Red Bull’s coming of age

Silverstone produced a thrilling Grand Prix, let’s say that first. It probably wasn’t the best of the season, but it was most certainly up there. Not that that’s out of the way, let’s get down to it: team orders, internal Red Bull tension… so much fodder for Formula One’s tabloid publications. Or a new way to analyse Red Bull’s season, if nothing else.
It’s a curious case for the team that turns seven this year. Already a World Champion, and having a produced a championship-winning driver, they’re now confronting their situation of being the hunted lot of Formula One. They’re doing a good job – the points tally alone says as much – but they’re now coming across hurdles that they’ve yet needed to think about. It’s the sort of stuff only the most established of teams need to consider, and it’s interesting to note their actions.
Insert clever segue here, and we’re back to 2010. Last year’s German Grand Prix, much like this year’s race in Britain, marked Ferrari’s resurgence in the title hunt. However, Alonso’s breakthrough victory in 2010 was marred by the now-infamous case of ‘coded’ team orders, resulting in Felipe Massa – who had led from the first lap – to slow down quite obviously to allow his faster teammate to glide past easily to take the lead – and victory.

Ferrari’s team orders debacle, 2010

Ferrari was fined US$100,000 after the race for bringing the sport into disrepute and subsequently recommended to the World Motorsport Council. The Council found that, although team orders were probably the cause, it was impossible to prove it indefinitely and took no further action. The clause in the sporting code that outlawed team orders was dropped at the end of the season upon the FIA’s realisation that they couldn’t realistically police it.
Although the point is now moot, Alonso picked up an extra seven points that almost propelled him to the World Championship. On the other hand, it’s also worth noting that without those seven points, both the Driver’s and Constructors’ Championship standings would have remained unchanged. So although the team orders – designed to give Alonso that extra boost in his tilt for the title – amounted to nothing, it’s evident how close they came to being vital in his potential win. Indeed, pre-Abu Dhabi most of the talk was targeted at what it would mean for Alonso to win the championship with the aid of ‘illegal’ points.
Thankfully, it was a situation we didn’t have to deal with, though we got Vettel’s finger pointing in exchange. It’s difficult to know whether we got the better result in the end.
Keep in mind that by the time the championship had reached Germany last year, Felipe Massa was very much on the cusp of being mathematically out of contention – realistically he was already out of the running. Fernando was the far more likely option, and with the Ferrari out of the two-horse race to the Constructors’ Championship, the Drivers’ title was all they had to aim for.
At this point, as the controversy over the act expanded, Red Bull (amongst other teams) voiced their disapproval of team orders, putting forward their view that the drivers should be free to race.

Christian Horner post Germany 2010

‘They manipulated the outcome of the race by telling one car to effectively slow down, and then apologise to him,’ said an indignant Horner. ‘It’s so disappointing for the fans more than anything that they didn’t get to see Massa, who’d driven a good race, race against Fernando. It was a great shame.’
‘What was done was very blatant and a great shame for all the fans and spectators and viewers around the world, to see a race handed from one driver to another.
I should point out that there’s more of this sort of thing from Christian Horner. He was very much full of the stuff last year, taking the moral high ground over Ferrari, the sport’s most established team. This was, of course, after the incident in Turkey during which Vettel made an ill-fated passing move on Webber resulting in his retirement and Webber’s relegation to third in the race after leading off the line.
In reference to Turkey 2010, Horner had this to say at the time: ‘It’s part of the Red Bull ethics to allow our drivers to race, and that’s what we’ve done, as I believe McLaren allow their drivers to do likewise.
‘It’s wrong that the drivers weren’t allowed to compete with each other.’
Frightfully hypocritical when juxtaposed like this, isn’t it? What’s more, Red Bull’s hold of last year’s championship at Turkey was significantly less assured than it was this weekend. You might remember the season going down to the final race at Abu Dhabi. Nothing of the sort this season, with Vettel guaranteed to head the table after the Belgian Grand Prix, no matter what happens between then and now.
‘Let the two drivers race and what will be will be,’ said Red Bull motorsport advisor and part time Bond villain Dr Helmut Marko. ‘Our philosophy stays the same because this is sport and it must remain sport.’
‘We don’t manipulate things like Ferrari do.’
The greatest issue to arise from this occurrence isn’t the team orders themselves – as I’ve already mentioned, they’re very much legal now, so no action will be taken against the team. No, the biggest issue is that of Red Bull’s brand. The team came into the support as a maverick marquee, shaking up the way Formula One was run to a degree. Even now we still sense this – their headquarters for the Monaco Grand Prix is testament to the team’s nature. They do things differently. They pride themselves on being different. They’re Formula One’s indie team. And it works. Sure, they were ridiculed for allowing Turkey 2010 to happen, for not making a call on one of their drivers to step aside. But to be fair, criticism for them refusing to enact team orders came only from other teams, with most of the external criticism aimed towards their handling of the allegations of favouritism that arose afterwards.

Vettel: World Champion 2010

Things are different now. Perhaps it was their double championship last year. It’s certainly something psychological, seeing as Red Bull has maintained one of the most consistently stable squads during their six years in Formula One. Whatever it is, it seems Red Bull have finally become one of the rest. Slowly, they’re putting aside some of their alternative ideals to become a proper championship team. Sure, they still have the loud music, the wild parties and swimming pools in the most unexpected of locations, but on track they’re becoming significantly more conventional as time passes.
We’re seeing evidence of it now – the way they’re seeking to build their team around Vettel circa Ferrari 1996 – 2005, or even modern-day Ferrari. Renault were on the verge of doing so before Robert Kubica’s rally accident earlier this year, and McLaren have been doing it with Lewis Hamilton (albeit less savagely) since he debuted. Team orders are simply the next step.
Red Bull, it seems, are coming of age.

 You can follow me on Twitter, if you have nothing better to do: @MichaelLamonato 

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