The Future of Red Bull Racing

February 17, 2012

Last night, at the Roundhouse in London, Adrian Newey was inducted into the Motorsport hall of fame. Another acknowledgement, along with an OBE in the New Year’s honours list, that Mr Newey is a major force in the evolving technology of motorsport and specifically Formula 1.

I remember once talking to Patrick Head, back in 2000, about the role of Adrian Newey in the development of championship winning cars, Newey was then at McLaren, having left Williams during 1996. Patrick in his usual forthright way didn’t believe that Adrian was the common factor in the success of Williams in the mid-nineties, followed by McLaren in 1998, ‘he’s very  good at moving at the right time’ I remember him commenting, but I suspect asked that question again today  he might have a different view. One of the reasons cited for Adrian’s departure from Williams was that Frank and Patrick were unwilling to give him an equity stake in the company, suggesting that Adrian perhaps had bigger ambitions than just being a technical director.

I reflected on this when hearing of the various rumours that Ferrari were now after Adrian Newey in a bid to restore some technological dominance of the sort they enjoyed from 1999 through to 2004. At the recent launch of the Red Bull RB8 Adrian was asked about this and responded as follows: “I can’t see myself going anywhere else. I’ve been involved in the team from very early on, I feel very centrally involved in it and proud we’ve managed to get from the ashes of Jaguar to where we are today. That in itself brings a huge amount of satisfaction and the slightly paternal feeling of wanting that to carry on. To now leave for another team would kind of feel a little like walking out on your children in a way.”. Of course a few of those with memories back to 2001 remember him ‘leaving’ McLaren to go to Bobby Rahal’s Jaguar Team, but then subsequently changing his mind and staying with McLaren, Rahal then going back to the USA and handing over to another Team Principal in the merry-go-round that was then Jaguar Racing. So perhaps things are different this time? It also made me wonder as to whether he still harboured ambitions to be a bit more than just an employee of an F1 team, and certainly if you were to keep someone as talented as this, this could be one of the options to explore. There will come a time when Dietrich Mateschitz decides that he will do something else with the millions of dollars he makes from energy drinks, or perhaps if they win their third successive championship in 2012, he may decide that he no longer needs to own the team. This could perhaps be an interesting opportunity for Adrian Newey and perhaps Christian Horner to be more than just employees and run their own F1 team. Who knows? Stranger things have happened in the world of Formula 1.

The Three Futures of #F1

December 1, 2011

With the 2011 season now at an end the teams are working even harder on their 2012 cars. We are also getting more clarity on driver line-ups, with F1 very much in tune with work practices in general – extending the retirement age with Kimi Raikkonen now returning to F1, this time with Lotus Renault, not sure if he’s having to make bigger pension contributions.

But while much of the media attention focuses on 2012, the movers and shakers: the Team Principals and FOTA, the FIA, Formula One Management and CVC are all focused on 2013. This is when a new Concorde Agreement should come into effect. Recently in the FT, Leisure Industries Correspondent, Roger Blitz aligned the politics of F1 to those of the Eurozone, with an intense battle emerging between the haves (Bernie and CVC) and have-nots (FOTA and FIA) – my definition not Roger’s. The complex web that is the governance of F1 is yet again going to be stretched and rewoven, and currently, no-one is quite sure how this will all end up. Certainly we will see Bernie at his best – he always enjoys a good fight – and will undoubtedly be focusing on divide and rule with the teams, not a new strategy, but always an effective one, but who knows perhaps Martin Whitmarsh and his peers will be able to keep FOTA united and carve out a good result? The key is going to be where the FIA end up. In the past they have traditionally aligned against the teams, but perhaps this time we will see a new permutation? Expect plenty of off-track fireworks during 2012.

However there are those in F1 for whom 2012 and 2013 matters not a jot: for the technical strategists in the teams work is well underway for the 2014 regulations which will require the cars to have 1.6 litre V6 power units and substantial Energy Recovery Systems (ERS) to harvest and reuse the energy to improve performance. The engine manufacturers are well underway with a variety of permutations and concepts and the teams will be keen to see how they can build the optimum package from this new powertrain.

All in all the next few years are going to be a busy time for anyone involved in F1, regardless of whether or not the Eurozone holds together.

As the F1 circus moves from short to long haul trips to races, we begin the final leg (or rather legs) of the season. It is now pretty clear to everyone, except perhaps Sebastian himself, that both the drivers and constructors World Championship will, baring any major calamities, be in the hands of Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull. Of course that doesn’t mean to say that the racing will become more processional, both Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button showed at Monza that they both intend to fight to the last, as I’m sure will Lewis Hamilton and Mark Webber. There’s been some great racing, and I’m sure it will continue as long as we have drivers of this calibre in the leading cars.

It is also interesting to see that the form book at the back of the grid has not changed much, HRT bring up the rear, with Virgin still behind Team Lotus, who are also still behind the more established teams. Tony Fernandes has made it clear that 2012 is the year of reckoning for Team Lotus to break into the midfield, and I suspect he may not be the only one of the ‘new’ teams to decide that it is getting to make or break time. Joe Saward (http://joesaward.wordpress.com/)  always has a good ear to the ground and is suggesting that Team Lotus will soon relocate from Norfolk to Leafield – the former Arrows facility in Oxfordshire – and that Virgin are already relocating themselves from Yorkshire to Banbury, with a possible further move to the rapidly developing Silverstone campus, so it looks like the message is you have to be at the heart of motorsport valley to really do well. However, an interesting counter rumour to this is that Scuderia Toro Rosso are going to be sold and relocate from the facilities at Faenza in Northern Italy and Bicester in the UK to the Yas Marina circuit in Abu Dhabi, perhaps we’ll get an announcement at the time of the Grand Prix? If it really does happen it will bring about the first move from Europe of an F1 team, an event which has been predicted by many for some time, so far it hasn’t happened, but this could be about to change.

I was sorry to hear that Virgin Racing have ended their partnership with Wirth Research and will now be moving away from 100% CFD design and back to the wind tunnel. I always saw it as a bold move, the kind of thing we would associate with the entrepreneurial ethos of Virgin, but it proved to be a step too far for the team and their sponsors. It is, after-all, a business venture and if the team is moving back towards HRT, which is where their performance seems to be going this year, then something had to be done. It seems that the obvious step is to go back to the more expensive and less environmentally friendly approach of using a wind tunnel in combination with their exisiting CFD capability.

Virgin now have to recreate their organisation for the second time in three years. It reminds me very much of the challenge that Paul Stewart Racing faced when they morphed into Stewart Grand Prix, like Virgin’s original incarnation – Manor Racing – they knew how to go racing, to find drivers and sponsors, and to set up a car, but they had never done the really tricky bit – design and manufacture their own car. The Virgin model of effectively outsourcing the design and development of the car to Wirth Research was innovative, but appears not to have worked, it is always problematic when the design operation is separated from the racing one. Ferrari faced a similar problem in the eighties and nineties when John Barnard set up first the Guildford Technical Office (GTO) in the UK in the eighties, which then became Ferrari Design and Development (FDD) in the nineties. When Jean Todt arrived in 1993 he formed the view that to build a championship winning car they all had to be located in one place. And so at the end of 1996 they parted company with FDD and had to create a totally new design operation from scratch in Maranello for which they recruited Michael Schumacher’s old team mates Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne, but of course this was only the design part, Ferrari were already building the cars at Maranello, at Virgin they, like Stewart, will have to create the entire process needed to design and build an F1 car from start to finish. There is a common thread between the Ferrari challenge and that of Virgin Racing, Pat Symonds who will be leading the work on the 2012 Virgin, worked with Brawn and Byrne at Benetton (and with Byrne at Benetton’s predecessor – Toleman), he is one of an increasingly rare breed of technical director, someone who really does understand the whole package and how all the different elements are brought together to bring results on the track, it will be good to see him back in F1 soon. I’ll be looking forward to seeing how the 2012 Virgin performs even if it is developed partly by using a wind tunnel.

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