Sidepodcast - All for F1 and F1 for all

Talk on Corners
Christopher Wheelahan

Chris first caught the F1 flu back in 2003 but lost track due to the snooze-fest that was the 2004 season. In 2010 Chris rediscovered the sport and has become enthralled since. He makes no claims to be a superb writer or journalist but only an obsessive follower of motorsport, particularly F1. Nowadays Chris spends his spare time experimenting with cocktails and wasting time with Musical Theatre types. He does not enjoy long walks on the beach… sorry.

The start of a joke - A tale of two drivers, an uncertain future... and coffee


A guy in a McLaren shirt walks into a pretentious, “third-wave” coffee shop. The guy in this case is me. The coffee shop is to remain nameless, but let’s say it’s one located in a city caught between the American Northeast and Midwest and in a neighborhood known for farmers’ markets and people who ironically sip Pabst Blue Ribbon not yet aware that Schlitz is the current favorite of in-the-know hipsters. It’s the same coffee shop I go to twice a week, and the same flannel wearing barista I’ve seen a few times.

He extends some kind of greeting (I was too busy contemplating how he hasn’t died of heat stroke to pay attention) and asks me whether I want my single-origin from Kenya or Burundi this morning. I decide on an espresso blend, but not the house one and order a cortado. He’s impressed. Somewhere in between tamping my shot and texturing my milk he states “So... glad I’m not driving for Toro Rosso nowadays.”

I’m impressed.

“Yeah” I say, not really sure what just happened. Not only did this guy recognize my shirt as a Formula One team shirt, but also knew that Toro Rosso was currently in pretty dire straits. Did I mention I was just east of middle-America? Gathering my thoughts, I say “Why? Because you’d be a Red Bull development driver or because it’s Toro Rosso?”

He pours some neat looking leaf design into my espresso before gathering his thoughts and says “Well, both I guess. Not only would I have a crap car but I would probably get the axe next year in contract negotiations.”

Heavy sigh. The cute lady-barista usually pours little hearts in my espresso drinks… also, is this guy actually talking to me about Jean-Éric Vergne and Daniel Ricciardo’s contracts? “Maybe so. We’ll just have to see what the development race cooks up. Have a good one.” I want to sit outside and read my book. Not sure why but this was virtually the only time in the last decade I didn’t particularly care to talk F1. Also, it’s supposed to be a good book… about the financial crisis. Apropos, I think. I contemplate F1 nonetheless.

A moment to think

He said that the STR7 is a crap car, and I agree. Here’s the thing. Red Bull have clearly taken a step back in relation to their competitors. Assuming Toro Rosso have taken an equal step back, they’re performing right about where they should be. Red Bull was so far ahead of the pack last year that they could afford a slight step in the wrong direction. The mid-pack was so tight in 2011 that if anyone were to take a step back, they’d almost fall into the grasp of Caterham. Guess where Toro Rosso is now.

Performing right about where they should be
Performing right about where they should beCredit: Peter Fox/Getty

Toro Rosso needs a double-espresso sized pick-me-up as soon as they can manage. If they don’t get an injection of development funding over the rest of the 2012 season it could spell the beginning of STR being the laughing stock of the paddock. Dr. Mateschitz wouldn’t like that very much so the start of the STR joke could also be the start of the end of Red Bull’s relationship with the sport.

Red Bull is only interested with F1 inasmuch as it sells their product. If Toro Rosso is puttering around the back of the field, the mother company is not selling drinks. Or rather, they are… but only to the kind of people who match their shoes to their “going out shirt” and order Jägerbombs at the club. Not the kind of people who watch Formula One. With diminishing returns, Dietrich Mateschitz will either pump more money into the struggling Italian Scuderia, or withdraw the cash and put it towards their headline team. The short of it is… we could be seeing the start of the Toro Rosso joke, but it won’t last for long either way.

Pros and cons

The other part of the sartorially-challenged-barista’s statement I think I’d have to disagree with, at least at face value. Yes, I would have a crap car if I were Jean-Éric Vergne or Daniel Ricciardo. On the other hand, I’m fairly young, cheap and quick - exactly the qualities the Red Bull drivers’ program is eyeing. Point for. The only thing going against the two of them is that neither of them is obviously outdriving the other or the car. Point against. Toro Rosso will be around next year (past that remains uncertain) and will need two drivers. These two are the fastest they have. Point for. Red Bull does not exactly have a reputation for keeping underwhelming drivers around longer than necessary. Point against. I could go on.

A pretty quick driver and an even quicker study
A pretty quick driver and an even quicker studyCredit: Peter Fox/Getty

The long and the short of it is – these two guys are the best available drivers for STR to put in the cockpit. They have lots of room for improvement and plenty of time to learn.

JEV is a pretty quick driver and an even quicker study. Ricciardo may be less so and could be at risk of losing his seat to Buemi, but for my money (and I’m guessing Dr. Dietrich’s) it’ll be him and Jevvo next year unless something spectacular happens around the grid and they move to another race seat.

I bring my spent glassware back inside and shudder once again at the idea of wearing a knit jacket in July. I thank the guy for the impeccable coffee and remind him that I’ll be back tomorrow as I put the glass in the bus bin. “Sure thing. See you tomorrow. Stay cool.” Stay cool he says. I can’t decide if he’s trying to be ironic this time or actually succeeding. Walking out, I notice the cute lady-barista is back at the espresso machine. Curses.