Hannah Taylor, F1 Correspondent
Following their success and record breaking results throughout the last two Formula One seasons, the Red Bull Racing team added another achievement to their name yesterday. For the first time in F1 history, the double World Championship winning team has become the only one to put on a show stopping spectacle at their base in the United Kingdom.
The Austrian team whose cars are made at their factory in Milton Keynes, were approached by the local council earlier in the season, when it looked like Red Bull were on the verge of securing a second consecutive Championship for both the Drivers’ and Constructors’ titles.
While the middle of the town was brought to a standstill, and converted into a temporary race track where the action unfolded, it was estimated that 60,000 people turned out to give Red Bull a warm welcome home.
Before the main show began in the afternoon on Midsummer Boulevard, many dedicated fans arrived early to secure a good spot for the action on the track, and maybe an autograph from the men featuring in the selected line up.
For those willing to give up their prime positions for the festivities later on in the day, there was the opportunity for the general public to visit the F1 Awning and Paddock at 11am. Within these two areas were the two Red Bull cars and truck, the Infiniti car manufacturer’s stand and the Pirelli tyre suppliers also had a stand, which offered people the opportunity to have a virtual experience of operating an F1 car.
Before and during the displays put on for the public which featured Mark Webber, Red Bull stunt bike rider Chris Pfeiffer, Double World Champion Sebastian Vettel and former Formula One driver David Coulthard, there were a series of interview periods with some of the key people at the event. These included Webber, Vettel, Red Bull’s Chief Technical Officer Adrian Newey and Team Principal Christian Horner. During this window of opportunity it was a time to find out how the 2011 season had gone, the purpose of the homecoming event as well as off the track news and looking ahead to the 2012 season.
Where the print media interview sessions were concerned, Webber was the first to come under the spotlight. To begin with he commented on winning the final race of the 2011 season and described it as ‘a nice way to finish the season for sure’. The Australian seemed very pleased to end the season on a high and secured third place in the Drivers’ Championship as well. Webber also explained how he is looking forward to the winter break, and sees it as an opportunity for him to recharge his batteries, and get off to a good start for the season opener at his home race in Australia. On the other hand, Webber also mentioned how the development on the new car is going, “They’re working hard on it… the reliability of the car this year was sensational… sections of the car need to be looked at and modified heavily.” Despite the Red Bull team making good progress on the new car, it seems that there are still some important tweaks to be made before the season starts in March next year.
Looking ahead to the 2012 season, Webber discussed the race calendar. Following the unrest in Bahrain which led to the cancellation of the Grand Prix during the 2011 season, Webber explained how ‘it’s on the calendar’ for next year. He went on and said, “It would be great if we could go out there… let’s hope they all happen.”
In relation to next year’s calendar, like the 2011 season where the Indian Grand Prix took place for the first time, it will be a similar situation for the inaugural United States Grand Prix, but on this occasion the location will change to Austin, where the first F1 race is due to take place next November. Webber was positive about this new addition to the calendar, “They’ve done a really good job with the layer, a lot of undulation and a lot of sweeping quick corners which is always challenging for us… It’s not a market that clearly has been completely cracked, but I think they will be enthusiastic and keen to have us there”.
Inevitably, the purpose of holding the homecoming event was a hot topic and something that Webber was keen to discuss. “To drive the F1 car in Milton Keynes here today is special in front of all these fans, it’s very close to the factory just down the road,” said Webber. “I live pretty local as well, so it’s an added sort of interest for me and it’s just a nice way to give something back to the community. You know there’s some huge amount of F1 fans that live in the UK, but also locally to the team,” explained Webber.
When Webber’s period of question time came to an end, the reigning World Champion Vettel was next in line.
During Vettel’s interview time he did a recap on achieving another successful and Championship winning season. The German praised the work that the team as a whole put in, and explained how there were ‘no issues with reliability except Brazil… and Webber’s crash in Monza’. “Engine wise everything was better than expected,” he said. Although Vettel and the team in its entirety will go into next season still being the ones to beat, he seems mindful though that ‘next year the cars will be slightly different… not a revolution but regulation'. He is indicating that this relates to a modification in the FIA’s standards, of how the cars should be set up with the required elements in place.
Despite Vettel being unstoppable throughout the 2011 season, he felt that the competition between the front runners had ‘been much closer than the scoreboard indicated’. Nevertheless, the statistics show that he was still the man in charge at the top of the Drivers’ Championship. He explained how the team is ‘looking forward to the future’ and he feels that the battle between the leading drivers ‘is extremely competitive’. However, it remains to be seen going into next season, how and who will be the man to knock Vettel off his victorious perch.
Like Webber had previously mentioned, Vettel followed a similar fashion and described the significance of the show run in the teams’ home town. “Well it’s great to be here in Milton Keynes you know obviously this is where our cars are built and where all the people come to work to make the cars, so it’s nice to come here and drive down the roads that we know so well… and say thank you and great also to see a lot of people on the roads from Milton Keynes you know all around the area,” Vettel said. “Yeah you know it’s good fun you know I think we have a nice trip, where we can do some doughnuts and just enjoy ourselves,” he commented.
After Vettel and Webber had completed their media commitments, they had time to get themselves ready for the festivities on the make shift track and put on a show for the crowd. Meanwhile, Christian Horner and Adrian Newey had the chance to put across their views on the day’s events, the 2011 season, looking ahead to next year and other F1 related issues. The first topic of discussion for the pair concerned Red Bull’s recent withdrawal from the Formula One Team’s Association (FOTA).
Horner explained how the organisation ‘did a lot of good things when it was first created’ but now they ‘have taken the decision to step out of FOTA for now’. Following the announcement within the last week about this, Red Bull have been accompanied by Ferrari who have also come out of it for the time being. Horner felt that the decision by two of the top teams in the sport ‘stimulates discussion’.
He went on and said, “Hopefully out of it something positive will come but you know we only withdrew last week so we’ll see, but I mean the team remains committed to try and find ways of containing costs whether as Adrian says, in a transparent manner that as an independent team you know we’re part of, we’re a subsidiary of an energy drink company and what we do is only relevant to F1 and therefore it is crucial that whatever regulations are agreed upon or whatever formats we acknowledge it’s transparent and workable.” While the politics off the race track was at the forefront of the discussion momentarily, the tables soon turned to focus on the purpose of the day’s activities for the fans. Horner seemed humbled by the support for the team from their followers, and the council who helped to organise and host the event in Milton Keynes.
Horner said, “It’s what we’re all about, without the fans there is no F1, there is no Red Bull and it’s great to give something back and to celebrate a double World Championship like this you know at home with so many members of the public, and so many members of the team and their family and friends here it’s great, we have to say thank you to the council you know for closing the middle of Milton Keynes down, in the middle of one of their busiest shopping days of the year to put on this event.”
Further to these appreciative comments towards those who have shown their support, Horner added how he was looking forward to the prospect of his two drivers putting on a display alongside each other, “It’s the first time we’ve had both Seb and Mark running together, so hopefully they’ll behave so hopefully we can put on a good show and we’ve got David driving the NASCAR as well.”
Following the series of interviews before the event officially got underway; the time finally arrived for the crowds to be entertained. David Coulthard assisted BBC F1 presenter Jake Humphrey in hosting the festivities. The action on the track began with an appearance from Webber in his is racing car, where he put on a 10 minute display to the captive audience. He then returned to the make shift pits and garage area, which led the way for Chris Pfeiffer to take centre stage. He demonstrated his exceptional talent, and performed some impressive stunt skills on his motor bike.
The schedule then returned to feature racing cars again, when Coulthard donned his race suit and crash helmet and took to the track in a NASCAR. The Scotsman followed the trend and impressed the crowds with his display. To complete the solo line up at this point in the proceedings, the crowds were kept in suspense until Vettel emerged from the pits. The German also had 10 minutes to put his Championship winning skills on show, and was welcomed by the fans like Webber, Pfeiffer and Coulthard.
The show stopping spectacle continued, and gave the opportunity for Coulthard and Pfeiffer to do an encore for the locals who had turned out to see them. However, it was not long until the most anticipated moment of the day soon arrived. This saw Webber and Vettel take to the track together, and perform some extra special manoeuvres, that they would normally be penalised for if demonstrated during the season at the races.
When the pit stop opportunity arose for the likes of Webber, Vettel, Coulthard, Horner and Newey, all of these key people took the time to meet the fans, and some were lucky enough to get autographs.
As the event was fast approaching its’ chequered flag climax, Vettel and Webber took to the track for a final time to complete some parade laps. They also appeared in two chauffer driven Infiniti convertible cars, which then marked the end of the day’s action. Nevertheless, the fans still had time to gain access to the paddock if they were blue wrist band holders. This then gave them the opportunity to do a bit of celebrity spotting, and hunt around for Webber, Vettel, Horner, Coulthard, Newey and Jake Humphrey.
During the wind down time before the clean-up operation arrived, Vettel and the other key figures of the day addressed the media that were present once more. Vettel had a few closing words to express his thanks for the work that had gone into organising the event, the supporters who had turned up to welcome the team home, and the other employees of Red Bull Racing. “We’d liked to put a great show on so I hope you enjoyed it and yeah I think it was a special day, and a good way to say thank you to all the employees’ working day and night in the factory building our cars. We’ve been extremely successful so I think that’s the minimum that we can do,” commented Vettel as the event came to a close.