F1: if Red Bull and Pirelli leave F1, what do they do next?

Pirelli appear to have joined Red Bull and their stablemate, Toro Rosso in actively considering their future in Formula 1. MotorSportNotes examines an intriguing – if unlikely – scenario where all could come together with spectacular results.

All out of options?

When pretty much everyone significant at Red Bull starting sounding off about their future in F1 everyone put it down to a combination of sour grapes and frustration. No one realistically thought this might be it but now, with Honda seemingly their only option for an engine supply in 2016 the unimaginable could actually happen.

IMG_5840
Red Bull & Toro Rosso – unhappy midfield runners.

Assuming they are not just bad losers, you can see their point. They are racing in a category that has nullified their greatest asset – Adrian Newey – and boxed them in to a generation of regulations that mean they need to have one of two types of powerplants to win. This is not the Red Bull way. Playing second (and now third) fiddle to anyone is not in the company’s DNA. The, dare we say it, more sensible style of F1 we now have does not sit well with their extreme sports positioning. And now the much maligned tyre supplier Pirelli is thought to be considering whether to carry on with F1 in any capacity.

Not all publicity is good publicity – just ask Pirelli

For Pirelli their involvement has been nothing short of disastrous. In some regards they have only themselves to blame: coming in to F1 as the sole supplier effectively guarantees no positive coverage. When a car wins no one is impressed because there is no competition. We of course know what has happened when Pirelli’s have failed in competition – even when simply doing the job they were asked to do by the FIA. Most galling for Pirelli must be the damage done to their brand – one renowned amongst racers and driving enthusiasts as manufacturer of probably the best high performance road tyres in the world. With limited prospects for tyre competition what is the point of staying around?

A Pirelli F1 tyre not exploding
A Pirelli F1 tyre not exploding

So consider this: we have Red Bull, a brand immersed in the extreme and exceptionally skilful in generating event products to promote their lifestyle. They have a chief designer who is utterly bored with F1 and its limited opportunities for pushing the boundaries of technology. They have two teams with the human resources, manufacturing capabilities and exceptional design pedigree to produce the most advanced racing machines possible.

And then we have Pirelli, a brand that has always been edgier than its rivals and one that almost prided itself in being the one those ‘in the know’ choose because the masses do not know better. Drop in to the mix a growing list of classic (and some newer) circuits around the world struggling to and/or tired of trying to make budgets balance with the huge fees associated with F1. Can you see where we are going with this?

So unlikely it might just happen

Adrian Newey of course designed his extreme F1 concept car the X2010 five years ago. Never properly built it has become a favorite with gamers in the virtual world. It promised truly extreme performance and a style that would certainly chime with those current fans who tire of F1’s restrictions and future generations looking for something radical. Red Bull could conceivably – as they have done with their Air Race and X-Fighters products – set up their own series based around a Newey-designed future racer to further their commercial ambitions.

Pirelli tyres
Newey’s X2010 on display at the Goodwood Festival of Speed

Manufactured by Red Bull in Milton Keynes and Faenza, a less insane son-of-X2010 could offer F1-trumping performance, genuine envelope-pushing technology all backed up with kick-ass marketing and promotion. Cars could be leased to independent teams who cannot afford the high entry costs to F1 that come from designing your own car but are more than capable of delivering world-class race preparation.

Silverstone, Monza, Hockenheim, Indianapolis

Red Bull would not necessarily instigate such an endeavour for the financial returns meaning low or zero sanctioning fees for circuits could create a long queue of tracks lining up to sign on. With the promise of a more extreme version of F1, fans would seriously consider taking a look at a field of Newey-inspired supercars. Pirelli as tyre supplier would be able to push the boundaries of design and manufacturer, whilst potentially gaining world-wide exposure with little of the political nonsense and criticism that has troubled their time in F1.

Super rich, super old and super dis-interested

Of course this is an extreme idea in every sense of the word. Were it to come to pass in some form or another, it never could be and never would be a new F1 but does that matter? We know from the criticism of Bernie Eccelstone’s self-proclaimed focus on the grey and the rich that the sport is consciously (despite the best attempts of the teams and sponsors) disengaging from current and emerging generations. Were that to continue, and following the prolonged battle for the sport in the power vacuum that will inevitably follow the fall/departure of Bernie, F1 could be irrelevant to everyone bar the super hard core, super rich and super old.

Rumours swirl that Bernie allegedly engineered a semi- TV blackout of Mercedes during the Japanese Grand Prix in response to them denying Red Bull engines for 2016. Writing hypothetically you can see cold, hard logic. Short-term losing two teams puts grid numbers back to danger levels for F1’s contracts with circuits. Thus he may have felt the need to remind Mercedes who is ultimately in charge. Longer term Ecclestone is smart enough to realize that Red Bull as a company is just about crazy enough to quit the sport and set up something itself, and more worryingly for him they are good enough – and well funded enough – to pull it off. Keeping Red Bull in F1 might be a case of keeping your friends close and your enemies closer.

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