With four teams down, seven to go, we’re acutely aware that our half term reports have been universally downbeat, curmudgeonly even. Ferrari, Marussia, Force India and Williams have not mustered better than a B Minus between them. So to Red Bull today, just to show we haven’t lost the love for F1, and to shine some light onto the thinking behind that first batch of disappointing grades.
Because you just can’t take the blame away from the underperforming teams just as long as Red Bull keeps doing what Red Bull does. Although only Ferrari and McLaren and the (mercifully) competitive 2013 Mercedes team are in the same game budget wise, it is nonetheless not just about the money. If it was, then McLaren would not be in the midfield.
Red Bull do it differently. It is impossible to understate how important Adrian Newey is to Red Bull, as he was to McLaren, and as he was to Williams, neither of which have enjoyed such consistent success since someone in the HR departments made the mistake of thinking he wasn’t worth the money. But it can’t all be about Newey, can it? After all, it’s not just the design and engineering departments that thrive at Red Bull; at the circuit they are still the best race team.
But they remain a difficult team to like, for some. The aggressive promotion, the zeitgiesty X-games stuff, it doesn’t quite chime, nor does the presence of a car brand on the RB9’s bodywork. Does anyone really believe Nissan’s upmarket brand contributes much more than dollars to the team’s resources?
Then of course there is Sebastian Vettel. With his love of Monty Python, the stick-on moustaches and his constant struggle to find a decent haircut, he is so very likable, ja? Well, after Malaysia, that’s been debated across many a forum. I steer you towards the crescendo of boos from the Silverstone grandstands when the RB9’s gearbox broke on route to another win (it would have been five out of ten this year otherwise). His PR cause has stalled, for now at least. As long as the extremely likable Mark Webber is in the other car, Vettel will always be the bad guy to some.
But with four wins, and three poles included in his tally of six front row starts, he is definitely starting to look unbeatable. Remember, he has had to come from behind in two of his three championship runs, and that might be significant. Defending is a different kind of pressure than the do-or-don’t finish kind of pressure than comes with attacking. We know he likes things his way, or at least we do after Malaysia, so how will he cope if Lewis Hamilton and the Mercedes W04 really are as on it as they appear to be? The fourth title could be the making of him in the eyes of those who still consider him to be a ‘right place, right team, right car’ kind of champion (which he isn’t, not after those drives at the end of last season).
Mark Webber speaks like a guy who is comfortable in his own skin, and it’s always hard not to admire a guy who can get out while he’s still on top. I somehow doubt he’s as at one with himself as the banter suggests. He’s good, extremely good, but whether you believe in making your own luck or not, you can’t believe he in any way feels he’s achieved all he could have done and part of the reason for that is Sebastian Vettel. Small wonder he’s chosen to change codes entirely.
Half term grades
Red Bull: A plus
Vettel: A minus