limited opportunities he was given and thus raised few eyebrows. Jaime Alguersuari couldn’t perform any better then his teammates and as their rivals Force India raised their game significantly, it all hampered the performance of this Italian team as they finished their disastrous 2009 campaign at the bottom. While the next two seasons saw some continuity with their squad, the team’s performance on track marginally improved and they finished the 2010 season at 9th on the championship while improving to 8th for the 2011 season. For the 2012 campaign however both Buemi and Alguersuari was replaced and Franz Tost later revealed that the agenda of Toro Rosso was to groom new talents and both Buemi and Alguersuari were in the team for a long duration to prove themselves and it was necessary for them to make big changes. Although such a move was widely expected as their current lineup of Jean-Éric Vergne and Daniel Ricciardo were featured in number of promotional activities for the Red Bull team and also took part in few testing sessions which drew many speculations for their aggressive push, but the decision to drop both Buemi and Alguersuari drew many criticisms. Also in a rather strange deal with HRT, Daniel Ricciardo was asked to switched over to the HRT team from Round 9 of the 2011 season where he competed for the remainder of the season. Simultaneously though, the team was under the scanner various times for their alleged infringement of the concorde agreement. When the new concorde agreement was in place for the 2010 season where every constructor was asked to build their own chassis, Dietrich Mateschitz decided to put the team for sale. Financially though, this team had secured a major deal with Cespa towards the end of the 2011 season and it is reported that huge sum of money is being poured into this team by Cespa. Although a huge technical relationship exists between the two teams despite the strict rules, Toro Rosso of late seems to be having its own objectives and for now is struggling to cope up with the new rules. Technical director Giorgio Ascanelli who has been with the team from the 2007 season left the team earlier this year which was widely expected. The team now has signed James Key to replace Giorgio Ascanelli and the team is now expecting to bounce back from the 2013 season as they bid to challenge their midfield rivals.
The major success to the Red Bull’s dominance has indeed been Adrian Newey. He was the X-Factor in instrumenting the march from this Austrian team, the team would have been on the rocks if there wasn’t a Newey factor. Despite joining the team in 2006, Newey required three seasons to develop a championship winning car and he had to do it almost from the scratch. With Vettel, the duo has created some magical moments on track where many records were broken and new records were set.
Eight Championship winning cars has been designed by Newey and he has done it with three different teams. Different people have praised Newey for his work especially the work he has managed to do in the last few years. Many rival teams are eyeing Newey and Niki Lauda who was responsible for poaching Hamilton has also been reported to rope in Newey for the struggling Mercedes team. Some sections of the media have also reported that both Vettel and Newey are being signed by Ferrari for the 2014 season but it has been dismissed by Luca di Montezemolo.
“We are fighting against Newey and, at the moment we cannot match him” - Alonso on his 2012 title fight.
“Adrian is just a genius. I can’t even imagine what he’s doing. He is a one-off” - Lewis Hamilton
“And what would he (Newey) do at Mercedes anyway? With Ross Brawn there are three other technical directors. Too many chiefs and not enough Indians” - Helmut Marko
“As for Newey, I can say that he is very good at his job but we also managed to win eight constructors' titles in the last 13 championships without him: I have huge faith in our own engineers” - Montezemolo
For an independent team like Red Bull who have emerged as a rarity in the sport mostly dominated by Manufacturer teams, it will be a hard task for them to compete in the sport post the 2014 season if they cannot retain the services of Vettel or Newey. It might just take a season or two for a storm to emerge within the team, if this Austrian team doesn’t win the championship or doesn’t come close to the championship aspirations in the next two years then both Vettel and Newey would be looking for a fresh challenge and it might create more trouble for both Christian Horner and Dietrich Mateschitz to acquire people of similar caliber. Just like the Hamilton saga, it might turn into a frustrating experience for these people if they don’t get the desired results and it might stall their motivation. Although we are just assuming the situation here, Red Bull has to see the 2014 season as a alarming tone.
The downfall of this Austrian team has been predicted by many post the Newey era. With all due respect to the current Technical staff in the business, the command and the talent that Newey possessed, very few people can come close to his success and this creates a large void for the Austrian team to fill in and they have relook at their objectives in a frequent basis.
Toro Rosso’s luck riding on Newey’s Success:
With FIA increasing the entry fees for the teams, Red Bull are likely to pay up to 600% more than their current payment and this puts in a lots of stress for the team’s finances as well. Unless Toro Rosso can improve significantly in the next few years, it will be hard for them to find attractive sponsors.
The whole concept of Red Bull and Toro Rosso has been the fact that one of the team grooms the drivers for the other team and that they both fight the championship with various objectives. If the void isn’t filled in time by the Red Bull post the Newey era then they might slip to the bottom of the table and they might merely be a midfielder by considering the fact that the manufacturers will occupy the top three slots post the 2014 season which is being widely predicted as of now. Red Bull’s finances will hurt them deeply by funding two teams fighting at the same end of the spectrum and we might be in situation where Red Bull might altogether stop funding a team, although this again is widely an assumption but the chances of them happening are high.
Independent teams surviving the sport for a long time have often been a rare case and we have seen teams go up the pecking order for a while and drop down the ladder in a few years time. Despite the assurances from Horner, Helmut Marko and Dietrich Mateschitz that Red Bull’s success hasn’t been down to Newey alone, the team has to do something to hire talented designers who can fill the void of Newey once he leaves the team. The hiring of James Key might be the step in the right direction as he is one of those designers who seem to have a lot of talent and understanding for the sport. Toro Rosso might depend on James Key’s fortune to see them fight higher up in the championship and if he manages to repeat his magic at Toro Rosso than the future for the Red Bull teams will look bright and shiny. As for once, Red Bull has to use Toro Rosso as a space for assessing the designers rather than drivers.
And for those who are looking for Red Bull without Vettel theory, Well if indeed Vettel jumped the ship, than there are plenty of other drivers who can recreate the magic that Vettel did and the fight for the championship will happen without him as the car matters a lot then the driver at least to an extent.