Red Bull’s Mateschitz Q&A

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Dietrich Mateschitz
F1B’s unflappable Mark Hallam was kind enough to translate a German story in Welt am Sonntag for me in which Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz took a rare moment to speak to the press. Mateschitz speaking to the press is a bit of a rare thing and he typically shies away from those type things so I thought it was interesting that Welt am Sonntag was able to sit him down for a brief moment and ask a few questions.

Being the cordial and collegial guy Mark is, he did want me to point out that this is his translation and any errors are purely his. Having said that, the guy work for the German media and speaks German better than many Germans I’ve known so I think you can pretty much write this on a rock.

Here then, is the entirety of the Q&A and while the story is now old and dated, there were a few choice nuggets I thought wroth sharing.

WaS – Mr. Mateschitz, what can you learn from you lead driver Sebastian Vettel, 43 years your junior?

Mateschitz – Perhaps I could learn how to handle the media in a relaxed way, I’m renowned for my dislike of interviews. But more seriously, Sebastian has matured into an exceptional leading light during his ten years with us. He’s at the top of a racing team, and if you saw how he thanked all his mechanics and engineers so profusely in Abu Dhabi, you’d realise what kind of responsibility he has and how dearly he wants to repay our trust. Sebastian has improved over many small areas. He can enthuse people on an issue and motivate them.

WaS – You have called him your “young Siegrfried”. How do you intend to keep your young hero at Red Bull? Ferrari have already expressed an interest.

Mateschitz – For as long as we can provide him a winning car, he will drive for Red Bull Racing. If we couldn’t do that, we’d let him go, even if he were tied to us.

WaS – That could become a problem. Presumably your engineers are now hotly coveted by the other teams?

Mateschitz – Most of them have received at least one offer from the upper echelons. But I never heard from anyone who was considering leaving. And certainly not any more. The Dream-Team – I think you could call it that – is sticking together.

WaS – That sounds similar to the Schumacher/Ferrari combination of ten years ago. COld you usher in a similar era?

Mateschitz – There can be no guarantee of that whatsoever, but still, it’s been our plan from the very beginning. And we’re giving it a go.

WaS – The horse-power circus is known as the egotists’ playground. However, you struck a more cavalier note by maintaining equal status for both your drivers right up to the end of the title race. How do you intend too stop Sebastian automatically receiving number one status as world champion?

Mateschitz – Mark and Sebastian will retain equal status in the future. Sebastian will have to prove his strength again next year, and Mark will try to make that very difficult for him to do. And the bonus of being world champion won’t suffice on its own.

WaS – Some believe that Vettel was favoured over Webber for the entire season. Webber referred to himself as a number two driver as his win in Silverstone.

Mateschitz – People often read too much into given situations. At Silverstone we simpl had just one front wing, on which we wanted to gather information, and we decided on Sebastian. The wing was not better or faster than the old wing, just different. In hindsight, one can see very clearly that we gave equal support to Mark and Vettel all year. Nobody – except those in the media – was talking about favouritism.

WaS – Did you know that you were talking to a future F1 world champion when you met Sebastian Vettel for the first time?

Mateschitz – Certainly not just by looking at the stopwatch. Many young drivers can bang out quick laps. But only a very select few manage to convey experiences form the cockpit to the engineers. We quickly knew that our cars were the problem, when he drove poor lap times. We can rely on him. He has no problem admitting his own mistakes. And when his team makes a mistake, he’s not shy about discussing that with them. This openness drives the team forward.

WaS – You were the first businessman outside the automotive industry to become a team owner. Now six teams are being run by private investors. Is it possible to make money in Formula One?

Mateschitz – The days in which you earn money in Formula One and buy yachts and private jets with the spoils are long gone. Perhaps they will return, but thhis possibility alone isn’t enough to warrant the effort and commitment required to join. You’d be badly advised to jump in for that reason.

WaS – What has your presence brought Red Bull in terms of turnover, brand recognition and image?

Mateschitz – The F1 team is a part of our entire marketing mix, and needs to be seen in that context. Formula 1 certainly plays its part, but it’s still just one part.

WaS – After the Wolrd Championship wins of Mika Häkkinen for McLaren Mercedes in 1998 and 1999 sales figures for the Mercedes C-Class spiked noticeably. Will your beverages boom now?

Mateschitz – The connection between the market value of a car maker and an F1 team is obviously larger, but even in our case, there will be benefits for the market image of Red Bull.

WaS – In the past, your teams drew attention by throwing cool parties and the like in the paddock. Now Red Bull stands for success. What’s required to complete the transition from a fun racing team to world champions?

Mateschitz – We’re not talking about a transition here. It was never an “either or” issue, for us it’s always been “both, and…” Our goal was to put the focus on sport and entertainment, at the expense of politics, power, industry and so on. This spirit has since been adopted in the mean time by all participants in Formula One: by the teams, by the FIA, and by Bernie Ecclestone. But as is the case everywhere and in every field, some people out there seem to know everything, and they therefore wrote us off as just a “marekting team.”

WaS – You entered F1 by buying out the Jaguar team. In your estimation, how much money does a team owner have to invest over the course of a year to set up a winning team that can fight for the title?

Mateschhitz – This figure has sunk drastically thanks to the efforts of all those involved. In the past there were budgets between 800 and 900 million euros per year, but these have been drastically reduced, and we’re working on reducing them further. Currently, the entire budgets are probably somewhere between 100 and 500 million euros, but of course net expenditure is reduced according to sponsorship income and performance-related prize money obtained under the Concorde Agreement. Our budget probably lies somewhere in the lower midfield.

WaS – And therefore below thoes of the more celebrated teams… You must be over the moon to have beaten major car companies like Ferrari and Mercedes to win this title?

Mateschitz – That’s normally the case in sports: the stronger the opposition, the happier you are to have beaten them. However, this sporting rivalry is limited to the racetrack, to the races, it does not extend to the companies or their personnel. Norbert Haug and Luca di Montezemulo were among the first to congratulate us, and if roles were reversed the same would have applied to us.

So there you have it. Money or prize cash from FOM, sponsor investment and other income resources offsets the expense but perhaps we are close in suggesting that Red Bull jsut won the world championship by spending $200M Euros? This also raises the question of the agreement to impose a self regulated budget cap similar to 1990’s level spending that the teams agreed to. As Peter Windsor aptly pointed out in our interview, the amount of money spent in 1991 was drastically different than the amount being spent in 1999 and it is difficult to know just what that amount really is.

Regardless, if Red Bull did it by hiring one of the greatest designers the sport has ever known and spending approximately $200, what chance does HRT or even Tony Fernandes’s 1MRT have? Tough world out there.

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