• The Inside Line

A good deal for Red Bull

Kate Walker
July 24, 2013
A Red Bull Racing car at the Red Bull Ring promoting Red Bull energy drinks © Red Bull Content Pool

Let's get one thing straight. I'm not anti-Austria, per se. I just don't see the point of adding the Red Bull Ring to an already vast calendar.

So Bernie Ecclestone and Dietrich Mateschitz have made an agreement 'to the effect' that there will be an Austrian Grand Prix on 6 July next year. Those three little words 'to the effect' are interesting, in that they seem to have been inserted solely to absolve the commercial rights holder and Red Bull from responsibility should the race not come off for any reason. My instinct is that - yet again - the commercial rights holder is looking to make life difficult for the FIA.

Even after four years, the concept of a truly independent FIA appears to be unpalatable in Prince's Gate. The Mosley era was so convenient, after all - no scrapping about races or regulations or media freedom. The Max and Bernie show decided on an agenda, and voila! No hassle, no problems.

But I digress.

This Austrian Grand Prix notion is a curious one, as I'm struggling to see how Bernie will benefit from the race. And make no mistake - Bernie Ecclestone is not the sort of man who does things for no reason, or for reasons that fail to benefit him in any way.

It's pretty clear that Red Bull (the drinks company) will benefit from a race at their eponymous circuit. It's basic marketing, after all. As part of the Red Bull family, the race team will also benefit.

But for everyone else involved in Formula One? The teams are already struggling with the concept of a potential 21-race calendar in 2014. The idea that might become 22 races is pretty terrifying for anyone involved in booking annual leave for team employees, sorting out logistics and freight, or doing any of the millions of backroom jobs that keep the F1 circus on the road.

A GP in Austria is effectively useless from a sponsor's point of view. Races deep in the European countryside - Silverstone excepted - struggle to sell Paddock Club tickets. Team sponsors don't fight for VIP passes to the rural races - there's no après-race scene for them to enjoy, no fellow bigwigs for networking. These things may not matter to the ordinary fan, but when it comes to generating the cash that keeps team coffers full? Adding Austria is pretty pointless.

Some fans will rejoice at the prospect of an extra weekend's racing, but there are also those fans who say that a 20-race calendar was too big a commitment when combined with the pressures of having a life, a family, a hobby, responsibilities…

So the great return to Styria benefits an energy drink firm and (by extension) the two teams owned by that company. But it will prove to be a headache for the rest of the circus, with teams now re-examining their over-stretched 2014 budgets to see just how they can squeeze in extra tests and extra races while also paying higher registration fees and forking out for the new spec engine.

The FIA have the power to refuse the race, should they choose to exercise it. All that needs to happen is for the WMSC to fail to ratify it for inclusion on the 2014 calendar. But that would involve a face-off with Ecclestone that would also put the powers that be at the Place de la Concorde in direct opposition to one of the sport's best-funded (and most successful) teams.

Perhaps Bernie does have a few things to gain from this race after all…

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