Race Blog
Australia 2015

Face hugger

It’s almost frightening to behold.

Bathed in a soft (but just bright enough, and pleasing to the eye) aqua-blue-green glow, the Mercedes F1 W06 Hybrid looks for all the world like a neon-tinged spaceship that’s sped from the pages of a sci-fi movie concept artist’s sketchpad, seemingly floating six inches above a perfectly painted dark grey garage floor.  

Surrounded by beautifully detailed Formula 1 race equipment crafted in tactile carbon fibre, and flanked by a seemingly moving wall of perfectly flush giant-sized LCD screens stretching to as long as the car they reflect, all the while fussed over and fettled by well-drilled mechanics and engineers resplendent in new team partner Hugo Boss’s flatteringly tailored and predominantly black apparel.

Welcome to the new state of the F1 art, welcome to Mercedes.

Raising standards to new heights, the scene is ultimately impressive in a terrifying – for their rivals – and wholly Teutonic, ultimately Germanic fashion.  

Impressive on just about every level both on the track and in the pits, the Anglo-German superteam now backs that up with an effective and efficient PR machine, too. The pre-Australian GP ‘meet the team’ press junket staged in a St Kilda beach cafe is a perfect example of the friendly, approachable, cooperative and highly valuable – for the photographers and TV crews in attendance – events the team’s communications department regularly lays on. Nico couldn’t have been better and Lewis played along in his highly affected, trying-far-too-hard way.

In stunningly marked contrast to the marketing professionalism of Mercedes, one can always rely on Ferrari for some old-school ignorance. We’ve just endured an F1 winter of endless sound bites and petulant pre-season protests from the Italian team’s tobacco-pedalling marketing ‘guru’ and recently appointed team principal, Maurizio Arrivabene. Though he has imparted much unsolicited advice on how the sport needs to embrace a more inclusive and ‘open’ attitude, many F1 folk are wondering just which knuckle-headed Italian genius decided that a Tensa barrier placed across the boardwalk entrance to Ferrari’s grassy Melbourne paddock ‘hospitality’ area was a good idea? As two – flown to the other side of the world, remember – ‘security’ guards patrolled the area pouncing upon and ejecting any photographers and/or TV crews that dared step on the Scuderia’s hallowed turf, there didn’t appear to be much forward-thinking or embracing of a new ‘open’ attitude in evidence to me, or to anyone else in the paddock. While every other team invited all ‘n’ sundry to come and chat, and interview their drivers and/or team bosses, Ferrari looked dated, stuck in the past, out of touch, and downright two-faced.

Perhaps Arrivabene – misguidedly – believes a more Todt/Schumacher-era air of cold-war unapproachability will encourage on-track success. With his menacing looks and sinister, almost James-Bond-villain-like mien, I guess we shouldn’t be surprised…

A short paddock walk from the ‘off-limits’ Ferrari area, one arrives at the rapidly fading in lustre Red Bull team’s Albert Park base. With blame resting firmly on the weak shoulders of the multiple world-title-winning outfit’s ‘non’-power-supplying power-unit provider Renault, Christian Horner and his crew are looking far from happy. Coughing and spluttering, before inevitably breaking down, France’s premier automotive manufacturer’s F1 assault seems to be run along the same lines as the Socialist government running, or should that be ruining, its home country.

Given that Red Bull is a hugely successful marketing company I’m shocked... Shocked that so many both within and without the sport are so aghast at the actually very un-shocking rumours of the Red Bull team’s putative exit from Formula 1. It’s what marketing companies do: plan, purchase, recruit, consolidate, win, and eventually, having successfully exploited all they can – from their chosen arena – leave. 

Brilliantly delivering on obvious potential, the multi-billion-dollar drinks super-brand likely exceeded even its own lofty expectations, winning four F1 world drivers’ and constructors’ titles in a row.

So why get out now? Let’s look at the facts. With the 2015 season underway, Sebastian Vettel is wearing red; genius head of aero (and arguably greatest ever F1 car designer) Adrian Newey is focusing on a parallel quest for glory in the Americas Cup yacht racing series; power-unit partner Renault is failing to deliver the goods in a wretched display of ineptitude; and, in the virtually unstoppable rise of Mercedes, Red Bull now has a rival with seemingly unlimited resource and a similarly burning desire to win. Given all these factors, the time strikes me as perfect for the Austrian paymasters to move their brand’s strategy forward.

Visionary marketing man and multi-billionaire head of the company Dietrich Mateschitz has shown time and again, and over many years, that he can spot a trend and act accordingly, positioning Red Bull just where it needs to be for maximum publicity and profit-generating exposure.

F1 is for sale.

Own a team trading on past glories, or own and control the sport?

Expect ‘rumours’ of an energy-drink-fuelled swoop for a controlling interest in F1 to gather apace shortly....

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