The Ben Evans Column: Bull

Scott Speed, Toro Rosso, Nurburgring, Toro Rosso, 2007 | GEPA / Franz PammerOne of the more entertaining F1 side shows of past weeks was the spat between Scott ‘not got any’ Speed and the Red Bull junior team, which has led to Speed’s departure from the Toro Rosso.

Speed is latest in a string of Red Bull-backed drivers who have been rushed into F1 and failed to hold onto their seats – like Christian Klien

In the world of motorsport sponsorship the backing given by Red Bull is unrivalled by any other organisation. Nearly every series of any stature has at least one Red Bull backed driver or car. This is particularly noticeable in the junior formulae where a large number of up and coming drivers are heavily backed by Red Bull, and has been the case for several seasons now.

However despite the huge investment a Red Bull development driver is yet to go all the way and forge a lasting career at the top of motorsport – be it F1, Champ Car, Indy Racing League or NASCAR.

Furthermore given the disappointing performance of Red Bull drivers in GP2 and World Series by Renault in 2007 (Sebastian Vettel aside) the pipeline for future superstars doesn’t look too hot. So what’s gone wrong?

Klien is a case in point. An exceptional F3 driver he found himself in F1 with Jaguar in 2004 (at a cost of $20m for Red Bull for one season) probably a year too soon. With an experienced team-mate (Mark Webber) and a collapsing team Klien was always going to struggle, and he did.

However, ensconced behind the wheel of the Red Bull in 2005 he had a strong opening to the season and was comfortably quicker than team-mate David Coulthard before the team’s rotation cycle saw him moved aside in favour of Vitantonio Liuzzi. Arguably this cut momentum from Klien’s career that was never regained.

Eventually Klien got his seat back full time, only to be fired towards the end of 2006 for refusing to take a Champ Car seat for ’07. At the times when Klien really needed coaching and support it wasn’t there and the impact of this has been evident.

Christian Klien, Jaguar, Interlagos, 2004 | Ford MediaIn Klien’s case the investment was probably justified as when all the pieces have fallen into place he showed signs of real talent. The same could not be said for Scott Speed who at no point has demonstrated anything in the way of talent to back up the investment in his career.

Given a different surname Scott would never have left the USA. Inexplicably Red Bull still seem keen to back Speed, as it appears the nature of his departure was related to his poor relationship with Toro Rosso bosses Franz Tost and Gerhard Berger.

Other drivers taken under Red Bull’s wing have simply never delivered on their potential – Vitantonio Liuzzi being a case in point. Admittedly the 2004 F3000 field was not strong, but even so his dominant title win marked him out as a future star.

Now he faces imminent redundancy from the Toro Rosso team, with two years of bad results meaning that some serious sponsorship cash may be the only reason he stays in F1 next year.

In the junior championships the Red Bull backed drivers seem to have been selected more by phone book bingo rather than any serious analysis of their talents and ability. It is always bizarre watching a Formula BMW or Formula Three race and seeing the Red Bull (and Toyota and Renault) development drivers battling intensely for seventh, while in the lead is someone who is not a ‘son of’, does not have film star looks, but who has the talent to go all the way. Inevitably this driver will win the championship by a mile and then go nowhere.

It is admirable that large corporations and manufacturers are seriously backing up and coming racers, I have two cautionary points. First, the influx of ‘development drivers’ into any series inevitably ramps up the cost of being competitive, as Toyota’s wallet is certainly larger than mine.

Second, if the will is there to invest, would Red Bull not be better served by massively subsidising a series such as Formula Palmer Audi or Formula Ford to allow the more budget conscious drivers a chance to race and then dangling a prize drive in Formula Three for the champion – as has worked extremely well with the Virgin Media Cup in superbikes. This way top-level racing becomes more affordable and talent rather than wallets can be the key to progression.

In the meantime I’m just glad I didn’t buy shares in the career of AJ Allmendinger, Robert Doornbos, Christian Klien, Scott Speed??????.

Image: GEPA / Franz Pammer | Ford Media

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7 comments on The Ben Evans Column: Bull

  1. Dan M said on 23rd August 2007, 15:48

    Cheapshot on Speed. Do you really think the Sebastian twins will do any better?

    As for AJ, he is driving for a company who has no previous experience in NASCAR, as the season progresses the Toyota’s are getting more competitive and hes battling for top 10′s. (1-9 is normally dominated by Chevy)

  2. Journeyer said on 23rd August 2007, 16:02

    But I dunno… AJ seems to lack something, Dan. I felt it from Tony Stewart and Montoya in their rookie years, but AJ? Not so much.

    What I do want to point out though is how well Robert Doornbos is doing in Champ Car. Sure, it’s not F1, and he’s not doing it in a Red Bull team, but if he makes it all the way, Red Bull does deserve a tad of credit… Even if only a small tad.

  3. To be honest I don’t think the comment on Speed is that much of a cheapshot. I’ve seen him race in some junior formulas and he was nothing special, certainly not as good as the other drivers who he was racing against who’s careers have not progressed

    Also enjoy the irony from today’s Autosport where an article on the same subject appeared

  4. Number 38 said on 24th August 2007, 21:35

    I’m waiting for the Scot Speed fan club to make a posting….he’s a regular on this site…..in the meantime I’ll remark that Ben Evans was a bit harsh stating Speed and Klien “failed to hold their seats”….
    WHO could have held their seats in the dog sled cars Red Bull is racing? I’ve often remarked “it’s always the drivers fault”…..I say that sarcasticly of course…..so many teams, Toyota leading the pack, don’t get the results they want immediately and throw away their drivers and start all over from zero the next year. It takes 3 to 5 years too “mature” a driver in F1, few drivers manage to survive the education, not through lack of wanting or lack of skill but through financial failings or foolish team management.

  5. Actually, the Scott Speed fan club came, saw, considered and moved on. The time to say “I told you so” will be when Vettel the wonder boy fails to do any better than Liuzzi (who was once a wonder boy himself) in the Toro Rosso. A study of Speed’s record in F1 will reveal that he improved steadily throughout last season and this to the point where he was regularly getting better results than Liuzzi. If we judged all drivers by their performance in the lower formulae, I guess Mansell and a lot of others should never have been champions.

    It was a cheap and easy shot, Ben. ;)

  6. Number 38 said on 25th August 2007, 14:45

    AH! Yes, I told you so …… good words Clive, and I told you so also……..
    Vettel is no prize and those wanting Piquet to replace Fisi will be aptly disappointed, Bourdais has better odds of a good showing as a rookie but then we have to consider his car !!!
    And I pray Honda with wash that vomit scheme off their cars and return to RACING, the political statement is over!

  7. Actually, I think Vettel is good, Number 38. It’s just that I think Liuzzi is as well and neither will completely overshadow the other in what remains of the season. And the clever TR bosses have thrown away a better driver than either of them…

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