The announcement last week that the Austrian Grand Prix will return to the Formula One calendar has wider-reaching implications than the return of another old grand prix circuit back into the F1 fold.
Formerly the A1-Ring, the Spielberg circuit is now the domain of the Austrian energy drinks company and has been renamed the Red Bull Ring. It is a further example of just how far the team has come in such a staggeringly short period of time, certainly in Formula One terms. Not only do they boast the most successful and arguably the best driver on the grid in Sebastian Vettel, they also fund their sister team Toro Rosso and many drivers in the GP2 feeder series.
It’s a far cry from the organisation that drinks mogul Dietrich Mateschitz purchased from Ford in 2004 in the guise of Jaguar Racing. I should know as I worked for the team for two years as their web editor! That team exited F1 with no race wins, pole positions or fastest laps and a best of seventh in the constructors’ standings and just two podium finishes from four seasons of toil and effort.
It wasn’t an easy job trying to drum up excitement for the outfit, believe me. Eight years and 155 races later, the dominant outfit boasts 38 race victories as well as three drivers and constructors titles in as many years. And they’re on course for a fourth.
So just how has Red Bull managed such a remarkable turnaround in such a short space of time? The simple answer is that money talks. An initial investment of $400 million over three years started the ball rolling, but money is nothing without solid infrastructure and an out-with-the-old, in-with-the-new philosophy.
I visited the Red Bull Racing factory in Milton Keynes a few days before the British Grand Prix and was staggered by the change in the operational structure. All of the design, tech and engineering offices became open plan to keep team-work at optimum performance levels.
The factory houses state-of-the-art fluid dynamics, a composites and autoclaves factory, wind tunnel and a highly impressive communications room, where every aspect of the car’s performance during a race weekend is monitored, and a state of the art computer simulator where Vettel was driving the Silverstone circuit while I was there. Only Mercedes, Ferrari and McLaren come close.
But surely the key masterstroke was the poaching of design genius Adrian Newey from McLaren at the tail end of 2005. Since then, success has been meteoric and not by chance. Newey explores every possible loophole to give his team the edge, such as the innovative but controversial double-diffuser system that bamboozled the opposition in 2012.
Add into the mix Sebastian Vettel and highly ambitious team boss Christian Horner and it’s easy to see how the team has come so far in such a short period of time.
Bizarre to think, then, that Red Bull Racing is technically a privateer team funded by a drinks company. But it’s a highly profitable company, and Mateschitz has negotiated a seven year deal with F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone for the running of the Austrian Grand Prix. And with Mark Webber announcing his retirement from the sport, rumours around the paddock suggest Kimi Raikkonen could be the one to drive alongside Vettel in 2014, with The Guardian reporting the Finn is favourite to replace Webber.
The sayings "Rome wasn’t built in a day" and "You can’t run before you can walk" just don’t seem to apply to Red Bull Racing.
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