The Red Bull debacle in Turkey has brought the management of Red Bull Racing into the focus and perhaps it is worth explaining a little about how it works – and who does what.
The team is listed as being Austrian, but it is based in Milton Keynes in England. In reality it is about as Austrian as bangers and mash. I doubt more than a couple of people at the factory could name the Austrian Chancellor. Nonetheless, it is widely believed that it is the Austrians who make the decisions – which is their prerogative, as they also pay the bills…
The team is owned by by Red Bull GmbH, an Austrian company based in Fuschl am See, in the scenic Salzkammergut area, in the hills behind Salzburg. Red Bull GmbH was established in 1984 by Austrian toothpaste salesman Dietrich Mateschitz and he continues to manage the company, although he is only a 49% shareholder in the business, the majority being owned by Thailand’s Chaleo Yoovidhya and his son Chalerm. Chaleo had established the TC Pharmaceutical Company in 1962 and sold a drink called Krating Daeng, which is often translated as Red Bull, but in fact means Red Gaur, a gaur being a member of the buffalo family which is found in Asia.
Red Gaur, however, does not translate well in English and so when Mateschitz decided to do a deal to sell the product in Europe, he changed the name (and the taste) to fit the European market. The company began marketing the drink in Austria in 1987 – one of its first ambassadors being F1 driver Gerhard Berger. The drink was on sale only in Austria until 1992 when it was launched in Hungary. After that international expansion accelerated and at the end of 1994 Mateschitz bought control of the Sauber F1 team to bring his brand to the attention of the world. The company entered the US market in 1997 and the Middle East in 2000.
Berger’s mentor in the early years of his career was Helmut Marko. A doctor of law from the University of Graz, Marko was at school with Jochen Rindt. Helmut was a good racing driver and in 1971 (a year after Rindt’s death) he shared victory in the Le Mans 24 Hours with Gijs van Lennep, driving a factory Martini-Porsche 917K. Later that year Marko did a deal to race F1 with an Ecurie Bonnier McLaren M7C. He failed to qualify for the German GP when the car ran out of fuel on the first lap out of the pits. He gave up on that idea and did four races with a fourth BRM. The following year, still with BRM, he made a big impression at the French GP at Clermont-Ferrand, qualifying on the third row of the grid, and was running in fifth place when a piece of stone, thrown up by the cars ahead, smashed through the visor of his helmet and he lost the sight in one eye.
He never raced in F1 again but afterwards began to support young racers from Austria and Germany and ran his own teams. His first real protege was Helmut Koinigg, although the young Austrian was killed almost immediately when he crashed a Surtees in the US Grand Prix at Watkins Glen in 1974.
Marko’s next charges were German Hans Georg Burger and Austrian Markus Hottinger, who raced a BMW M1 entered by Marko in 1979. Both would be killed in Formula 2 accidents in the course of 1980. Marko also helped the young Jo Gartner and ran a young Christian Danner at Le Mans in 1981, but his first real success came with Berger in the early 1980s when the RSM Marko team ran Gerhard in the European Formula 3 Championship. In the same era Marko also embarked on a career as a hotelier, and now runs two successful hotels in his home town of Graz.
When Berger graduated to F1, Marko turned his team to touring cars with a DTM operation for the likes of Volker Weidler, Jorg Van Ommen and ski champion Franz Klammer before returning to Formula 3 running Karl Wendlinger to the German F3 title in 1989.
In racing his next success came in 1994 when Jorg Muller won the 1994 German Formula 3 Championship for Marko. The team moved up to Formula 3000 and in 1996 won the title. This meant that in 1997 RSM Marko was the team to be in in Formula 3000. The team ran Juan Pablo Montoya and Australian Craig Lowndes, both highly-rated, but it was not a happy year. Marko questioned Montoya’s fitness despite the fact that the Columbian won three races. Lowndes had a miserable time. At the end of that year Lowndes went home to Australia and Montoya switched to rival Super Nova Racing and won the title in 1998.
The Red Bull link with RSM Marko began a year later when Marko convinced Mateschitz to fund a Red Bull Junior Team. Its lead driver was Brazil’s Enrique Bernoldi. Marko was a big Bernoldi fan and told Mateschitz that Bernoldi should be promoted to F1 with Sauber in 2001. Mateschitz’s insistence on this would lead to the end of his relationship with Peter Sauber. The Swiss team owner wanted to hire an unknown called Kimi Raikkonen for 2001 and refused to agree to Bernoldi. Mateschitz continued to fund the team, but the Sauber shares were sold to Credit Suisse and Red Bull began to look to buy a team which he could control.
In the same era the Red Bull Junior Team signed up seven young drivers, including Christian Klien. That would increase in 2002 to 10 drivers, then 14 in 2003, including rising Italian star Tonio Liuzzi. Despite the best efforts of Liuzzi, Patrick Friesacher and Ricardo Mauricio, Marko’s Red Bull Junior Formula 3000 team did not do well and it was shut down at the end of 2003 when the Red Bull sponsorship was transferred to Christian Horner’s Arden Motorsport, which had dominated the formula in 2002 and 2003 with Tomas Enge and Bjorn Wirdheim. Liuzzi drove and the result was a complete walkover in 2004, with Liuzzi winning seven of the 10 races and second driver Robert Doornbos adding another. At the end of that year Red Bull found what it was looking for and bought Jaguar Racing. Mateschitz/Marko hired Christian Horner to run it. David Coulthard was taken on as an experienced number one and the Austrians decided to keep Christian Klien, despite the fact that the Red Bull driver had achieved little with Jaguar in 2004. The decision was taken to alternate Klien and Liuzzi, which was a seriously flawed idea for all concerned and was stopped after just a few races, leaving Liuzzi in the lurch.
At the end of 2005 Mateschitz was convinced to buy Minardi and rename it Scuderia Toro Rosso. Liuzzi was pushed into this with F1 new boy Scott Speed, while Coulthard and Klien stayed on at Red Bull Racing. Berger was called in to run Toro Rosso, but there were serious tensions inside the team which ended with Speed leaving, to make way for Marko’s golden boy Sebastian Vettel. By the end of that year Klien’s star was fading and he was replaced at Red Bull Racing by Doornbos.
In 2007 Red Bull Racing took the odd decision to hire Mark Webber to partner Coulthard. Webber was well-connected with Renault and the team wanted the French engines. This left Liuzzi and Vettel in Toro Rosso, under the management of Berger. There then began a power struggle between Berger and Marko, using the drivers as pawns, as they fought for Mateschitz’s ear. Liuzzi was dropped in favour of Sebastien Bourdais for 2008 – a move that ultimately proved to be disastrous for Berger, although he enjoyed the glory of Vettel (Marko’s driver) winning at Monza.
In 2009 Vettel was moved to Red Bull Racing to replace Coulthard. Berger disappeared from the scene and Vettel was replaced by Sebastien Buemi. Bourdais was then fired in the middle of 2009 and replaced by another Red Bull youngster Jaime Alguersuari.
It is clear that while Red Bull’s “motorsport consultant” does not appear officially in the team structure, he is the real force inside the operation. The team principal is Horner, but he has seen from what happened to Berger and knows that it is wise to stay sweet with Marko.
Who runs what? Perhaps it is worth listening to David Sears, who back in 1997 hired Juan Pablo Montoya away from RSM Marko.
“Juan Pablo and his dad came along at the end of 1997 and asked if we could help him,” said Sears. “At the time he had been racing for Helmut Marko who, along with Gerhard Berger, wanted to sign him up on a management contract. However Juan and I agreed a deal at Jerez when Jacques Villeneuve won the World Championship. As soon as Marko heard about it he threw Juan Pablo and his dad out of the hospitality bus and they came and ate with us. That is why I will never be allowed to run a Red Bull driver in my team as Marko runs the Red Bull affair”.
The events in Turkey in 2010 suggest that this is still the case. Marko was outspoken in his criticisms of Mark Webber after the collision between the Australian and Vettel. Christian Horner was a little more circumspect but was critical of Webber when there seemed little reason to be so.
With the fastest car and two very good drivers, Red Bull Racing is closer to success now than it has ever been. But what happened in Turkey has thrown a spanner in the works. Webber is not happy yet leads the World Championship. Vettel seems a little desperate having been beaten in three consecutive races by Webber. Horner looks uncomfortable.
For the moment Marko rules the roost…