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SEPTEMBER 24, 2015

Can Red Bull really quit?


Daniil Kvyat, Italian GP 2015
© The Cahier Archive


What promised to be a quiet Autumn in the Formula One paddock, with a large percentage of the drivers staying in their current teams for another year and Renault taking over Lotus, is turning out to be quite the opposite. Romain Grosjean is opting to go to the new Haas F1 Team when he could retain his seat with Lotus/Renault was the first surprise of season but then Red Bull decided to bring the heavy guns out and is now threatening to quit Formula One at the end of the year, giving a lot to write about to most journalists involved in the sport.

The reasons for Red Bull's dissatisfaction are well documented, as the team demands a competitive engine to remain in Formula One, and with Mercedes shutting its door in their face, they are left with the choice of getting a Ferrari costumer deal or having no engine to compete at the front. Now, most people would assume that getting a deal with Ferrari would be enough to keep Red Bull in Formula One, with his typical charm Dr. Marko has already laid down the conditions for this deal to happen: "We want to have engine parity with Ferrari, we don't want to be in a position where we don't get the same developments they'll have, because as a costumer it's impossible to compete with the works team."

Having driven Renault out of Red Bull and Toro Rosso by permanently criticising the French manufacturer, the Austrians are already upsetting Ferrari - before they even have a contract with them! - by demanding to be treated exactly like the Scuderia! Next thing, Red Bull is going to be demanding to have first priority on developments, leaving Scuderia Ferrari as number two for its own engines... It looks like Dale Carnegie's 'How to win friends and influence people' could do with a complete re-writing by Dietrich Mateschitz, Helmut Marko and Christian Horner, given their ability to quickly win everyone's hearts with the way they go about their business.

While Red Bull continues to look for a suitable Power Unit to put in the back of next year's RB12 - and let's take a moment to consider how tough Adrian Newey's job is at the moment as he is designing a brand new car without knowing what Power Unit is going to be at the back of it, what are its measurements, cooling requirements and so on - let's try to understand if Red Bull Racing and Scuderia Toro Rosso can really leave Formula One at the end of this season. And by leaving, I'm not talking about selling out to move away from Grand Prix racing, for it will be nearly impossible to find a private buyer for such expensive teams, especially Red Bull Racing, at such short notice, especially when the team doesn't have an engine deal for next year. So, what we are looking at is the possibility of both teams closing shop in two months and one week, leaving Formula One with 18 cars on next year's grid.

Of course no one can force Dietrich Mateschitz to stay in Formula One if he doesn't want to, but there is a price to pay for everything in life and, in this case, the price is quite high. You see, one of the reasons Red Bull Racing receives a ton of money from the Formula One Group, for its historical results in Formula One, is that the team is one of the five - the other four being Mercedes, Ferrari, McLaren and Williams - that have committed to stay in the sport until the end of 2020. And according to some people in the know, any of this teams leaving Grand Prix racing before the end of 2020 will have to pay one hundred million Euros, for every year in which they do not compete, to the Formula One Group.

This means Red Bull Racing would have to pay 500 million Euros in compensation to the Formula One Group, maybe not a huge amount of money for a multi billionaire like Dietrich Mateschitz, but still a large enough amount of money to make him think twice before making such a harsh decision. To that half a billion Euros you'd have to add the payments both teams would be forced to make to their laid off staff - and even though Toro Rosso has less than half the number of employees as Red Bull, Italian work laws would make it more expensive to pay off the Faenza-based staff than sending home the nearly one thousand people that work in the Milton Keynes factory - plus there would be sponsors that would have to be compensated for the lack of exposure, suppliers with firm contracts that would have to be paid off, etc., etc.

All in all we're looking at an immediate loss of somewhere between 750 million Euros and one billion Euros, when, with a bit of common sense and humility, both teams could carry on for a couple of years, racing at the same level they've been racing last year and this year and then be sold for a proper amount of money to a manufacturer - in Red Bull Racing's case - or to a wealthy private investor in the case of Toro Rosso.

In any event, should Red Bull and Toro Rosso close shop at the end of November, we can all be sure there will be a 2016 Formula One World Championship and life will carry on as normal. This may be hard to accept by the people that run Red Bull Racing but there is only one team that would seriously damage the image of the sport by leaving and that team is Ferrari. All others are expendable, no mater how much success they have had in recent years.