Bullish to the end
Raikkonen in a Red Bull Racing rocket…? Has there ever been a more perfectly matched pair?
Following Mark Webber’s F1 retirement announcement at Silverstone last Thursday, momentum is gathering apace to see the Iceman mix his own brand of vodka-like alcoholic–kick speed with the sickly sweet energy drink-fuelled Anglo-Austrian Formula 1 superteam. Many can’t wait for what is bound to happen.
Sure, all the right noises have been made and complimentary quotes trumpeted loud about just what a chance Toro Rosso young guns Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne have of landing an RB10 seat, but we all know who’s going to make Sebastian Vettel’s race track life just a little more stressful come 2014. Don’t we?
Would the best team in F1 pass up the opportunity to employ a driver who’s familiar with the owners, lightning quick and ultra reliable, a world champion, and such a perfect marketing fit as to be almost custom made for the Austrian super brand?
The Iceman cometh… To Milton Keynes!
Signing Raikkonen will be just the latest in a long list of inspired decisions Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner has made.
You don’t need me to tell you just what an incredible job this 39-year-old Englishman has pulled off since arriving in the sport, less than ten years ago.
When Horner first appeared in the Formula 1 paddock I remember seeing him standing at the back of the Jaguar garage at Shanghai in 2004, taking everything in, looking and learning (what not to do as far as the wretched green team were concerned). Fresh-faced and rumoured to be flush with Red Bull money, he looked an unlikely future top team boss.
By far and away the most successful of the new breed of younger team principals we’ve seen emerge of late, Horner not only appears adept at employing the right people to ensure success, he undoubtedly possesses senior politician-like nous for knowing how to play the F1 game.
Getting the job done in F1 is not really that hard if one applies oneself – almost endlessly – to the job at hand, but the key to political success is to get on with the man who makes everything happen: Bernie Ecclestone.
Christian’s got that nailed. They’re so close, should Bernie sneeze Horner catches a cold!
Some might opine that Horner is nothing more than a terrified sycophant, sucking up to the biggest bully in the playground so as to feather his nest. I see it differently.
There’s genuine warmth between the two, with a real friendship and trust visible whenever one sees the pair together.
Shooting the FIA Gala in Monaco 2010 I witnessed Ecclestone – upon presenting Horner with the F1 Constructors’ Championship trophy – embrace his young friend in a way that was akin to a father hugging his son. That sounds like an exaggeration, but trust me it’s not.
Comfortable in front of the media, always playing the team game, Christian is the model all current and future F1 team bosses need to study.
When Sebastian Vettel’s RB9 gearbox failed on lap 41 of last Sunday’s British Grand Prix, many in the Silverstone crowd cheered. That’s understandable, I guess, but as the giant TV screens cut to the Red Bull team management pitwall perch and zeroed in on Horner’s crestfallen face, many ‘fans’ laughed and jeered. Acceptable… Not.
Sure when a team – in any sport – wins, wins, and wins again, many followers of their sport take pleasure in the rare failure of the otherwise successful squad.
I understand that the three-times team champions have perhaps not been the most charming crew, but winners seldom are. They have to possess a ruthless, cut-throat desire to succeed in playing both the political and sporting game to the nth degree. If that means bending the rules, appearing uncaring and making tactical on and off-track deals, then so be it.
Believe me, every team and every driver who consistently wins in Formula 1 does all of the above with no exceptions. Always have, always will.
Horner is no different, it’s just that he’s doing it better – right now – than anyone else.
So when F1 2013 draws to a close with Red Bull Racing and Sebastian Vettel making it four titles in a row and you were one of the jeering many, jeer all you like...
You’ll be doing it a fair while longer… Of that I’m sure.