Well the rumours have been pretty strong for the past week and now it’s for certain: Red Bull confirms Minardi purchase.
I have always been in awe of Minardi. In all the time I’ve been watching Formula 1 — about ten years now — Minardi have always been fastened to the bottom of the timing sheets. And yet, for twenty years, the Minardi team carried on regardless. Apart from a period in the late 1980s / early 1990s, scoring a point was a rare occurance for Minardi. The few times I’ve seen it happen in my lifetime (with the exception of the US this year) it has always been an important event, as though Minardi had won the World Championship. Particularly memorable was when Mark Webber took two points in his debut grand prix in his (and his boss’!) home country of Australia.
They might seem like minnows, but in real terms they’re giants. It used to be a joke that Minardi were more famous for the coffee they served than their racing. But that ignores some salient facts. Minardi’s budget is just a tenth of that of Ferrari, yet they are able to be only a couple of seconds slower across a typical lap.
Somehow, over the years, Minardi have clung on while other big names have come and gone. Arrows, a team which had been around for decades and carried the number 1 on its car when Damon Hill drove for them, went bust in 2001. Four times World Champion Alain Prost’s ill-conceived attempt to create a French superteam could only stick around for a few years with sometimes shockingly poor performances. Three times champion Jackie Stewart’s team came and went (although, it has to be said, with considerably more success). The team Stewart drove for, Tyrrell, had to sell to British American Tobacco in 1998. Just last month Sauber sold out to BMW. All-in-all, since 1990, 29 teams have disappeared from Formula 1. Today Minardi became the thirtieth, but that they were able to wait until number 30 is remarkable.
And despite frequently having to field drivers on the basis of their bank accounts rather than their driving skill — drivers who effectively paid for their seat behind the wheel of a Formula 1 car — a startling number of their drivers have gone on to greater things. In today’s field alone, aswell as current drivers Christijan Albers and Robert Doornbos, Minardi have employed Giancarlo Fisichella, Jarno Trulli, Mark Webber and the man who could become the sport’s youngest ever World Champion tomorrow: Fernando Alonso.
They have also been a stepping stone for Jordan’s tester Nicolas Kiesa, BAR’s impressive third driver Anthony Davidson, and Ferrari’s test drivers Luca Badoer and Marc Gené, not to mention countless other drivers from the past. Minardi might look like F1’s novelty no-hopers, but they are no joke.
Phase one of Minardi’s lifespan ended long ago of course, when in 2001 Australian businessman Paul Stoddart bought the team. Stoddart isn’t any old businessman though — he’s the real deal, a true motor racing fan. He kept the Minardi name, and the team remained in its Faenza base in Italy. Stoddart’s personal commitment is amazing to me. When he has got his own businesses to run, no doubt with their own issues to be solved, Stoddart has put F1 and Minardi first. For instance, he has sold items from his personal collection of Formula 1 cars to help keep Minardi going.
Stoddart has also campaigned ruthlessly against Formula 1’s spiralling costs, which have put smaller teams like Minardi under even more pressure than ever. Unlike other team bosses, Stoddart was unafraid to say what he thought. He never minced his words, and has often called for the resignation of Max Moseley. He became Formula 1’s ‘unofficial shop steward’. Stoddart is a real character, adding a real splash of colour into Formula 1. I am sad today as much for the departure of Stoddart as the loss of the Minardi name.
I say the loss of the Minardi name, although we don’t even know if the Minardi name will go. It probably will — rumours last week suggested that it would be renamed Red Bull Team America (Red Bull have said that they want to create the first ever “All-American” F1 team, whatever that might entail). Even although the team will probably renamed, “the majority” of the staff at the Faenza base will keep their jobs, and the team will keep its base in Italy. Red Bull will hopefully be able to bring the team forward much more easily than Stoddart could.
The latest word is that the new Red Bull ‘B’ team will be a Rookie Team. Liuzzi and Speed to be the drivers then? Who knows; Red Bull have enough drivers to fill the seats whatever. The two Red Bull teams will apparently remain separate, which will be strange. I imagine there will be at least a Ferrari / Sauber style relationship. We might have to get used to the idea of B teams you know!
Whatever, things at Red Bull / Minardi will still be odd. Minardi already have a contract to use Cosworth engines next year, whereas the Red Bull A team will be using Ferrari engines. Minardi are on Bridgestone tyres whilst Red Bull A will use Michelins (even though Ferrari will use Bridgestones, which is interesting!). Red Bull have made a smart move by buying a second team, though, because due to economies of scale the cost of running four cars is obviously not double the cost of running two. So it wouldn’t surprise me if both teams used the same chassis, and all the same equipment in the long run, even if one is based in Milton Keynes and the other in Faenza and a boss based in Austria!
That’s all speculation though. Interestingly, though, in a period which is supposed to be the beginning of the end of privateers, here we have a privateer — even if it is the boss of a large drinks company — pouring money into Formula 1 and motor racing in general with ease.
So I’m sad to see Minardi go. But I’m also looking forward to see what its replacement can achieve.