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Red Bull – Living on the Edge

26 Jul

So here we are, in the middle of the season and once again Red Bull have been making the headlines for what many consider to be all the wrong reasons.

The German Grand Prix was not a great weekend for the team; the mapping issue, the passing and penalty issue, Mark’s struggles, and some perhaps unfortunate comments that the press and the F1 community on twitter are devouring like a pack of rabid hyenas.

I don’t agree with many of the comments made by Dr Helmut Marko, I don’t always agree with Christian or Sebastian (yes I do think he should have given that place back and passed later). Their comments in interviews do sometimes let them down. The creative genius of Adrian Newey however, does not and it complements the ethos of the team and the brand.

I don’t need to write a paragraph waxing lyrical about Adrian and what he has achieved in Formula 1, you already know all that. What I will do though, is highlight one of the things that Adrian has in buckets; creative genius. He thinks outside the box and will push things further to the limit than his counterparts at the other eleven F1 teams and it pays off every time. Everybody is looking for that extra edge, and Adrian knows how to get it. Does he live within ‘the spirit of the rules’? I think so, but again he will push that spirit to the limit to get the most out of the car. Unfortunately for the team, the rest of the paddock don’t agree, and the FIA will respond to a sufficiently loud level of whining by rewriting the rules. In F1 rules aren’t made to be broken; they are made to be rewritten.

Many F1 fans have described Red Bull as cheaters. They aren’t cheating. Ordering a driver to crash to affect the outcome of a race, or photocopying documents from another team is cheating.

Red Bull, not just the F1 team but the whole company, lives life on the edge and pushes to the limit. While the F1 paddock has been grumbling all week about engine mappings and passing manoeuvres, another Red Bull venture, Red Bull Stratos, was completing a second test flight before Felix Baumgartner does a jump from the edge of space back down to earth. This is an incredible project and I can’t wait to see coverage of the actual jump.

Red Bull Stratos

 

I may not be too keen on the drink itself, but I love the ethos of the brand, the events and athletes that they sponsor, and the F1 team’s creativity and skill at pushing the rules and convention to the limit complements that ethos perfectly. I suspect that the majority of the people who read this have pushed rules to the limit in their own lives – driving right on the speed limit, going through an orange light just before it changes to red, trying to outsmart our parents and the rules they imposed on us when we were kids….the list goes on.

When any team uncovers a new feature which pushes the limits it is easy to point the finger if we support a different team, and cry foul. We want our boys to win. It is easy for me to write this because I love Red Bull, but if like me you drive on the limit, or tried to be a smartass when you were a kid, join me next time the rules get rewritten in a wry smile and a tip of your F1 hat to acknowledge that same creativity in the sport we all love.

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Who will ‘Lady Luck’ favour in Monaco?

24 May

It’s hard to believe it is a year since that dramatic race weekend on the streets of Monte Carlo in 2011, but the Formula 1 paddock has sailed back in to the principality for another spin of the roulette wheel.

Last year brought misfortune for a number of drivers, notably Sergio Perez with his massive crash during qualifying, while both Felipe Massa and Pastor Maldonado clashed with a frustrated Lewis Hamilton. Vitaly Petrov’s misfortune brought good fortune to Sebastian Vettel through the red flag his accident caused and the ‘free pass’ tyre change it gifted Seb and the other drivers on the grid.

Lady luck was certainly smiling on Sebastian Vettel in 2011 but who will she favour this year?

After 5 races with 5 different winning drivers and teams, many seem to believe that stretching this pattern to a sixth race would be a safe bet. If this is the case, Lotus and either Kimi Raïkonnën or Romain Grosjean could win big on Sunday. After Pastor Maldonado’s surprise victory for Williams in Spain many in the mid-field may now also be dreaming big and hoping their chance of a podium will come.

The other drivers in the thus-far successful teams will also be hoping their time has come – Mark Webber, Michael Schumacher, Lewis Hamilton are hungry for victory. Felipe Massa seems to have no answer to Alonso’s ability to squeeze everything out of the F2012, and Bruno Senna will desperately want to prove he is a match for his previously underestimated team-mate. Where better to do so than at the track his uncle excelled at?

With his 5 place grid-drop, the odds aren’t in Michael Schumacher’s favour and he appeared to be struggling with the tyres in the practice sessions today. After such poor luck so far this season I really hope good fortune comes his way.

Felipe Massa is undoubtedly more in need of luck than anyone else on the grid. The vultures are circling and the rumour mill is in overdrive. I really hope he can score some more points this weekend and keep the wolves away from his door but it may only be delaying the inevitable. Outpacing his team-mate today in FP2 may bring some minor consolation but with a decision on his future at Ferrari likely to be made in the next month, it could well be a make or break weekend for the Brazilian.

After only limited running in FP2 today due to the weather, it is still difficult to gauge exactly how the odds stack for each team and driver. As always we will only know for sure when each of the players shows their hand in qualifying on Saturday. Lotus, Grosjean in particular, appear to be favourites amongst the pundits, followed by McLaren. The weather may well determine the outcome with more showers forecast. Whatever happens though, this weekend promises to be an absolute cracker.

F1 Merchandising – Have The Teams Got It Right?

19 May

Like fans of any other sport, Formula 1 fans want to get their hands on official merchandising of the teams they support. Before the start of the season I decided to look at what teams released and when so that I could write about it here. I’ve never previously taken a look across all the teams in this way, and what I found surprised me to the extent that I questioned whether or not the teams in one of the most commercial sports in the world have got it right.

Timing of merchandise release

We’re now past race weekend 5 of 20 – a quarter of the way through the 2012 F1 season, and some teams have still not released their merchandising collections online through their websites. Those still in that category are Williams F1, Sahara Force India and HRT. The majority of teams had their merchandise available by the Malaysian race, although Mercedes (whom I was very impatiently waiting for) didn’t release theirs until mid-April.

With merchandising changing from one season to the next, the late timing of the releases does not represent good value for money for fans; F1 merchandising (like most sports) is not cheap. Why is it so late in some cases? It is hard to say for sure in each individual case, but waiting until sponsorship deals have been sealed can put production of the merchandising on hold. It is inevitable for the team that the income from the pending sponsor(s) will be worth more to the team than income from merchandising.

The contrast in timing of release of official F1 team ‘kit’ for supporters with football teams is striking. The 2011/12 football season is barely over, but the kit for 2012/13 season for many teams is either already available to buy or can at least be pre-ordered. Even those teams awaiting sponsorship deals to be agreed (or branding changes) are likely to release their kit in July, still ahead of the start of the season.

Price Comparison

The price of merchandising across F1 teams varies significantly. I took a look at the cost of a team replica ladies shirt for each team who has released merchandising to date. Replica kit is always more expensive than other ranges offered by teams so it should be noted that there are cheaper alternatives available. Here are the prices, in descending order:

Caterham £60

Mercedes £58.50

Lotus £53

Sauber (unisex) £52 (Conversion based on current £/€ exchange rate)

Red Bull £44.19 (Conversion based on current £/€ exchange rate)

Marussia £39.99

McLaren £39.95

Toro Rosso – no official shirt

Ferrari – not available online

This list shows a significant range in price across the teams. The McLaren shirt is a relative bargain(!) for one of the ‘big teams’ but is a t-shirt rather than a polo or shirt. By contrast the prices of the Mercedes and Caterham shirts are somewhat eyewatering.

Gender balance

Being a female F1 fan, I was particularly interested by the merchandising available to women. It was striking, and disappointing, that some teams only sell a fraction of items to women compared to the menswear range. If my twitter feed (@schuvettelainen) is anything to go by, the gender balance amongst F1 fans is pretty equal. Shots of the grandstands on race weekends also support this – there are always plenty of women at races.

Red Bull, Lotus, Marussia and McLaren all have full ranges for women, while Sauber’s official team line is unisex.  By comparison, Mercedes has 2 items (plus  a unisex jacket) for women compared to 11 for men.

Even more depressing is that some teams don’t even have menu filters for women on some parts of their website. The Ferrari store has a women’s section in their general range, but in the Scuderia section containing the F1 merchandise there are filters for men and kids, but not for women. It is possible to buy Ferrari women’s clothing in shops but it is really odd that it isn’t available online. (Interestingly in the Ferrari Scuderia section there is a filter for Fernando Alonso, but not for Felipe Massa – there is Felipe gear on there, but you have to trawl through everything to find it).

The Scuderia section of Ferrari’s online shop

Caterham have women’s team replica kit, but not a lifestyle range. I contacted their e-shop to ask why this was, and I was assured that the items are on their way (and that Caterham value their female fans as much as their male fans), but if they are able to produce men’s lifestyle products from the start, why not women’s?

The Caterham e-shop. See menu on left hand side.

With some teams having full lines for their female fans it seems that some recognise that women are massive F1 fans too, but others apparently haven’t got it right and have some way to go to catch up.

Accessories and other items

One thing all teams are good at is producing accessories and other assorted items. Here’s a selection of what is out there.

Red Bull have a massive range of items:

Seb Jigsaw (£10.41), Bandana (£9.61) and RB7 nosecone (£80,38) from the Red Bull Racing Shop

Mugs and USB sticks are a popular choice with teams. McLaren and Lotus have the nicest, although the Lotus USB is frankly extortionate.

Lotus USB stick (£40), Lotus mug (£14) and McLaren Tea-Lemetery Mug (£9.95)

Belts and notebooks are also popular choices. I like these ones from Caterham F1:

Caterham Belt (£24) and Leather Notebook (£18)

Have the teams got it right?

In some cases it seems the teams are spot on – a good choice for all, while others seem to have got it wrong (from a fan’s perspective) in terms of timing and/or gender inequality. I don’t know how teams plan their merchandising ranges, but they don’t seem to be drawing on consistent data. It will be interesting to see what the remaining teams offer when their collections are released.

Who Nose – Part 3

5 Mar

It’s almost a month to the day since I wrote the last ‘Who Nose’ article, and we have now finally seen all of the 2012 cars. The final score on the nose front is Ugly 10, Sloping 2. This final post will take a look at the Mercedes W03, the Williams FW34, the Marussia MR01 and the HRT F112, and conclude on some of the things we’ve learned through the pre-season winter tests.

The final four cars

Mercedes – easily the best of the final four, and with the most unusual nose design. The team appear to have really focussed on addressing their weaknesses in the W02, although winter testing showed that tyre degradation may still be an issue for the team. The W03 showed impressive reliability during testing which is giving them confidence ahead of the first race. With Ferrari having design issues, it is likely that Mercedes will be competing for 3rd place with the strong-looking Lotus.

Williams – things can only get better for the team after the poor running of the FW33. The car didn’t particularly stand out during winter testing but that is not necessarily a bad thing. Their two drivers seemed contented enough with the car and the team are taking good steps to reinvigorate themselves.

Marussia – after a series of issues with the development of their car which prevented them from running it during winter testing, Marussia finally unveiled the MR01 today at Silverstone. Both drivers got to put in some laps but only on demonstration tyres. Marussia join their technical tie-up partners, McLaren, in having a sloping nose, and you have to hope that they’ve been able to learn a lot from their colleagues at Woking. Without KERS, Marussia will be languishing at the back of the grid with HRT, and you have to wonder at this point whether they will be able to pass the 107% rule and participate in the Melbourne race.

HRT – the Spanish outfit also missed all of the winter tests, but have been in Barcelona today to launch the car and put in some laps on the demonstration tyres. The car looks extremely basic, and what we see now may not be their racing specification. One thing I have to credit the team with is the improved livery; the car looks nicely ‘retro’, though this of course won’t help the running of the car. As with Marussia, there is a chance that they won’t be able to race in Melbourne.

Testing wrap-up

F1 testing is a rather elaborate of poker, with no team willing to show their true hand. A few things to note are:

  • Red Bull, despite their issues on the final day, are looking extremely strong and clearly have developments in the pipeline to strengthen their hand. They are the team most likely to hold back as they can only slip backwards, so we may not see the RB8’s true potential until Q3 in Melbourne.
  • Kimi is back. He seemed very much at ease in the tests, and although it might take a few races to ‘get his groove on’, I doubt he’ll have lost his edge.
  • Ferrari are in trouble. The gagging of both drivers over the weekend was possibly the worst thing they could have done from a PR perspective, and at this rate they will be in 5th place at best.
  • Vitaly Petrov has settled in well to Caterham F1. The team are probably the most ‘open’ from a PR perspective, and he has received almost glowing reports from team bosses. This is a promising sign that we’ll get some good scraps between him and Heikki.

Now bring on the racing!!


Going for the Hat-Trick

3 Mar

The 2011 season left many F1 fans in fear that a new era of dominance by a single team and driver was dawning. After clinching his first world title in Abu Dhabi in 2010, Sebastian Vettel blazed his way through 2011 to claim his second in truly dominant fashion. The technical supremacy of Red Bull Racing in both seasons earned them back-to-back constructor’s titles.

As the 2012 season dawns I, like pretty much everyone, have been wondering how things will pan out this year, as well as pondering that eternal question of whether dominance from one driver or team is a good or bad thing.

The new season

As always, pre-season testing has been like an elaborate game of poker with none of the teams showing their true hands. The experts on location currently believe Red Bull have the edge, and this is likely to be extended by the major upgrade that the team are running for the final two days of the test. See here for details: http://www.autosport.com/news/report.php/id/97811 McLaren have also brought some significant upgrades to Barcelona, but not on the scale of Red Bull.

We won’t know how things really stand until Melbourne, but if a Red Bull is on pole position, particularly Sebastian Vettel, and then goes on to win the race, then many will resign themselves to another white-wash.

Team/Driver Dominance

Different people will perceive dominance from a driver or team in different ways. General consensus will always be that it is a bad thing; after all there will always be 11 other teams and 23 other drivers who are racing and they and their fans aren’t going to be too pleased about it.

Although there are twenty four cars on the starting grid and action throughout the pack during the race, attention is inevitably focussed on whoever wins the race. If this is where your attention is focussed then yes, dominance is never going to be a good thing unless you support whoever keeps winning. Personally speaking, I like to focus on the whole race and don’t mind a consistent winner as long as there has been some great action further back. I am a fan of racing, not of supporting a winner. Readers may be cynical about this given who two of my three favourite drivers are (i.e. Schumacher and Vettel), but I honestly take equal pleasure in watching Kovalainen fighting forward in to the mid-field.

I was interested to get some views from other Vettel fans about driver dominance and what they felt about Seb in 2012 and the future (many thanks to those who helped me out by completing a quick survey).

60% of those asked thought that dominance from a single driver was a bad thing. This is pretty much as I expected. Even if you like the driver who is winning, it is easy to see that other fans will become disillusioned, to the detriment of the sport.

I was also interested to find out who they would like to see win the WDC in 2012 if Vettel didn’t claim the title again. The Sebson ‘bromance’ clearly extends to Vettel fans, as Jenson Button was clear favourite. Although I’d love to see Schumi come through and win the title again, realistically speaking that is unlikely (even less likely for Heikki), and so Jenson would be my next choice. He’s a decent competitive guy with none of the nonsense associated with his team-mate.

It is likely that Vettel and an Adrian Newey-designed car could form a formidable pairing for years, and many of Vettel’s critics have claimed that his car should be credited with his success. It is inevitable that having the best car on the grid is going to  be a significant factor, but claims like this do Vettel a real disservice. My final question for Vettel fans was whether or not he should seek to stay at Red Bull beyond his current contract (which runs until the end of 2014). Responses were split on this – some would like to see him stay and succeed, while others want him to prove his talent by driving another car. It is good for drivers to race for at least two teams in their career, and the 2015 season would be a sensible point for Vettel to seek pastures new, as long as the set up is right. I don’t think McLaren would suit him, but if Ferrari don’t improve their form then there’s little incentive to move.

Final thoughts

Whatever happens in 2012, I think we’re in for a cracker of a season throughout the length of the grid. If Vettel and Red Bull do dominate I hope that disenchanted F1 fans will take a look further down the grid and appreciate all the great action happening back there.

I’d like to close this article by setting out my stall for 2012. In 2011 I focussed mainly on Vettel, proudly waving my pointy finger whenever he won, but my focus this year will be on Schumacher and Kovalainen. Both are likely to have great stories and great battles.