Friday, June 11, 2010

Red Bull faces biggest challenge yet in Canada

It is two years since the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal last hosted a Formula One Grand Prix.
Welcome back, to a race seemingly always packed with drama and incident.
This weekend the initial focus of attention will be less on the cars, but on the body language of the Red Bull Racing drivers. Quite simply after the “Istan-Bulls-Up”, the team faces the biggest challenge of its five year history.
Their car is the class of the field — a Red Bull has been on the front row of the starting grid for every Grand Prix this season — and their two drivers are proven race-winners and championship contenders.

Yet if their run of success is to continue, they need to reassert discipline across the entire team.
The debates will rage for months over Webber and Vettel’s respective actions. But the outbursts by Red Bull Racing driver development manager Dr. Helmut Markko inflamed rather than defused the pressures in the Istanbul paddock and undermined the authority of team principal Christian Horner.
That Markko blamed Webber for the incident and took sides with Vettel isn’t too surprising. Markko was the man who “discovered” Vettel and with the aid of Red Bull funding, assisted him into Formula One.

Frankly, having supervised the spending of millions of dollars of Red Bull money on funding a series of young drivers who largely failed to make it at the top level, Vettel’s success has probably kept Markko in a job. The term “meal ticket” springs to mind.
Markko’s comments demonstrate the most dangerous fall-out that could come from the Istanbul incident; the creation of factions within the team. Remember Alonso and Hamilton at McLaren in 2007? Their animosity created a rift which tore the team apart.

It could, heaven forbid, be even be worse. The name of the circuit which hosts this weekend’s Canadian Grand Prix reminds us of a chilling warning from history.
In 1982 Gilles Villeneuve felt that team-mate Didier Pironi had tricked him out of victory by reneging on a pre-race agreement and diving past as he was cruising to a Ferrari 1-2 in the San Marino Grand Prix.

The Ferrari drivers’ rivalry became a bitter feud. In qualifying for the next race, on a wet track at Zolder in Belgium, the pair were 1-2 on the grid, but Villeneuve set out on one final lap, determined to outqualify Pironi at all costs. In blinding spray, the Ferrari hit a slower car and Villeneuve died.
This weekend, the phenomenal speed of the McLarens may prove critical to beating the Red Bulls on Montreal’s long straights.
McLaren precedents certainly look good. Hamilton scored his maiden victory here in 2007 and before retiring after tailgating Kimi Raikkonen in the pitlane (oops!) in 2008, he had dominated the race from pole position.
Expect an equally close-fought battle between Mercedes GP, Renault and Ferrari for the next slots.
Their cars don’t seem to quite have the aerodynamic refinement of the front-runners, but their battle will be no less intriguing.
Force India seem destined to battle at the tail of the top ten and there are rumours of frustration within the team at the performance of Vitantonio Liuzzi. If the Italian were to be dropped, who would be in?
Team test-driver Paul di Resta lacks race experience, so how about Karun Chandhok, who now has plenty of race practice, but is wasted in the uncompetitive HRT car?
The rumour-mill is increasingly hinting that Karun might be given the chance. I personally hope so, an Indian in a Force India car would dominate the headlines across the subcontinent and may prove just the fillip Force India needs!

Steve Slater, ESPN

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