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GP Week : Issue 182
Haters gonna hate. It’s probably a motto that Red Bull Racing has learned to embrace owing to their successive World Drivers’ and Constructors’ Titles. Such ascendancy inevitably attracts the attention of the jaundiced eye and in so doing renders the object of its gaze all the more canny, calculated and cagey. Whether we like it or not, success changes us. Even Fernando Alonso – once quick with a card trick or game of garage football – has resolved into a more hard- boiled version of his former pre-World Champion self; likely germinating from his troubled McLaren tenure. But Formula One teams are a different beast entirely and the growing pains of success have embossed themselves markedly on both Red Bull and McLaren, albeit in divergent forms... Red Bull Racing started out as a funky, 'party' team, but with continued success, has become more autogenous. The days of semi-naked pool displays and obtaining a soundbite from Vitantonio Luizzi bemoaning bans on cockpit frippery, have been replaced by flexible wing protests, Resource Restriction debates and inter- team rivalries. Once the kings of misdirected endeavour, the Milton Keynes team have stopped pondering what crustacean sauce to serve at lunch and started manoeuvring themselves into positions of considerable power – both in terms of favourable deals with the sport’s commercial rights holder and the perception of exercising the unofficial whip-hand amongst the paddock. Such progress has certainly caught the attention of Ferrari – once viewed in the same cautious light – and forged an obligatory union between the two teams; as seen in their FOTA (Formula One Teams Association) defection. It’s not hard to see how this apparent partisanship would irk Red Bull’s rivals, especially when Ecclestone consistently reminds the teams it was he who made them rich whenever they show signs of wanting a larger slice of revenue. Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner is quick to temper such apprehension by playing the jealousy card; appealing to Autosport: “There are teams that have struggled to win constructors' world championships that have been around for a long, long time, and that inevitably doesn't sit well.” McLaren, on the other hand, have slowly become more accessible over the past few years, partly due to the arrival of the unflappable Jenson Button and more notably with Martin Whitmarsh at the helm as team principal. Whitmarsh in particular has been instrumental in rescuing the remnants of FOTA after the departure of Red Bull and Ferrari and more often than not, works in the interests of the sport and its oft-neglected audience. But make no mistake, McLaren themselves have been on the receiving end of some stinging retribution over the years. When Ken Tyrrell, Frank Williams and Ron Dennis (then McLaren team principal) sought to sue Bernie Ecclestone over his acquisition of Formula One’s commercial rights in 1998, they ultimately lost, but the suit was not soon forgotten by Ecclestone’s confidante and then-president of the FIA, Max Mosley. A finely-honed political animal if ever there was one, Mosley seized upon McLaren’s ‘Spygate’ indiscretion in 2007 by imposing a draconian fine of $100 million. In Tom Bower’s recent book on Bernie Ecclestone, Mosley is quoted as joking that the fine bestowed upon McLaren was “$5 million for the offence and $95 million for Ron being a twat.” In the years that followed, McLaren were wary of being outspoken, accepting what many thought were disputable penalties. Most prominent of these was the stewards’ decision to strip McLaren driver Lewis Hamilton’s 2008 Spa win for “cutting the chicane” whilst passing Kimi Raikkonen. The penalty was issued despite Hamilton having allowed the Finn to retake the position – telemetry evidence even suggested that Hamilton had not only crossed the finish line after Raikkonen, but that he was also travelling 6.7 km/h slower at the time. McLaren has undergone numerous changes in that time, with Dennis moving his focus to the company’s automotive arm and Whitmarsh taking over as team principal. The change in management has been mirrored by a change in media approach. Gently nudged by a need to satisfy sponsor – sorry, ‘partner’ – obligations in an increasingly dwindling economy, McLaren ventured into an experiment with Vodafone; producing commercials that featured Lewis and Jenson driving taxis, going camping and assembling their own race cars. The campaign was not only a hit, but exposed a warmer side of McLaren that had been buried beneath an uncompromising desire to succeed. 13 GPWEEK.com // 13 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: F1 >>> FEATURE