The Verstappen effect: feeder series obsolete – or how a young boy saved Formula One.

Part three: Max Verstappen fights back!

Read part one here.

Read part two here.

The solution?

That’s where Red Bull comes in.
There is much that can be said  about Red Bull and their philosophy towards racing, both positive and negative. But let’s start with the positive, as I am the most positive person you’ll ever meet…

What Red Bull has done is quite simply perfecting what other teams tried to do. The A and B team isn’t something new. For instance, Ferrari used to think of Sauber as their B team, supplying both engines and engineers. And even Massa got a seat at Sauber, for the second time, when Ferrari asked Sauber kindly. And when I say ‘asked kindly’ I mean there was a serious cut in payments Sauber had to give to Ferrari for their engines.

Somehow that seems ages ago, with Massa now retiring, but only temporarily… and Petronas no longer (re)building Ferrari engines for Sauber but instead throwing big bundles of cash towards Mercedes. All this leaves Sauber only a shadow of what the team was. It used to be exciting, a place where young talent got a chance, not this team now, trying to survive.

Remember how Kimi got in the eye of the storm when Peter Sauber announced him as the new driver and he almost had to beg the FIA to give Kimi a super licence. A team boss who was so certain of the abilities of this young kid he found…

Now look at the team: strings of pay drivers, most of them not even belonging in F1 in the first place. Now they have a team boss who states that if they don’t use pay drivers they won’t make it. I believe even Minardi did it better than Sauber is doing at the moment. That says enough, doesn’t it?

Then there is Jules Bianchi who, when he came in was considered a big talent. The first signing ever from the Ferrari Driver Academy, and yet Ferrari had him driving for Marussia rather than Sauber. A clear sign on the wall.
Red Bull, however, built two teams. One they consider the A-team but they’ve also built a proper B-team with Toro Rosso. That STR was built on what was left of Minardi is very helpful to me, as I loved Minardi’s philosophy. And I don’t think I’ve ever encountered someone who didn’t want Minardi to do better than that damn last place. SRT took some of Red Bull’s business model and some of Minardi’s approach. Developed with the sole purpose to give promising youngsters a chance of growing in to Red Bull’s Formula One team it has done that for some, just as it hasn’t done it for others. And that might be the negative for some.

Yes, Red Bull is a very harsh environment, but you have to remember this is the pinacle of motorsport, or at least that’s what they want us to believe. There are no participation trophies! Red Bull invests massive amounts of cold, hard dinero. It’s only natural that they’d love to get results for that. All of us are that way. If you go to the shop and you pay the cashier, you won’t like it if you get home and the fruit you bought has turned bad. A very simplistic way to put it, I know, but business is like that.

Anyway, most drivers who started as Red Bull youth and who got a ‘you’re not good enough for f1’ stamp still get backed by Red Bull in other classes. It’s not that they suddenly drop someone and then kick them when they’re down. So back to the positive,

Toro Rosso made two seats available in F1, something that seems to be the biggest selling point. We all know feeder series results guarantee nothing. There have been good drivers who looked bland once they entered F1 and also the opposite. To create an extra team and give youngsters a chance is something that clearly pays off. Look at the names; Vettel was the first to make the transition from Toro Rosso to Red Bull, but certainly not the last. After him followed Ricciardo, by many considered an excellent driver and future champion. Kvyat, made the A-team and yes, got bumped from the A-team quite soon, and perhaps not in the right manner. But still didn’t got kicked out! No, he was demoted but not killed off.

Back to Toro Rosso where Franz Tost is rebuilding a new Daniil from the ashes of the old one. It is Tost who convinced the heads of Red Bull to give Kvyat an other chance for next year and that only shows that Toro Rosso has people on-board that actually care about the youth they’re trying to get ready for the real racing world. As we all know Kvyat got the axe in favour of Max Verstappen. And hear me now, I’ll make a statement that the Dutch will love to hear: ‘No-one can say Red Bull was wrong with this one. Not even the hamfosi’s. They’re just scared of the young boy because he seems to be better than their hero.’
So what am I on about? Does their approach work? I’d say wholeheartedly yes, yes it does! From the eleven drivers Toro Rosso has had, four advanced to the main team. Three of them are considered the real deal, if you ignore the amount of haters. I personally would add Sainz Jr to that list, as I consider him a great talent and I predict a grand future for that boy.  But once again I’m deviating from the original issue.

Does an A-team and B-team work? If you look at Mercedes and their use of the Manor team, I’d say I’m not the only one who feels that way. Both Werhlein and Ocon are Mercedes drivers, neither of them could learn anything more in a lower category. Both of them would have been ready if either Hamilton burned enough bridges at Mercedes or they finally came to their senses and realised Rosberg wouldn’t carry a team once the car went back to ‘not the best car of the field’. Either way they’d have had at least one youngster with decent F1 experience but, despite the shock retirement of Rosberg, Werhlein has a seat at Sauber, because of Mercedes, and Ocon is at Force India, again because of Mercedes.

If I was a major influence at the towers of the FIA I’d try to convince the teams to set up such a structure. I’d give them some benefits of course, otherwise they’d never take the bait, it’s the piranha club after all. Let’s set it up a bit like it already is/was: Red Bull and Toro Rosso, Mercedes and Manor, Ferrari and Sauber. Then say McLaren joins hands with Force India and Renault with a new hypothetical entry as I feel neither Williams nor Haas would want to be sister teams. Haas sort of did it with Ferrari this season, but I feel they only did that to get a good start, which was smart. But they’d never be in this business if they didn’t feel they’d become champion. (All  Americans reading are allowed to chant ‘U-S-A’ now. Three times) Some of the other teams know they’ll never be that. This structure might make their lives easier. So we’ve got the main idea, now for the benefits.

A-teams would be able to stall their promising young drivers at the B-teams, and give them experience that a test/reserve driver these days just doesn’t get. And I’m not only talking about the driving part, but the whole circus: press/media, sponsors, benefits, fans… Then allow teams to co-build cars, up to a certain degree, with the engines the same for both teams of course. This would give a great opportunity too for fresh blood in the technical department. Young designers working together with the old ones, sharing their knowledge. This would make a very competitive field as well as giving, let’s say, Honda double the testing and data, which they actually need. If this structure was there when Honda came in, Macca fans wouldn’t be joyously celebrating a car finishing in p7.

Furthermore Vandoorne might have had, at least, a second season in F1 by now. Then there is the fact that sponsors could, if they’d want, be displayed on four cars instead of two. And big teams would effectively make sure small teams had money enough to survive a season without non sportive troubles.

Equally tracks would have higher attendances because there would be more competitive teams. Of course there would still be a clear distinction between the big players and their little sisters but overall it would be closer. Constructors would really feel pressure to stay ahead, be it with their cars or their drivers. We’d not have to watch a kid again who’s got either daddy’s money or a country‘s exchequer behind him, in the overkill way we have now, because I honestly think we will never remove the whole pay driver system fully.
Plus giving kids from 17 to 21 a chance to grow would also attract a younger generation of fans, something F1 really needs. Thus it would build a self nurturing sport… Of course there will forever be too many drivers chasing too few seats but this way could improve things. And I think it’ll be better than the ‘three cars per team’ idea, because of the number of teams that would survive and because of the higher level of competition. Three cars per team would only benefit four teams, five at best. Is that what we want? Essentially, in a couple of years, it would lead us to a field with four or five teams, each with three cars, and that’s it. Small teams would cease to exist, leaving us with 15 cars on the grid. I think most of us want a field of more teams, more cars. Not less!

When I gave this piece to a friend, for proofreading/ editing he pointed me to a rather brilliant idea. With Mr. E gone now, we should eliminate the whole ‘you should be committed for a whole season’ approach, which he introduced. Remember that Rio Haryanto lost his Manor drive because his promised sponsorship money fell through. If it wasn’t for the money problem he would have had a full season. So let drivers and/or teams be allowed to compete in only selected events. It brings in new people, new ideas. And for a cheaper rate too. Give them the Schumacher way. All of their sponsorship money for a full race weekend or two, trying to show the world (and other teams) what they’re capable of. Something that is hardly possible to do if you only have free practices at your disposal.

This would work even more if customer teams would be allowed. If it worked in the ‘before Bernie’ era it can work in the ‘after Bernie’ era. Allow them to compete with either one or two cars. Not only would we, the fans, get more cars on track, but it would also give teams an extra input of cash. Why shouldn’t there be 15 teams instead of 11? And when you say that’s because there would be too much traffic, I’d say that’s BS. I’m an endurance racing fan, all I can say is traffic makes the racing even better!

However all these solutions still contradict with how F1 is ruled today. Manor is just the latest example of how the sport is killing itself. The money distribution is just wrong! Not only is the amount of money teams get because this or that rule ridiculous, but also the way they get it. What’s wrong with giving them the full amount they’ve earned in price money? Giving it in small payments throughout the next season is just ludicrous! A hostage situation. Who is Bernie to decide that the teams would spend it all and go bust before the new season would begin? What’s the difference now then? And if these issues won’t change under the new powers of F1, things will only go down hill.
Thank you for reading and don’t hesitate to comment!

15 responses to “The Verstappen effect: feeder series obsolete – or how a young boy saved Formula One.

  1. Legend Has it that Sauber got visited in his motorhome about making sure his drivers let a Ferrari pass nicely and held up villeneuve if I’m correct.

    That is a hard thing to prevent.

    Then there’s political power. In the current situation it would mean too much power to manufacturers.

    On the other hand: verstappen

  2. First off I would like to congratulate Bruznic for writing these three articles and attempting to give a background to what he considers to be a major problem within F1 concerning the development of drivers and ultimately who they enter F1 and solutions to fix the problem or problems. Whether you agree or disagree or sit somewhere in the middle of his thesis, it is an interesting read none the less. The Judge13 should also been commended for allowing and encouraging this type of content to get a forum. And now my comment on the three articles.

    I had initially intended to comment on each individual article but decided that after reading all three that really wasn’t appropriate as the context is spread over all three. So my comments are of a whole rather than three separate articles.

    I find myself agreeing with some but disagreeing with much. I think to suggest that Versatappen has saved F1 is quite honestly nonsense. Has he increased interest in F1 – sure, but all new talent usually does. If Riccardo clearly beats him this year does that mean F1 is dead again? I think not.

    The suggestion that Verstappen rendered GP2 obsolete as feeder series is in my opinion wrong. Red Bull and their junior team Toro Rosso have never viewed GP2 favorably. Of all the Red Bull / Toro Rosso drivers that have competed in F1, two have come from GP2 – Speed and Buemi – neither who would be called great talents. And the attempt to drawn a parallel between Senna and Verstappen both entering F1 through F3 is again wrong. The British F3 Championship was during the time of Senna and before was the way most British and English speaking and in the 70’s and 80’s Brazilian drivers entered F1 as the champion got a super license. Clark, Stewart and Emerson Fittipaldi to name three all entered F1 through the British F3 Championship. There is no comparison.

    Money has always been a key component in any form of motor racing. Whether it’s family, corporate or taxpayer money from a country isn’t going to change, ever. Let’s not forget that the lower formula’s are also the training ground for engineers. Bigger budgets allow development, unless the intent is that everything below F1 are to be true spec series’. And that still won’t eliminate money from the equation. The driver with more backing is still likely to get the seat.

    And finally the suggestion that many of the small teams become essentially junior operations for the large teams goes against the essence of competition. As much as I admire Toro Rosso in its car / driver development – the fact is they aren’t really there to win – Red Bull is. A sport where half the field defers to their big brothers no longer is a sport. And having F1 teams swap driver’s in and out is routinely done in Indycar and simply makes the series look amateur.

    I think that Bruznic raises some interesting points and I give him credit for that. Some could be looked at seriously. However, I disagree about Verstappen and the money and team issues in parts two and three are simply never going to work in the real world.

    • Thanks for the kind words, cav! I was expecting a somewhat angry response 😉
      In all fairness, I know some of it was wishful thinking. But I wanted to bring on a debate, here at the judge’s. Like the olden days. For that I had to make a couple of bold statements (and click bait titles) Unfortunately it didn’t go as well as I hoped…
      I don’t think Max saved f1, nor will it fail if he fails. But he did brought some exciting new times with him. Something which I can only be glad about. The comparison between him and Senna was only to make a point. I do not think he is anything like Senna. Nor Schumacher. I think the label of being the new this or that is something I hardly ever agree with. People are themselves. I just wanted to make the point that there is no need for gp2 or f2 or whatever you want to call the second to last step before f1. I think it’s wrong that FIA decided to fight this. They should embrace it. Because if a driver will advance to the highest class of open-wheel racing, without doing all the classes before it, it means he is a talent capable of bringing you to our racing hearts. Something Senna did, something Max does. Something Maldonado didn’t.
      As for the money part I clearly state that I know it is a big part of racing and it always will. I don’t mind that there is money involved to bring talent to the game. I mind that less talented can survive in f1 because of their money. It’s not right that a Pedro Diniz can be so long in f1 while other, more talented guys can’t. That is why I feel that that the A-team and B-team Formula might work better. I know that Toro Rosso isn’t there to win. It’ll always be Red Bull for that. That’s why I said that Haas isn’t a real Ferrari B-team. They want to win. Rightfully so. But the way it goes now, with all new teams going bust after 3 or 4 years, isn’t the way to go either. Of course it’s easy for me to say, here behind my mobile phone.
      There are many things that could be different. This “thesis” of mine only touches a small portion of those. Look at WEC where the FIA gave the lmp1 teams so much freedom in their engine choices and what did it do? It made racing exciting again. If they’d do that at f1 I’d be happy too. But it’s just time to make changes. We all want dog fights and (real) overtaking. How they get there is less important. If they just get there.
      Anyway, thanks for reading it and for discussing it! 😉

      • I’ve always believed that GP2 was given preferential treatment by the FIA as the commercial rights are held by FOM and Ecclestone could package it with F1. In other words it was in the FIA’s financial interest to favour it over other series’.

      • I’m pretty busy right now, but I try to keep commenting although it’s less than before.

        Thanks for keeping up this site and posting interesting articles – I just hope that the judge will have some of those good scoops again, it’ll help this site regain some followers

        • Any input from you is good. I often see me agreeing with you. And often you bring in an input I hadn’t realised, which I like very much!

  3. Thanks for your trio of pre-season think pieces, bruznic. Interesting ponderings, for sure…

    FWIW, I’m with you on Stroll. There won’t be any excuses one way or the other now. I wish him good luck. His old man can’t use his coin to significantly improve his son’s results any more (if he ever did). Motorsport is (and will always be) a money game. Even junior karting ain’t cheap if it’s taken half-seriously. Successful drivers who ‘made it’ on talent alone are very, very few and far between.

    I’d like to add a correction, if I may: There are two highish-profile blokes by the name of Joe Ricciardo here in Perth. The one you pegged in Part 2 of your triptych – the founder and ex-chairman of GR Engineering – isn’t Dan’s father. That Joe has been in the Western Australian mining EPCM game for decades.

    The other Joe (Dan’s old man) is the owner of Ricciardo Earthmoving – a substantial business, but nothing like the same scale as GR Engineering.

    So, yes, Dan had “some” family money to start out with, but apparently (I’ve be told) in the early days he had quite a bit of financial support from some local business identities with Italian backgrounds. I’d hazard a guess that a bloke by the name of Alf Barbagallo put his hand in his pocket. Alf’s a long-time motorsport icon here in Perth. I remember the sound of the 350 Chev-powered Alfetta sports sedan he drove at the local race track (up at Wanneroo) decades ago. Alf now has naming rights for that race track because he’s an extremely successful car dealer (he owns the local franchises for just about every European marque outside of MB & BMW). I’d be flabbergasted if Dan didn’t pay his respects to Alf every time he hits town.

    • Oh than I fucked that one up! Thanks Rodger I’ll update it later this evening. Errors like these can happen but they bring down the quality of the piece 😂 so thank you!
      The Italian connection is something that was new to me, as I read that many aussies and New Zealanders have trouble of finding local sponsors if they go racing in higher (global) classes. The local businesses don’t believe their money is well spent on advertising worldwide when they could just put the same money in a guy driving, for instance, aussi f3. Which would give them the benefit of being seen by people who can actually mean something for their business.

      • No worries, bruznic.

        News Limited got it wrong, too, in a syndicated article – you probably saw that one. Images of the two Joes confirms the difference.

        AFAIK, the Dan”s sponsorships were more personal than they were strictly commercial arrangements. Someone can correct me on that if they have direct info – what I’ve been told could be bollocks.

        You’re right about Antipodean motorsport sponsorship. Racing is more “grass roots” here. Ultimately. there’s just not as much money in the sport as there is overseas. Your editor would have something to say on that subject from his own experience.

  4. Oh, yeah…

    Bathurst 12-hour is on tomorrow (Sunday, 5 Feb) from about 5AM (Bathurst time).

    That’s +11hrs on GMT, I believe.

    There are streams available on bathurst12hour website.

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