The usually well-informed Auto, Motor, und Sport has learned that master designer Adrian Newey will soon step back from the Red Bull Racing Formula 1 team. The German medium reports that salary costs at the constructors’ champion have increased as a result of the many successes, and that Newey will be forced to shift his attention to other projects to ensure that Red Bull does not exceed the budget limit.
Predictability in a sport is usually seen as something negative, so in 2017 Liberty Media quickly started looking for a way to make the sport more unpredictable and make the teams financially healthier. The budget ceiling was a logical solution, where opportunities should be equal for everyone. Although the teams are clearly in better financial shape than five to ten years ago, the predictability has remained.
In fact, in 2023 Red Bull Racing and Max Verstappen had the most dominant season in the history of the sport, judging by various statistics. The expectation is that the successful combination will again be difficult to beat in 2024, especially now that pursuers with a limited budget are having more difficulty closing the gap. “You have to ask yourself whether the budget ceiling has been a failure,” says journalist Michael Schmidt. ‘The answer is unsatisfactory: yes and no. It works differently than expected, and it will take years to have the desired effect, much longer than Liberty Media would have liked.
Top teams can only offer key personnel a limited salary
Part of the problem, according to Schmidt, is that the best people were already with the traditional large teams. ‘The big teams still work with 800 to 1,000 people, because they don’t want to lose their good people to the competition. They prefer to use their top earners on other projects and then only let them work partly for the Formula 1 team. The FIA closed this loophole in April 2023, and anyone who now contributes to Formula 1 will be fully covered by the operational budget.”
“This increased the pressure on the big teams,” Schmidt continues. ‘It is difficult to retain good engineers by offering them money, because only the three employees with the highest salary fall outside the budget ceiling. With another team, engineers can often not only get a better salary, but also a higher management position. Red Bull has divided its technological department into many specializations in order to offer enough interesting positions. The problem is that once the positions are filled, there is little room for promotion. Because of the specializations, it is difficult to switch from one area to another role.’
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‘The top teams, which cannot offer their employees much more than the success story, are therefore vulnerable, with Red Bull in pole position. The constructors’ champion has lost many people to the competition, often to sub-top teams. What makes it extra painful is that the opposition becomes stronger,” Schmidt points out. ‘Technical director Pierre Waché and aerodynamic leader Enrico Balbo have resisted the temptation of a transfer. However, the retention of these types of key figures poses a problem, because their salaries increase and the team is therefore in danger of exceeding the budget ceiling if no measures are taken.’
“The focus is on the technological pope, Adrian Newey,” Schmidt gets to the point. ‘Newey apparently plans to focus entirely on the RB17 hypercar in the medium term, freeing up one of the three top earner spots for someone else. The master designer now works part-time for the Formula 1 team, but that is going to change,” Schmidt believes. ‘Newey would soon focus entirely on the RB17, partly because the FIA keeps a close eye on whether there are technical synergies between Formula 1 cars and sports cars.’
Red Bull knowledge leaks out to the competition
By losing certain key players, including Dan Fallows to Aston Martin and Rob Marshall to McLaren, Red Bull also risks that knowledge of the RB19’s philosophy will end up with the challenging teams. ‘Marshall started working for McLaren on January 1. The former Red Bull designer brings important knowledge from his former team. Red Bull has already indicated that it has seen similarities at the rear of the MCL60, although that information probably came from a different source, because Marshall was still on gardening leave.’
“This year many more cars will be equipped with the Red Bull suspension,” Schmidt predicts. ‘In addition, there is another reason why it is difficult for Red Bull to maintain its lead. The ground effect cars are reaching their development ceiling faster than the previous generations of cars. There is simply a limited amount of downforce that you can generate under the car. At some point it stops, that’s just physics.’