F1 Business Diary 2014: the Austrian Grand Prix

The return of the Austrian Grand Prix was an organisational triumph for Red Bull, but on the track the sports marketing giant has been left asking some searching questions of its engine supplier.

Yodelling, traditional Austrian dress on the podium, a giant flag painted in the run-off area at the second corner – it was almost as if someone wanted to make the point that Formula One was back in Austria.

That someone was Dietrich Mateschitz, the co-founder of Red Bull, and the man who renovated what was, between 1997 and 2003, the A1 Ring, into a 2014-specification Grand Prix circuit. The verdict from those on the ground in Styria was near-universally positive: terrific facilities, in a terrific location, enjoyed by a crowd which numbered around 250,000 across the  weekend. Aside from the Grand Prix, spectators were entertained by a superb parade of Austrian drivers and Red Bull stunt planes. The business model underpinning the 2014 Austrian Grand Prix – a race privately-funded by a corporate giant – is not a sustainable one elsewhere in the world, but Red Bull and Mateschitz deserve immense credit for making it happen. The watching world, however, could have done without the vomit-inducing CGI message – 'Congratulations Mr. Mateschitz. Thank you. Bernie' – which appeared on the track in the closing laps.

Power play
Red Bull can win Grands Prix and they have now proved they can host them, too, but they weren't able to do both last weekend and for that – and indeed, much of their disappointing championship defence – the blame has been laid squarely at the door of Renault. Team principal Christian Horner didn't mince his words after the race. “The reliability is unacceptable,” he said. “The performance is unacceptable. There needs to be change at Renault. It can't continue like this. It's not good for Renault and it's not good for Red Bull.” Red Bull are tied into a Renault contract until the end of 2015 and, in any case, it is too late, technically, to make a switch for next season at this stage. But in the longer-term, there are increasing whisphers that Red Bull may seek power from elsewhere. The question is, from where? Mercedes and Ferrari seem unlikely to supply a team that may beat their own teams; Honda, returning with McLaren next season, is a possibility; most intriguing of all, however, is the possibility of a Red Bull engine, perhaps badged as an Infiniti in deference to the team's Nissan-owned title sponsor. A potential tie-up with Austrian powertrain specialists AVL and Pankl to make it happen is apparently not out of the question. Horner's criticism of Renault has been interpreted by some as a final warning to Renault, but after a weekend in which Red Bull displayed its financial clout, winning with its own engine is just about the only Formula One challenge left for the sports marketing giant.

Little tinkers
Friday's team principals press conference transcript, featuring representatives from Mercedes, McLaren, Red Bull, Ferrari and Sauber, makes for a fascinating read. You can find the full version here, but the thrust of the session was the future of Formula One. This, after the latest Formula One Commission meeting confirmed the latest tweaks to the rules for 2015, notably standing starts replacing the now-familiar safety car restarts. The rules are set to be ratified by the FIA World Motor Sport Council this week; that is expected to be a formality. Formula One's decision-makers, whilst maintaining that the sport should be listening to the fans, have picked up the nasty habit of tinkering in the assumption that the 'show' needs improving, seemingly without listening to anyone. This is a season in which double points at the final race has been introduced, a trumpet has been attached to the back of a car during testing in an attempt to create more noise and, on Friday in Austria, two cars sent out with panels attached to artficially create sparks. Somewhere along the line, this sport has lost the plot.

Formula Forum
The future of Formula One will come under the microscope in the build-up to the British Grand Prix, at the inaugural Black Book Race Forum. A complement to the annual Black Book, a 300-page business guide to Formula One, the Forum, which will be held in central London, will feature representatives from Sauber and Lotus, including Lotus deputy team principal Federico Gastaldi. The event takes place on Thursday 3rd July. For more information and to book your place, click here.

Quote of the weekend

“Congratulations Mr. Mateschitz. Thank you. Bernie.”

Formula One viewers are treated to some private correspondence between Formula One's ringmaster and its biggest investor, thanks to a cheap and tacky TV graphic.


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