So, onto to the top three. By a somewhat-less-than-challenging process of elimination you can work out we mean Ferrari, McLaren and today, Red Bull. One of them gets an ‘A Plus (maybe even an ‘A Plus Plus’ by the time we get there), one of them a ‘B’ and one a ‘C.’ Maybe even a ‘D’. But which team gets which mark?
Red Bull drivers have won three of the season’s eleven races and Mark Webber ended the first half as the closest anyone was to challenging Fernando Alonso. Indeed, after the two enjoyed a healthy ding-dong at Silverstone, there were many who thought he might be the only challenger to Fernando Alonso. Four pole positions too (three, plus one gift from Michael Schumacher at Monaco) and, barring some kind of cock-up, qualifying pace to just about guarantee a place in Q3. Which, as we know, isn’t guaranteed this year even if you are in one of the best six cars, eh Jenson?
Any team but Red Bull would be happy with that, but Red Bull ain’t any team and it is anything but happy. Red Bull is still getting used to the fact that for the first time in four seasons, it does not have the fastest car. Considering the team’s relatively short history (in only came in to being in 2004 from the ashes of the Jaguar team), you can understand maybe why it’s been at sixes and sevens with the RB8. Especially Sebastian Vettel who has become more than a little pouty this year, which is such a shame. It’s not difficult to be everyone’s favourite easy-going F1 moptop when your winning back-to-back titles, less easy when Mark Webber’s beating you regularly.
And it’s not just Vettel’s on-brand personality that’s being tested. Christian Horner, a man with hair from the 1970s and a name from the 1770s has been somewhat less composed this year as Sky’s Ted Kravitz has, more than once, chased him down the pit-lane after yet another question over the legality of the RB8 has been thrown up.
And the legendary Adrian Newey. It’s hard to tell whether Newey has the wobbles or not this year as he attempts his own back-to-back designer’s crown — about the only achievement so far to escape him. Newey is such a closed book, so uncomfortable in the spotlight, he is said to work alone behind a closed door, working on paper with pencils and French curves. It’s hard to know whether he is as lost to understand why the RB8 cannot match its predecessors as we are.
When the car first appeared there was a lot of talk about the letterbox in the nose of the car, Newey’s attempt to add some elegance to the duck-bill requirement. Was it really just styling? Did it keep the drivers cool? Did it, you know, do something? Those who know Newey claimed he abhors holes in his cars, so it must have some functionality.
Maybe it does, or maybe it’s meant to, and maybe it doesn’t work. And maybe in that dark gape is the answer to why Red Bull simply cannot do as it has done before: reliably blitz qualifying before quietly driving off over the horizon on the Sunday. This year, with plan A not working, they’ve had to do something they’ve not done so much of and actually race a bit. No surprises then that it’s the skill set of that tough old trooper Mark Webber that has come to the fore, mate. No wonder Red Bull snapped him out of the jaws of a Ferrari contract last month. They need to rely on something going forward.
We’re giving Red Bull a ‘B’. I bet their internal audit is less charitable…