The Formula 1 soap opera

PHUKET: In the lead up to Shanghai, Formula 1 is full of questions. Can McLaren possibly get it together? The news says “no”, but I think they could surprise us. We are all hoping that Force India will be a force to reckon with, after they sort out the problem with their nuts. Lotus will be intending to get back to form, and Kimi Räikkönen will be looking for a podium finish.

Ferrari team news has been focussed on the relationship between Alonso and Massa, but we should expect a professional performance from the ‘Prancing Horse’. In other news, Ferrari’s special position in F1 has been revealed in the IPO Prospectus. Ferrari may veto any regulations agreed by the FIA. Ferrari, McLaren and Red Bull all get bonuses from F1. Ferrari’s guaranteed pay-out each race is equivalent to Malrussia’s entire annual budget, and Ferrari’s Chairman has an option to a stake in the new F1.

But buzz is still being generated by Red Bull. When Sebastian Vettel scornfully ignored team orders and riskily overtook his teammate Mark Webber, and when the Team Principal did not order him to surrender the place, several hares started running, and numerous coursing hounds gave chase.

First they were enemies; then they made-up; Mark is leaving; Mark is staying; Red Bull is considering Kimi Räikkönen.The messages are confusing.

Red Bull has a stated aim to make F1 ‘fun’ again. Their satirical magazine released four times per race weekend is distributed from behind the grandstand at each track. In the 2005 Monaco Grand Prix, the pit crew dressed as Stormtroopers.

In 2006, David Coulthard donned a Superman cape for the podium, and Christian Horner jumped into a swimming pool wearing nothing but that cape. Until someone retires and “tells all”, we will never know the facts, but to the outside observer, Red Bull is looking like an entertaining soap opera. So here is the cast of my soap “Milton Keynes” (It does not sound as catchy as Dallas, but never mind):

As the ‘reclusive billionaire patriarch’: Austrian team owner Dietrich Mateschitz, tycoon and sports team owner. Mateschitz watches F1 on TV despite owning two teams, and listens to those he trusts. Like all family businesses, in Red Bull, anyone’s real place in the team is defined not by his position in the organization chart, but by his influence with the patriarch.

As the ‘diplomatic leader’: British Team Principal Christian Horner, talented enough to win a Formula Renault scholarship. He finished the 1992 British Formula Renault Championship as the highest placed rookie. In 2005, Red Bull brought Horner to F1, as the youngest team principal at the time. He is a diplomatic ego smoother, a much needed skill in Red Bull.

As the ‘éminence grise’: Team Advisor, Austrian Helmut Marko. During the 1972 French GP he was blinded in one eye, ending his driving career. He owns hotels and was manager for Gerhard Berger, another friend of the patriarch, before setting up the Red Bull Junior Team.

Since 1999, he has overseen the Red Bull driver development program, which nurtured Sebastian Vettel. Since 2005, he has been advisor to the Red Bull Team, is a great Vettel supporter and has Mateschitz’s ear.

As the ‘brains’: Chief Technical Officer, genius Briton, Adrian Newey. From 1992-1998, a Newey designed Williams or McLaren won every Constructor’s Championship. Since 2010 he has consistently won again, for Red Bull. He is one of the most important men in F1.

As the ‘spoilt twin’: Driver, German Sebastian Vettel, with the worst haircuts in F1. By first urging management to order Webber aside and then flaunting team orders, he demonstrated power in Red Bull. But Vettel needs a teammate on the track to help him win, and maybe he lost that when he started to believe his own PR handouts.

As the ‘unloved efficient twin’: Driver, dour and dapper, Australian Mark Webber, who’s now at war with his younger twin.

As ‘the sharks’: all the other teams who fancy seducing Mark Webber to their team, or at least undermining Red Bull’s success.

As the ‘mercurial commentator’: combative and controversial octogenarian Bernie Ecclestone, who delights in spectacles of avarice. It was apparently Bernie who suggested Mercedes as a new home to Lewis Hamilton.

As ‘the troublemaker’: Webber’s manager, flamboyant Italian Flavio Briatore, who started as an insurance salesman, was convicted in Italy on fraud charges, which were later extinguished by an amnesty. He created several successful Benetton franchises as a fugitive in the Virgin Islands and the USA.

In 1990, he became manager of Benetton F1, which morphed into Renault F1 in 2002. The driver of his wedding car was Fernando Alonso. Briatore was forced to resign from the Renault team because of the 2008 Singapore GP race fixing scandal. He was banned indefinitely from any events sanctioned by the FIA, but got this ban overturned by the French courts. He is constantly attacked in the media, and makes for delicious quotes.

As the ‘glamor interests’: wives and girlfriends of the principal actors, many successful celebrities in their own right.

As the ‘media interest’: 18-year-old Dutch driver Beitske Visser, the first woman to join Red Bull’s Junior Team.

The plot can roll; lights, camera, action!

Qualifying for the Chinese Grand Prix starts at 1pm on Saturday, and the race starts at 2pm on Sunday. Watch both with me at Phuket’s Green Man, Chalong (click here for map)!

— The Digby

Phuket News

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