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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