F1: making sense of the Mateschitz ‘rant’

The pre-Austria ‘anti-F1’ rant by Red Bull’s owner got tongues wagging. It was characterized as everything from sour grapes to laying the foundations for Dietrich Mateschitz, his teams and the Red Bull brand to leave Formula 1.

Mateschitz did not become a multi-billionaire and create a brand that has blurred the lines between sponsorship and ownership by shooting off his mouth irresponsibly. For such an intelligent man, there is more to his comments than simply letting off steam.

Reading between the lines – and in context of other rumours swirling about – there are potentially 3 underlying motives.

Option 1 – Red Bull wants F1 to go extreme

Red Bull has created its brand around extremes: sponsoring extreme athletes; creating or entering extreme sporting events; and getting involved in everything from base-jumping to snowsports. The F1 of 2015 (and the foreseeable future for now) is a bit staid and reserved in comparison. Smaller, quieter, fuel efficient engines. Kinetic recovery systems. Races determined by fuel and tyre management. Lift and coast! Little of that is ‘on brand’ for Red Bull.

Not to mention the nullifying of their greatest weapon during the glory 2010 – 2013 period, Adrian Newey. Newey is bored with the sport he became a master of – too restricted by the straight-jacket rules and bias towards engine power. Trick aero and revolutionary ideas, to him, no longer have a place in the sport.

Combine the two and you can see why Mateschitz would be so critical of F1’s current regulations. Red Bull would cease involvement in snowsports if riders were forbidden from going off-piste and where are the eco-friendly credentials in the Red Bull Air Race series or X Fighters? F1 may be the pinnacle of motor sport but it is not the pinnacle of Red Bull’s ambitions.

Option 2 – Red Bull needs to get Renault out of the sport

At face value the seemingly incessant criticism of Renault – which Mateschitz ramped up with his comments last week – is designed to get the manufacturer working harder to get back to the top. I wrote back in April about another option – it being designed to force Renault out of F1 early to allow Red Bull/Toro Rosso to hook up with Audi. Initially it was a somewhat left-field suggestion but with Audi chatter around a possible Toro Rosso buy-out along with a supply deal for Red Bull growing, suddenly it does not seem as far-fetched.

Red Bull and Toro Rosso have contracts until the end of 2016 with Renault which will hamper efforts to switch until 2017. Renault exiting quicker would certainly open the door or alternatively give Red Bull an ‘out’ to leave the sport that is no longer ‘extreme’ enough for them that does not look like them leaving in a huff. Check out my earlier article on this.

Option 3 – Mateschitz wants Ecclestone out

The final option is the most exciting – that Mateschitz is fed up with Bernie. There are any number of reasons why the Red Bull boss would have legitimate reasons to want F1’s ring-master to finally relinquish control of the sport.

The Red Bull brand invests hundreds of millions of dollars in their teams, supporting up and coming F1 wannabes, activation of their sponsorship, the Red Bull Ring circuit and more. Aside from the publicity they achieve (only when winning of course) Red Bull gain nothing other than to watch Bernie waltz off with the millions generated by the sport.

Equally, Ecclestone controls the sport and therefore controls the teams who are little more than performers in the show. Or perhaps it is the fact Ecclestone is resolutely against digital and social media or the development of new ways to broadcast and monetize sport many of which Red Bull have pioneered, in many cases, themselves. In this regard alone Mateschitz’s empire is completely at odds with the way F1 is and will continue to be run under Bernie’s stewardship.

It could and probably is a combination of some or all of the above. Renault leaving Red Bull high and dry to pursue Audi/leave F1 makes sense, as does the desire by Red Bull for F1 to go even a little more extreme or a little more youth orientated.

What is certain however is that something is going on and it will be fascinating to see which option plays out in the coming months.

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