Tag Archives: Red Bull

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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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.

Storm Clouds Are Gathering

22 Mar

The Formula 1 season has barely begun, but it already feels like it’s never been away. As race 2, Malaysia, rapidly approaches, tensions appear to be increasing, and I’m not just talking about the stormy weather forecast for the weekend. Here’s my look at what has been bubbling up over the last few days, as well as a look ahead to the weekend.

Inter-team bickering

A new season always brings new technical developments, and an inevitable knock-on effect of that is disputes between teams about who may be breaking FIA rules or breaching informal agreements between teams. Red Bull and Mercedes are currently engaged in a spat about the respective legality of their Renault engine behaviour and the  Mercedes ‘Super F-Duct’. The FIA has ruled that both are legal, and since Ferrari aren’t involved in the dispute those rulings are likely to stay in place (ooo handbag!). I hope this dispute doesn’t rumble on all season as it can get incredibly tedious.

A ruling in the long-running intellectual property theft case between Sahara Force India and Caterham F1 and Aerolab has also emerged today. If you’re not familiar with the case, Force India accused Aerolab, a wind tunnel supplier, of copying the F1 team’s design in the development of the Team Lotus T127. Legal proceedings were also launched against Mike Gascoyne (Caterham F1’s then-Chief Technical Officer) and the team. The ruling conceded some intellectual property ‘theft’ on the part of Aerolab and awarded Force India 25,000 Euros in damages. However, much more significantly, the High Court ruled in favour of Aerolab with regards to £4 million of unpaid legal costs; a bill which Force India really could do without right now with the near-collapse of Vijay Mallya’s Kingfisher Airlines.

Drivers

After their performances in Melbourne, all eyes are on Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa and for once this is due to unrelated events.

Lewis Hamilton’s disappointment at coming third in Melbourne was plain to see last Sunday as he stood stony-faced on the podium and then spoke through gritted teeth during the post-race official press conference. After such a tumultuous season in 2011, the media are desperately looking for any sign that Lewis hasn’t got over all of his ‘issues’ from last year. Whether he has or not, Lewis really needs to learn some good sportsmanship and appear graceful in defeat. In his Telegraph column this week, David Coulthard pondered whether Jenson Button’s seemingly easy success in Melbourne has knocked Lewis’s confidence. I think there is little doubt that it has knocked him, and if Lewis can’t strike back with a strong victory in the first few races then his frustrations may re-emerge on the track.

Felipe Massa did not fare well in Melbourne, and an unusually worded press release from the Ferrari team about his new chassis has ignited speculation about whether he will still be driving for them all season: “Felipe knows he can count on the team to do everything, both from the technical and the operational point of view, to put him in a better state to show off his talents – even at the cost of extra work in these few days that separate the Australian race from the one in Malaysia. For example work has already begun in the Sepang pits to prepare chassis number 294, which replaces the number 293 and will be used by the Brazilian in the second race of the season. This choice was taken to clear up any doubts about the unusual performance of his car during the weekend at Albert Park” (from http://www.ferrari.com). A number of drivers have been linked with Massa’s seat, including Sauber driver Sergio Perez and currently unemployed Jarno Trulli. Ferrari and Massa have been quick to dismiss these rumours but they have a habit of not going away. If Massa doesn’t improve his performance on track then this will only continue to distract all parties.

F1 this weekend

Melbourne saw all cards get thrown up in the air, and it still isn’t clear exactly how things compare between some of the teams. Mercedes and Lotus both clearly have very strong cars, but they were hindered by problems over the weekend. Hopefully the race at Sepang will bring both teams more luck and we’ll see what they’re really capable of.

The mid-field appears to be a tightly bunched pack and we should see some fierce battles for points.  Williams, in particular, appear to have turned themselves around, and I really hope to see them do well and score the points they so narrowly missed out on in Melbourne.

At the back of the pack, Caterham will be seeking to show what they can really do after some bad luck in Australia. Heikki Kovalainen will be hindered by a 5 place grid penalty, but he should be able to push forward through the field. Whether he will need to negotiate the mobile chicanes of the HRT cars won’t be known until after qualifying – will they be able to pass the 107% rule?

The greatest unknown in all of this though is the weather. Stormy weather is forecast which would inevitably complicate things further. If the race is wet I’d expect Button and Schumacher to do well, given their particular skills in the rain.

Other action this weekend

The GP2 season kicks off in Malaysia, and after only occasionally dipping in to coverage in previous years, I’m looking forward to getting to know this formula a lot better in the coming year. Coverage on Sky will, of course, help this rather than somewhat erratic coverage on Eurosport last year.

Also starting this weekend is the Indy Car season. The first race from St Pete’s is being broadcast on Sky Sports F1, and I’m looking forward to getting in to it again. I’m sure interest will be higher amongst F1 fans this year, with Rubens Barrichello competing, and it’ll be great to see him getting his teeth in to the races. I also can’t wait to see Dario Franchitti back in action.

Some Reflective Moments

There’ll also be a real sense of poignancy races on both sides of the globe this weekend.

It is the first Indy Car race since the tragic loss of Dan Wheldon, and this street circuit takes place in his adopted home town. Dan’s sister Holly will be waving the green flag, as well as presenting the winner’s trophy. A street on the track has also recently been dedicated as ‘Dan Wheldon Way’.

Back in Malaysia, the scene of the equally tragic loss of Moto GP rider Marco Simoncelli, drivers and teams have been visiting T11 where Marco lost his life, and pausing to remember their friend. Fernando Alonso’s comments about being in Sepang this weekend and remembering Marco have been particularly touching.

 

This will be a weekend packed full of racing action; bring it on.

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.

Fan Focus – Team Sponsorship

12 Feb

One of the things that really interests me about F1 is the connection between teams and fans. Over the next few weeks I’ll be doing a series of ‘Fan Focus’ articles which will look at the different ways in which teams connect with or appeal to F1 fans.

This first article will look specifically at team sponsorship. After a winter break which has been dominated by talk of ‘pay drivers’ and the sponsors they bring to a team, I have been giving thought to what sponsorship means to us fans who are, theoretically, the end-targets of the high speed billboards that we love watching so much. But what does sponsorship really mean to fans these days? Is it always aimed at us, and do we even care who sponsors teams and drivers?

I recently ran a brief fan survey on twitter about sponsorship, the outcomes of which will be outlined here (many thanks to those who completed the survey for me).

Team and driver sponsorship

One of the questions I asked fans was whether they considered themselves a supporter of a team or a driver or both. Only 10% considered themselves a team supporter as opposed to a driver or a driver and team supporter. As drivers tend to move between teams several times during their career, our exposure to sponsors associated with our favourite drivers will inevitably change over time.

57% of those who responded didn’t feel that they were influenced by sponsorship of teams and drivers. This response felt about right to me, as many aren’t influenced by branding. Conversely though, the same proportion of people felt influenced by advertisements featuring an F1 driver. Seeing a particular product being advertised by a driver will get a better response than just a brand name on the side of a car. Mind you, given the quality of some adverts featuring F1 drivers recently (here’s looking at you Jenson Button) you have to wonder…

I also decided to ask fans whether sponsorship of teams (and their drivers) that they *didn’t* like had any negative effect on them. For every driver that we like, there’s usually at least one that we dislike equally strongly. I have to confess that I do get put off by sponsorship of a team I’m “less keen” on. Over a quarter of you agreed with me on that – glad I’m not alone!

Accessibility of sponsors

With some ‘pay drivers’ bringing big company sponsorship, or even national funding (Pastor Maldonado will you please stand up), I was starting to feel like some of the names appearing on the cars were completely unreachable to me. 37% of people who responded to the survey felt that companies sponsoring teams were irrelevant or unaffordable to them. Even in a time of economic difficulty that is quite a high number.

It was interesting to see some of the new brand names on the Lotus F1 team after they formed a partnership with mega-corporation Unilever. They have a huge number of household brand names which are accessible to fans, and have opted to put on two brands which relate to performance and endurance – Clear Anti-Dandruff shampoo and Rexona (the global name for Sure Deodorant). If Unilever are getting in on the act then others may possibly follow.

Team approaches to sponsorship

Different teams inevitably have different approaches to sponsorship. Those who are privately funded or who are at least very successful attract a lot of sponsors and can afford to create a branding ethos or philosophy with their “partners”. If you haven’t read it before, Red Bull’s page about their partners shows how a big, financially strong team can approach its sponsorship: http://www.redbullracing.com/cs/Satellite/en_INT/Red-Bull-Racing-Partners/001242811070589 Most of Red Bull’s sponsors are “reachable” to fans in one country or another (inevitably not everything is available everywhere e.g. it is very hard to get Rauch Juices in the UK).

Other financially strong teams like McLaren, Mercedes GP and Caterham F1 also have pages outlining their partners and describe how they work together.

By contrast, a team like Williams F1 who are clearly a little strapped for cash (two heavily sponsored drivers) have a page aimed at their investors (including a share price) and just a flicking ticker of sponsors across the bottom of the page. The brands associated with them are more about what the drivers can bring rather than creating an ethos or a philosophy. If they’re lucky it’ll be a brand name which connects with fans, but teams who need money will take cash from whoever is prepared to stump up the cash that they need. Keeping your place on the grid has to be a priority before developing an ethos to appeal to fans.

Other thoughts

The nature of F1 sponsorship was changed radically by the tobacco advertising ban. Before that, F1 sponsorship was heavily dominated by tobacco companies. Almost every team had a major tobacco sponsor. Tobacco advertising, whatever your views on smoking, was aimed at individual fans and since the ban was brought in teams have had to seek out sponsors in different industries. Some have had to ‘go big’ and look for larger companies e.g. telecoms to support them, while others can support themselves and aim for brands which are more in touch with fans. Only 17% responded that they felt sponsorship was less targeted at fans since the tobacco ban was brought in, so teams have managed to stay in touch with fans fairly successfully.

One off-putting thing for me as a fan is too much sponsorship from one brand. The worst offender right now is probably Santander. They sponsor two of the top four teams (McLaren and Ferrari), as well as a significant proportion of the races. I really dislike that so many trophies are now in the shape of their logo. I wouldn’t bank with them anyway because of the financial issues they’ve had recently, but I’d certainly be otherwise put off by seeing their logo everywhere at races. Everyone is different though, and it clearly wins them customers otherwise they wouldn’t sponsor races.

Whatever your view on sponsorship in F1, whether you resent it or feel inspired by it, it is an integral part of the sport we love. Global sports are nothing without their fans though, and there’s a risk that teams will lose sight of that when it comes to their finances. Having said that, what interests us die-hard fans most is the racing; I’m not sure we really care what logos happen to appear on the cars as long as they are there on the track.

Do let me know your thoughts using the comments feature below.

Who Nose – Part 2

6 Feb

Within just over 24 hours we’ve seen a further four Formula 1 teams launch their 2012 cars – Lotus, Sauber, Red Bull and Toro Rosso.

The nose debate rages on

It was inevitable that the main focus for these launches would be the style of nose chosen by each team, particularly for the hotly anticipated RB8. All four teams launching yesterday and today have a stepped nose of one form or another, bringing the step v slope score to 7-1.

The RB8 shows the most innovative design, with a duct set in to the step. It is not clear where the air from this duct will travel to within the car, but it goes without saying it is for something more important than keeping the drivers’ toes cool while out on the track. There is also a ‘fin’ on the top of the step which will help direct air flow. Interestingly the Toro Rosso also has this feature (albeit on a smaller scale). The F1 press following the launch have been frustrated by the lack of close up images of the RB8, but the start of testing tomorrow in Jerez will give everyone a closer look.

The Toro Rosso STR7 and the Lotus E20 both feature concave steps in their noses, and this style is certainly emerging as the more elegant approach for stepped noses. The Sauber C31 features the same ‘blockier’ step as the Ferrari. A relatively plain livery for the Sauber hasn’t help to ease the ‘ugliness’ of the C31, which sadly for them was one of the main talking points about their car today. Now that more cars have been unveiled it is clear that a stylish livery on the car is a great way to ease the visual impact of the step, but as I said last time, speed is far more important than style.

So what else have we learnt in the last couple of days?

Firstly, we’ve learnt that online launches don’t always go to plan. The Lotus F1 website did not cope well yesterday with the volume of traffic hitting the site to see their pre-recorded video. We’ve also learned about  a couple of new sponsors for Lotus. However they fare on the track, we can now rest assured that neither Kimi or Romain will suffer from B.O. or dandruff.

Sauber were on the defensive, not only about their basic livery, but also about the departure of technical director James Key. The relationship ‘wasn’t working’, and the team have confirmed that he won’t be replaced.

Red Bull’s website fared much better with the volume of traffic, and their launch video for the car was cleverly designed to show off the lines of the car and the logos of their sponsors. Whoever created the video for them deserves some kudos. Interviews with key personnel including the drivers and Adrian Newey followed. All were predictably cautious about how the RB8 will fare against its competitors.

Toro Rosso, like Sauber, went for a traditional unveiling at the Jerez track, and it was clear to see the enthusiasm of their two new drivers. Both Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne had mega-watt smiles as their new car was unveiled.

Looking ahead

We’re now left to wait to see the Williams, HRT, Marussia and Mercedes cars over the coming days and weeks. The Mercedes will be the most interesting of these and sadly we have to wait until 21 February for their car launch. The Marussia is the only remaining car currently tipped to have a sloped nose like the McLaren.

Many are also now wondering whether McLaren are on to a winner with their sloped nose, or have missed a trick (or worse, are on the back foot). Time will tell on this one. Interestingly, McLaren have also confirmed that they had plastic covers over their exhausts during the launch of the MP4-27 last week in order to conceal the design underneath. McLaren are playing an interesting game, but whether it is a game of catch-up or a game of risk we don’t yet know. Will they win or lose?