After an action-packed debut race at Austin’s new Circuit of the Americas in Texas – F1′s first race in the United States for five years – that saw Lewis Hamilton take a thoroughly deserved victory, one could be excused for forgetting that Sebastian Vettel’s faultless drive to second place secured Red Bull Racing a remarkable third consecutive Constructors’ Championship.
The destiny of the title was an arguably foregone conclusion as the cars raced round on Sunday evening. Ferrari drivers, Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa, both had to finish on the podium to keep the team’s hopes alive; and whilst gaining the maximum from the Ferrari package once again, their finishing positions of third and fourth – a staggering 40 seconds behind the leaders – were never going to cut it in the Texas sunshine.
But this is no reason to dampen our appreciation of Red Bull’s achievement. Not only does it reaffirm their place at the top of the current Formula One tree, but they now find themselves amongst an elite club of teams to have reaped such consecutive successes: Ferrari during 1976-8, McLaren across 1988-91, Williams spanning 1992-94, and Ferrari’s incredible modern-era winning streak with Michael Schumacher at the helm between 1999 and 2004.
However, as much as Red Bull will be revelling in the glory of matching these great outfits of yesteryear, one senses immense relief amongst the team, more so than during the triumphs of 2010 and 2011. Observing the body language of Red Bull personnel in interviews after the race at Texas definitely showed achieving this year’s championship alone meant a great deal.
One man who will be as relieved as anyone is Chief Designer, Adrian Newey – 1980 Southampton University engineering graduate – who has overseen the design and development of this now championship-winning RB8 chassis. He summed up his feelings succinctly after the race, describing the 2012 F1 campaign as his “most tiring” project to date.
In short, 2012 has not been plain sailing for the Milton Keynes-based team. Having dominated the 2011 season in impeccable style - largely thanks to the brilliant EBD (Exhaust Blown Diffuser) conceived by Newey, and superior application of electronic throttle programming technology by his design department – the new 2012 season arrived with both these technical enhancements banned.
As a result, the early races of the 2012 championship saw Red Bull floundering, compared to their normal high standards – as they strived to understand new methods of gaining car performance. Progress was made steadily throughout the season by Newey’s design department – particularly in an effort to rekindle Red Bull’s traditionally strong qualifying speed (Sebastian Vettel secured a phenomenal 15 pole positions from 19 races during 2011). It finally took a massive parts upgrade fitted to the car at the Singapore Grand Prix, in late September, for Red Bull to return to the sort of form known of them before. This allowed Vettel to win five races on-the-bounce thereafter, a winning streak only broken by last week’s victory of Lewis Hamilton in Texas.
To consider then that Red Bull have still been able to achieve the ultimate goal with a car that hasn’t been the pace-setter for most of the season, arguably adds further shine to what they’ve accomplished in 2012. The Constructors’ Championship, by nature, is the cumulative points total of the two cars each team enters. It is therefore not only a great measurer of which team had the most consistent drivers, but also a sign of which team can pragmatically rise above any tough situations to keep scoring points – something that rivals Ferrari and McLaren have tripped over themselves regularly this year – and also the team that can develop a fast and reliable car throughout the nine month season.
Red Bull has out-classed the opposition in all those fields, has won the championship, and that is what history will ultimately remember.
Looking ahead, the 2012 season now moves towards the championship finale at Interlagos in Brazil this weekend, where the coveted Drivers’ Championship remains to be decided. Sebastian Vettel will arrive with a 13-point lead over fellow title contender Fernando Alonso – with 25 points available to the race winner. Vettel is still firmly in control of affairs, with Alonso’s primary route to the title requiring him to win, with Vettel only needing to finish fourth – at a track which should suit the nimble and stable Red Bull cars.
However, the bumpy and gruelling Sao Paulo track, along with forecasts for rain showers throughout the weekend, means the 2012 F1 Drivers’ Championship will not be truly over until the final lap is complete. Tune in, and enjoy.
You can read an exclusive article by Richard Brown, offering insight into the motorsport career of former Southampton student, Adrian Newey, in December’s print edition of the Wessex Scene.