It’s astonishing that Infiniti Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner proposed after the season-opening Australian GP that FIA implement an “equalisation” mechanism to erase Mercedes AMG’s performance advantage. Horner predicted at the time — as did many in the wake of the German team’s record-breaking 2014 — that “we are set for a two-horse race at every Grand Prix this season.” While he’s right that the rules makers, namely John Todt at FIA and FI impresario Bernie Ecclestone, were gunning for Red Bull during the team’s four-year Constructors Championship run, the idea still smacks of parochialism and petulance.
“When we were winning, and we were never winning to the advantage that they have, I remember that double diffusers were banned, exhausts were moved, flexible bodywork was prohibited, engine mapping mid-season was changed… anything was done, and that wasn’t just unique to Red Bull but Williams in previous years and McLaren etc. Is it healthy to have this situation? The FIA, within the rules, have an equalisation mechanism and I think it is perhaps something we need to look at.”
Bernie concurred with Horner, saying Red Bull is “absolutely 100% right” and the FIA should tweak the F1 technical regulations to “level things up a little bit.” Yet even defending World Champion Lewis Hamilton — himself also well known to be cranky when losing — found the equalisation idea ironic and silly.
“[Mercedes] hadn’t had the success of other teams and not once did this team complain in order to equalise things, they just worked their arses off. Joining that team and making that progress, now we are the best team, we have pulled together and done an amazing job.
“It is not just me here, there are 1,000 people back at the two factories working day and night to build the best car. And we have done that with the same rules and resources as the other teams have had. I am very proud of that.”— Lewis Hamilton —
As I wrote here in 2012, Ecclestone is a pessimist. The basic problem with Horner’s proposal is that it flies in the face of Formula One’s traditions, the sport’s soul of technical innovation built into the requirement that teams actually build their own cars. There have always been periods when certain teams or drivers dominated Grand Prix racing. Fangio in the late 1950s, Clark and Lotus in the mid-1960s, Prost, Senna and McLaren in the late 1980s, Williams for a 1990s stretch then Schumacher and Ferrari in the 2000s. Whether a consequence of technical excellence, driving prowess or basic team execution, F1 “dynasties” come and go with stunning regularity. It’s fascinating to watch, even if one is a fan of another team or driver. Ecclestone the Pessimist | Formula One Art & Genius.
Now F1 is passing through another of these periods — which in light of the epic tension at Sunday’s Malaysian Grand Prix, may be short-lived — as Red Bull Racing suffered power deficits with its Renault turbo hybrid engines and gave way to a dominant Mercedes team in 2014. But wasn’t it just a few seasons ago (2012) that each of the first seven GPs of the year was won by a different driver? How soon dynasties-turned-backmarkers forget. Sebastian Vettel’s exciting and unexpected win for Ferrari has already changed the dynamics. Mercedes’ Toto Wolff sucked it up, calling the team’s loss a wake-up call.
Horner later agreed the result was “healthy” for Formula 1 and that equalisation is not “fundamentally right” for the sport. He complimented the Scuderia’s victory, noting that “Sebastian drove an incredible race…hopefully we will give them a harder time soon.” So there may be hope for Mr. Horner yet.
This is, of course, just politics and in-fighting as usual within the Formula One circus. Meaning hundreds of millions of dollars on the line per team. Others thus used the controversy to point out that Red Bull’s horsepower problem is somewhat a creature of its own making, sauce for the gander so to speak.
The body language in the FIA team press conference in Malaysia spoke just as loudly as some of the words. The positioning of Christian Horner (arms folded) alongside Renault Sport F1’s Cyril Abiteboul (arms folded) told of the frisson between their respective companies and the anticipated discomfort under the spotlight. But judging by Horner’s squirming in his seat later on, one thing the Red Bull boss did not expect was a shower of criticism coming over his right shoulder from the direction of Force India’s deputy team principal Bob Fernley.
When Red Bull was riding high, Horner and company refused to share more of F1’s money with the smaller teams and cut their own deal with Bernie Ecclestone and F1 owners CVC Capital Partners in 2011. Fernley said Red Bull’s side deal — and resulting departure from FOTA — was “where I think the problems started” for F1. Since then, another two teams have disappeared entirely from the paddock (Australia witnessed the smallest starting grid for a season-opening Grand Prix since 1958) and a third, Manor, came close to dropping out of F1 over the winter.
“I think that a few years ago we had FOTA operating in a very good way. It was a consolidated approach, it was well stewarded by (then McLaren team principal) Martin Whitmarsh, we were in joint negotiations with CVC at the time to obviously renegotiate those contracts and everything else. Unfortunately, and I say that because obviously Christian is here, Red Bull felt the need to take the forty pieces of silver. And that was the downside, I think, for Formula One, and I don’t think we’ve recovered from that particular action.”— Bob Fernley —
It’s also true that over the years many F1 teams have come and gone. Ecclestone himself got into the sport (after a stint as agent for Jochen Rindt) when he bought the legendary Brabham team from three-time World Champion Sir “Jack Black” in 1972, and constructors the likes of Cooper, March, Tyrrell, Porsche, Penske, Jaguar, Stewart, Renault, Toyota and many others all failed to sustain their Formula One existences. That’s been true all the way back to Alfa Roméo, which won the first two F1 World Championship in 1950 and 1951. So the problems Force India sees with today’s Formula One have been part of the fabric of the sport forever, even before costs began to spiral our of control in recent decades
And it goes on….