You can tell it’s a slow time of year when websites are forced to speculate on how Brexit might affect F1, a task as hopeless as wondering if anyone will ever agree on the exact specification for an F1 car in 2021.
Intentionally or otherwise, Red Bull and their drivers past and present captured an easy market in recent days with a broad range of stories. Brendon Hartley set the ball rolling with an account of his time as a race driver in F1 (and before Monday’s announcement of his merited position as a member of Ferrari’s simulator squad). A description of the thrill of qualifying a Grand Prix car when at its most responsive and blindingly quick was offset by his discovery – through the media – that Toro Rosso might have plans as early as Monaco to limit that pleasure to a single season.
In typically callous F1 style, Brendon was not officially told about his destiny until an hour after the final race, the Kiwi’s raw description of having to deal with that being tempered by what was clearly a mutual respect as he returned to the garage to say his final farewell to the guys with whom he had worked so closely. As reflections go in the macho world of sport, this is as honest and, at times, as moving as it gets.
At the other end of the Red Bull hierarchy, Daniel Ricciardo has been talking to Chris Medland about the switch to Renault. Among the expected positive predictions are some revealing comments about how changed situations should be handled; be that as a new arrival or as a driver who suddenly finds himself promoted.
Ricciardo observes that, in such a high profile environment, it’s easy to fall into the trap of saying what’s expected rather than expressing the truth. As an example, he refers to a driver being asked how the car feels and subsequently leading his engineers a long way down a blind alley by coming out with something that sounds informed and intelligent when, in fact, there’s nothing obvious or useful to be said.
This is revealing in the sense that you could apply it to Max Verstappen, now that he finds himself as a number one dealing with an equally hungry new teammate. Alongside Charles Leclerc being likely to keep Sebastian Vettel honest, Pierre Gasly’s elevation to Red Bull’s senior school is one of the most intriguing driver developments for 2019.
The many Verstappen fans have no doubt that their boy will deal with the situation by simply being quicker, backed by the knowledge that he’s Red Bull’s main man. On the other hand, Gasly’s supporters point to a racing intelligence adapted through the hardship of previously being sidelined by the Red Bull system and, more important, the experience gained and acquaintances made with Honda through that enforced season in Japan’s Super Formula in 2017.
Having consigned their book of French swearwords to the bin, Red Bull (and Max) need to learn about a Japanese culture in which correct manners are deemed to be even more important than effective ERS. With the pressure to perform after rubbishing Renault, the championship also-rans need to be aware that Ayrton Senna was the only motor sport icon powerful enough to criticise Honda in public and continue to receive their unwavering support in private.
Gasly will have already realised that Radio Alonso may have been titivating but Fernando’s cutting comments told Honda nothing they didn’t already know. It will only take a few injudicious and exasperated remarks in Dutch to allow Gasly, if he’s smart, to brush up on his Japanese etiquette, quietly massage existing contacts and really give Max something to get stressed about.
Who will come out on top of this interesting game at Red Bull? I’ve no idea, but care much more about that than I do about the outcome of incompetent dealings by self-indulgence politicians over Brexit.