When Red Bull was born out of the ashes of the Jaguar team, the brand and team had a strong aura of extreme sports behind it. That is due to the fact, that Red Bull as sponsor, is basically found in every aspect of extreme sports, like mountain biking, BMX, motocross, windsurfing, snowboarding, skateboarding, kayaking, wakeboarding, cliff-diving, surfing, skating, freestyle motocross, rally, and of course F1. The name has been synonymous with fun and young people, but for those of us who is watching F1, it does look like the carefree days are well and truly over.
In 2010 Sebastian Vettel took the title as the youngest ever to do so, with four points more than second placed Fernando Alonso. A thriller of a championship bout, and in no way a walkover for the Red Bull team at all. Vettel won four races,so did Mark Webber, Alonso actually won five. A year later Vettel was a double world champion, this time he had 122 points more than second placed Jenson Button, and eleven wins. It was not a walkover, it was a runover!
So naturally the team and it´s many loyal fans expected 2012 to be a continuation of the previous years, but it does seem that they have forgotten the old mantra, that once you get on top, there is only one way to go.
One of the key elements to Vettel´s winning, especially last year, was that the car was dominant, he was as hungry as ever to follow-up from 2010, and once he was out in front, he was untouchable. He made it happen, the car made it happen. It was proper fast, and getting a second and a half lead over the first lap is remarkable. But we also know that when Vettel is not starting from P1, he feels the entire world is against him. He gets sulky, looks like a ten-year old who has been sent to the principals office. The frustrations are evident, the reactions immediate.
When Sebastian Vettel is winning, he cannot be touched. There is nothing you can say or do that would ruin the moment for him. But this season we see a vulnerability more deep than anything we have seen before. Vettel can be touched, Vettel can be beaten. And he´s not liking it one bit.
When the platypus nosed cars were launched, everyone were saying that unless Red Bull also has one on their RB8, the shows over. It did, and a collective sigh of relief were heard all over the world. Yes, they have taken the same way as everybody else, understood as if the cars looked the same last year in terms of the design and Red Bull were winning, then hey, third championship is right there, right? By no means.
McLaren showed that they did not fall for the stepped nose-idea. They said they didn´t need the bump on the nose. They said that they were making a smoother, sleeker car than ever before, and everyone were shaking their heads. But the results are there. Lewis Hamilton has two pole positions from the first two races, Jenson Button won the Australian Grand Prix, in which Vettel finished second. In Malaysia he finished eleventh, a far cry from the win-after-win-after-win he was used to in 2011. So is there a crisis?
Red Bull feels victimized by the FIA, because several of the clever devices you could find in the RB7, last years car, are now outlawed completely. The exhaust blown diffuser and the flexible front wing. These two devices were seen as a masterstroke, a sign of the genius which is Adrian Newey. Instead Mercedes came up with the F-duct DRS-enabled rearwing. They have created an opening in the rear wing endplates which is only exposed when the DRS is activated. It feeds a system of pipes which run the length of the car and utilise the same system fed by the nose hole. The major advantage of this is that it only stalls the front wing when the DRS flap is open and not all the time as last years design, did meaning that with DRS open, the front wing is stalled reducing drag further giving the WO3 about an extra 1.3 MPH speed in a straight line. When DRS closes with the application of the brakes, full downforce is restored to both front and rear wing for cornering. According to the FIA its completely legal, as its not directly controlled by the driver.
A small hole in the front of the nose directs air through the car, and onto the rearwing,stalling it and creates less drag and increases the turning speed, as well as the straight-line speed. Also, some of that air is vented down to the frontwing, so it attacks the back of some of the small winglets on the front wing itself, again stabilising the wing, reducing drag. A truly masterful piece of engineering, but Red Bull and Lotus are demanding ‘clarification’ from the FIA. In other words, they want it outlawed. It seems that Red Bull are thinking, that ‘if we can´t have ours, then they shouldn´t have theirs’.
For now, the party team has little to celebrate. Alonso is leading the championship with 35 points, 5 more than Hamilton and 10 more than Jenson Button. Ferrari are also in trouble, they have built a difficult and nervous car. It´s hard to drive, says Alonso, but if anyone can make up for a difficult car, it´s Alonso. Let´s just hope that Alonso´s win wasn´t a one-off. It was nice to see someone else on the top podium for once. But as for Red Bull, they need to focus on how to get back in.