What if Red Bull's season didn't improve?
Predicting the future is a difficult game, but please allow me on this occasion not to predict what I think will happen, but to simply imagine what could happen.
As Britain's greatest bard put it; "Now entertain conjecture of a time".
Pre-season testing has not gone well for the Red Bull F1 team. They've started on the back foot (or perhaps hoof in the case of Red Bull, and err, also Ferrari for that matter). The Renault power unit has proved troublesome, and Adrian Newey's tight packaging has simply exacerbated those problems. From this moment on, they are playing catch-up, and, as they say in Formula One "If you are not going forwards then you are.. just plain f*#3d".
September 2014: Thanks to a combination of factors including the poor start to the season the Red Bull F1 team, to put it politely, are still struggling.
The RB10 is quick; of course, it is -- it's an Adrian Newey car -- but time after time, despite qualifying in the top 5 and on one occasion pole. (It was at Silverstone, it was wet, and Christian Horner's skill as a racer drove the team to take a gamble. Luckily he timed it right, and it paid off -- front row, phew!) More than halfway through the season and despite leading races on four occasions Vettel has not yet won in 2014, in fact he's never even made it onto the podium. Breakdown, upon systems failure, upon contact, upon just plain bad luck, along with continuing Renault problems, has left Red Bull with just 80 points. They are 40 points behind Williams and an embarrassing 10 points behind Marussia -- yes Marussia (now with reliable Ferrari power). Imagine that, behind Marussia; oh, the ignominy.
The 2014 championship is dominated by Alonso and Rosberg; Hamilton isn't far behind, but Kimi is making it hard for him. Button is fighting with a similarly Mercedes-powered Hulkenberg, while Bottas and Magnussen are locked in a pan-Scandinavian mini-championship of their own. Massa, poor Massa, and poor, poor Ricciardo have been subjugated by their incumbent more established teammates. As usual, Sauber have moments of brilliance, but just can't keep up the pace across a season. Nobody talks about Caterham, Lotus, and Toro Rosso --, it is too painful to do so. Their story is just so very, very bleak, for they have Renault power, too, and all the woes that come with that. Renault is believed to be looking for an exit strategy; it is rumoured that Red Bull's considering quitting too.
Red Bull's responsible adults, Dr Helmut Marko and Dieter Mateschitz, have long faces. In order to continue the development race the team needs cash, or at least the guarantee of it. At this point back in the 2013 season, Red Bull had already amassed 402 points, and what do points make? That's right: dollars. This year they are tens of millions down on last year's cash haul, with no hope of winning the championship and the financial bonus that comes with it. Put simply, the fiscal rewards earned from the success in F1 that the team has enjoyed for the last four years simply isn't going to be there this year. To make matters worse, Infiniti now tells Red Bull that they are cutting and running. The Infiniti brand has struggled to establish itself in Europe, having your name written large on the side of a car that breaks down -- or certainly is noticed when it breaks down...all...the...time is not helping what is already a fragile case. All in all, this is making it impossible for Nissan to financially back Red Bull any more, so they pull the funding, and Red Bull F1 lose their title sponsor.
As soon as rumours of this leak into the paddock, Red Bull's stock starts to tumble faster than most formerly well-respected 70s TV presenters. Sensing the uncertainty, Red Bull's other sponsors get cold feet too and opt out of their contract for next season and suddenly the budget required for the F1 team for 2015 will cost Red Bull GmbH a lot more money than it had done for the last five years.
Whilst having pockets deep enough to fund the team for the next two seasons, Herr Mateschitz is a smart man and understands the value of branding. He realises that his drinks company may already have got the most out of F1 that it could have done over the last few years, and that zenith, while not long gone, is nevertheless gone and verrrry hard to get back -- just ask Williams.
Believing continuing in Formula One is doing both financial and brand damage to Red Bull; Mateschitz pulls the plug. And just then something beautiful happens, in a perfect moment (©Martine McCutcheon) the Universe just puts everything right.
Instead of pulling out of F1 with its tail between its legs, Red Bull simply changes tack.
The energy drink company reduces the number of staff at their Milton Keynes base from the profligate numbers required to succeed in F1 down to more manageable ranks, and sells the whole concern to someone who could use a lean, green racing machine. Yes, in a bizarre situation the team is sold back to the people it was bought from; Jaguar. (Admittedly Jaguar has new owners, not Ford any more, but this is still Jaguar).
Jaguar-Land Rover is thriving, selling more cars all over the world than ever, and the Tata group who own JLR have everything: a truly great design department, advanced research and development in the UK, and cheap manufacturing in India and soon China and Brazil, and above all a brand to die for. They have everything -- except a race team.
A deal is reached and the Red Bull factory is re-branded Jaguar Motorsport.
Now, just imagine this: Adrian Newey's skills are set loose on designing a new race car -- not for Formula One, but for endurance racing.
Jaguar is to return to Le Mans with Red Bull know-how. Red Bull's cash cow has turned into a cat, ready to pounce.
Stuffing it to Audi, Porsche and Toyota will be hard, but Mateschitz, Marko, Horner, Newey and Vettel did it to giants McLaren and Ferrari in F1, the highest level of motorsport -- and even did so from an appallingly dysfunctional starting point: the old Jaguar Racing F1 team.
The Le Mans 24 Hours is not an inconsiderable challenge but just imagine what Newey would come up with when presented with the ACO's rules and regulations. If anyone could beat Ingolstadt, Stuttgart and Cologne, Milton Keynes fuelled by F1 thinking in the form of the Newey-bot's brainpower could, probably.
How do the Jaguar team (heavily sponsored by Red Bull and racing not in British racing green but the traditional blue that Jaguar raced in at Le Mans in the 50s) get on at Le Mans? Well that's for you to conjecture with; my work here is almost done.
I know that this entire thing is simply a ridiculous flight of fantasy -- an extrapolation of an idea taken down a circuitous route, but if you love motorsport, and the chances are you do if you are reading this, then I'd bet you'd happily suspend your disbelief to see the story I just told you unfold, wouldn't you?
Or as Billy Shakes might have put it: "Yet sit and see, Minding true things by what their mock'ries be."
You want more?
Epilogue: Lotus and Caterham are both mortally wounded by Renault's underperformance. Never a man to let a bad thing spoil his day, Tony Fernandes seizes this turn of events as an opportunity and sells Caterham to Renault, or rather gives it to them in a complex deal that sees Alpine and Caterham becoming two sides of the same Renault coin. Free of the difficulties of Caterham but still hungry for a presence in international motorsport and car manufacturing, Fernandes finally realises his original dream of owning one of F1's greatest brands by buying the ailing Enstone-based Lotus F1 team from a desperate Gerard Lopez and also snaps up Lotus Cars from fellow Malaysians DRB-HICOM, bringing both aspects of Lotus's heritage under the same ownership.As it stands, Jaguar's not really in that world, so check out what happens when it goes a bit nuts on a road car...