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GP Week : Issue 182
F1 >>> FEATURE Keen to use digital media as more than just a cynical marketing strategy, McLaren went one step further by producing their own animated series, Tooned, in partnership with digital image wizards Framestore. After a slightly clunky start, the series soon hit its stride, even going as far to lampoon Ron Dennis and send-up the departure of Lewis Hamilton – featuring a surreptitious cameo from in-coming driver Sergio Perez. On the flip-side, Red Bull’s original daily Formula One magazine the Red Bulletin (produced at the track), has gone from being the daily roast in the Formula One paddock to simply an instrument to promote Red Bull- bankrolled artists, athletes and musicians. Despite the publication’s self-proclaimed “inimitably witty, intelligent and pithy style” , the sense of fun and irreverence had disappeared. In a recent issue, the Red Bulletin published an inter view with Red Bull Driver Development boss Helmut Marko, in which the Austrian was heavily critical of Mark Webber, Marko going as far to question the Australian’s resourcefulness under pressure. Much has been written of Marko’s influence at Red Bull and of his obvious support for Vettel, and it need not be repeated. But whether by switching out new parts at the last moment, or favouring one driver over the other when it comes to strategy, it is clear that the Red Bull pit wall has not been averse to team orders, whether of the overt ‘Multi 21’ variety or of a more covert sort. The last time McLaren were accused of favouring one driver over another was Monaco 2007. Given the serpentine track’s penchant for Safety Cars, McLaren were forced to split their strategy and fuel Lewis Hamilton heavier than Fernando Alonso. As it happened, the unusual lack of a Safety Car ended Hamilton’s challenge for victory, but under the sceptical gaze of the Mosley-era (and illegality of team-orders), questions about favouritism inevitably surfaced. At the penultimate round in China, Hamilton lost an opportunity to seal the championship by staying out too long on ageing intermediates, sliding into the pit-entry gravel trap and handing Raikkonen victory and Alonso a handy second place. In explaining the team’s decision to leave Hamilton out, Ron Dennis gave conspiracy theorists all the ammunition they wanted, saying, “we were not racing Raikkonen, we were racing Alonso.” Since that tumultuous season, McLaren have shown remarkable loyalty to both their drivers, and it has been argued that the team’s tendency to let their drivers race has cost them both drivers’ and constructors’ championships. While true, McLaren’s modus operandi of allowing their drivers to race has upheld the integrity of the sport amidst a backdrop of polemics, in-fighting and tyre disputes. Sergio Perez’s wheel-banging antics three weeks ago in Bahrain may have ruffled Jenson Button’s feathers at first, but the incident was handled with the kind of maturity we’ve come to expect from both Jenson and the management at Woking; Whitmarsh shrewdly praising Jenson in the face of journalists hungry for an inter-team squabble scoop. “Jenson knows his team-mate has been under the hammer,” Whitmarsh said after the race at Sakhir. “Perez is young, he has had a bit of pressure, he has something to learn and he had a point to prove. That is the good thing about Jenson. He can stand back and be reflective in a way that you cannot when you are hot and sticky after just stepping out of the cockpit.” A refreshing take and a far cry from the grey image we’ve become accustomed to associating with McLaren – certainly more effective than a tacky post-race kiss-and- make-up photo call. Mercantile constraints, self-reflection and a desire to bolster audience figures might have played a part in McLaren’s reincarnation, but they are to be applauded for it all the same. Red Bull may have injected more cash into Formula One than any other team since their entry nine years ago, but you have to wonder how that has benefitted their sporting image, as opposed to their bottom line. 14 GPWEEK.com // 14 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: