F1 2007 Preview: Red Bull

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It’s a big season for Red Bull. You can’t recruit the biggest-name car designer in F1, mate his creation to last season’s championship-winning engine, and not get results.

Testing so far has suggested that the team are in for a difficult time to begin with, at least.

But if they can get the car sorted over the season – and remember they have a second team running essentially the same chassis – there could be big results from Red Bull before the year is out.

The Red Bull team has never really settled down.

When they kicked off in 1997 as Stewart the team was a respectable affair, coolly netting a fine second place in the wet at Monaco in its debut season, suffering the wholly typical second season trauma, and scoring an opportunistic yet richly deserved first win in their third year.

So far, so good. But then came the rebranding as Jaguar, the replacement of stalwart driver Rubens Barrichello with the distracted Eddie Irvine, the chronic mismanagement under Ford and notorious marketing cock-up.

Then finally, when that team had begun to settle under the more astute and frugal leadership of Tony Purnell and Dave Pitchforth, and with the impressive Mark Webber on board, Ford drew the purse-strings tight and then axed the team late in 2004.

Enter Dietrich Mateschitz and his Red Bull fortune. The team was swiftly rebranded and given an intravenous cash injection. In fact, the team has become so profligate with its Red Bull greenback stack that it has distorted the pay scale on the job market for key personnel.

Ex-McLaren, Williams and Leyton House designer Adrian Newey may be their most high-profile scalp. But the team has also bagged the likes of former Renault staffers Keith Saunt and Rob Marshall, both of whom joined at the start of the ’06 season. Red Bull’s money’s-no-object poaching is just one reason why certain teams have turned against them.

The other is the long-running ‘customer chassis’ complaint. It’s strange how this got much less attention last year, when Red Bull junior team Toro Rosso ran the 2005 Red Bull. At that time the political dispute over the future of F1 was the top scandal story and – crucially – the chassis in question had not been designed by the talented Mr Newey.

The similarities between Red Bull’s RB3, Toro Rosso’s STR2 – and recent generations of McLarens – are far more striking than any differences. But, unhappily for Red Bull, one of those similarities is Newey’s utterly uncompromising approach to design leading to a raft of reliability problems.

It’s a pain in the neck – especially so for new recruit Mark Webber, who still can’t fit in the car properly.

The wonderful irony about their driver line-up is that it is the oldest on the grid this year – which seems at odds with their vibrant and youth-orientated marketing approach. But the experience of David Coulthard and the ripening talent of Webber is exactly what the team needs. Already they are using sharp but fair words to the press to keep the pressure on the team to iron out the car’s niggles.

There is too much talent, money and resources at Red Bull for the team not to come good. The question is whether the political maelstrom they have provoked, and their brash marketing philosophy, may prove too much of a distraction to repeat Stewart’s feat of victory in year three.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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3 comments on “F1 2007 Preview: Red Bull”

  1. Could you elaborate on “Newey’s uncompromising designs lead to reliability problems?” It’s not that I question it, I just think a separate entry explaining that would be very interesting!

  2. OK I’ll try:

    From the MP4-18 of 2003 (that failed crash tests and never raced) onwards McLaren had problems refining Adrian Newey’s cutting-edge designs into something that would work reliably on the race track.

    In 2004 the car was slow and unreliable.

    In 2005 the car was fast – but still unreliable.

    Now that Newey is at Red Bull they see to be in a very similar situation to McLaren – it’s hard to judge how good the car is by the hydraulics and other things keep failing.

    Are these failures the consequence of Newey’s design approach? It seems so. Newey’s designs tend to be quite radical, and it will be interesting to see how Red Bull can cope with the leap from design board to race track.

    It’s also telling that Mark Webber doesn’t fit in the car very well. He is one of the taller drivers, but even so he is not the first to struggle to fit inside a Newey car – so did one driver of his late ’80s Leyton House March.

    Most interestingly, a friend of mine who works for McLaren suggested that Newey’s contribution to car design, though very important, is over-estimated by the British media – make of that what you will!

  3. I’ve been a little downcast with RBRs testing pace, or lack thereof. The reliability problems are a major worry, hopefully they can get them full sorted for when they get back to Europe. I think the flyaways might be a bit of a waste unless the new aero kit they’re trying this week really unlocks the car.

    I think the potential is there, obviously the car hasn’t hit the sweetspot yet, but even if it takes him half a season Newey tends to get to the root of problems and fix them elegantly so I’d look out for Red Bull later in the year at least. Especially once Webber settles in!

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