What About The Red Bull Young Driver Program?

The 2015 Hungarian Grand Prix saw the most unexpected podium of recent times – Vettel, Kvyat and Ricciardo. Verstappen who finished an impressive 4th, made it a 1-2-3-4 finish for drivers who have graduated from the Red Bull Young Driver Program – one of their best advertisements till date? (Read: Hungar(y) Games)

That’s when I thought, what about the Red Bull Young Driver Program? Red Bull have threatened to quit Formula One if they don’t find a competitive engine, should that happen, what will they do with their impressive and much sought after driver training program? And worse, what about the drivers who are currently in the program? Questions not many have raised till date. (Read: Give Everyone Mercedes Engines)

Before I wonder further, let’s agree that a driver training program is most necessary – for drivers and for the teams. If you’re a driver, you’re almost always paying for your drive (karting, junior series and all the way up to Formula One). Yes, you could get scholarships and subsidized drives if you’re the series champion (or thereabouts) from the season before, but securing a 100% budget to go racing without support from corporate sponsorships or driver training programs is unheard of. Unless of course you’re investing family wealth! (Read: Formula One Can Be Cruel)

But such is the structure of the Motorsport economy. The higher you go up the ladder, the more expensive it gets. To pursue the sport professionally, serious money is involved and this is where the correct support is necessary. And if my research is correct, unlike other competitive sports, there’s almost no government support or grant for the drivers and the prize money in lower formulae is as good as non-existent. Despite this fact, the Motorsport economy is one of the well-funded ones. (Read: Formula One And Alcohol)

The biggest benefit that a driver training program offers an upcoming racer is the promise of a career in Motorsport – a possible seat in Formula One if the driver matches all the criteria. It is this promise and opportunity that the driver is then able to go and sell to potential sponsors and the media. (Read: Living The F1 Dream)

A quick look at history indicates that there have been driver training programs run by teams and sponsors and that many World Champions have graduated from such programs. Vettel, Prost (Elf), Schumacher and Hamilton are possibly the most successful ones on this list. (Read: Permanent No. 1 – Vettel vs. Schumacher?)

For teams, drivers are the least constant factor in the set-up, which is why they’re always scouting for newer talent. Till not very long ago, teams were on the lookout for the next Michael Schumacher and maybe now they’re hunting for the next Lewis Hamilton. If a talented young driver comes by, it is best to invest and buy in when the stakes are lesser and the cost is cheaper with the hope that the driver will perform consistently on his way to Formula One. The other lesser known aspect here is of the ancillary revenue that teams would make via a driver transfer. (Read: What Formula One Can Learn From Red Bull)

Most of the top teams in Formula One have a ‘driver program’ that offers funding, training and the opportunity to rise up through the sport. And to those who wonder about the economics of the academy, they’re either funded via separate sponsors or by the team themselves where a significant percentage of the driver’s earnings going back to the team to recover their investments or when the driver exits his contract to join another team. There’s no free drive in Formula One, of course! (Read: Formula One Is Funny)

If would be a shame if Red Bull quit Formula One. I penned my thoughts on their quitting in this post – ‘Thank You Red Bull Racing’ and I won’t be surprised if a business decision does force them to pull out. However, a bigger shame would be if their pulling out would impact the Red Bull Young Driver Program.

Red Bull could go back to the earlier avatar of their program where they sponsored drivers and teams in the sport, but that would be a step backwards for the energy drinks company and would seem a little out of sync with their ‘Gives You Wings’ philosophy. After all, for a young driver, the charm of a Formula One cockpit waiting in the wings wouldn’t just exist anymore. (Read: Red Bull Gives Us Wings)

Lastly, should Red Bull Racing quit and / or pull the plug on their driver program, the talented likes of Ricciardo, Kvyat, Verstappen and Sainz would be picked up by the current teams in no time. Now that is one driver market I would love to see play out – probably the silver lining in the dark cloud.

Here’s a re-plug of our previous episode of the Inside Line F1 Podcast on Jules Bianchi, a proud member of the Ferrari Driver Academy – ‘Godspeed Jules Bianchi #JB17’.

Since we’re talking Red Bull, here’s also a quick look back at the time we had Red Bull’s Ambassador for former Formula One racer David Coulthard on the Inside Line F1 Podcast – ‘At the Red Bull Show Car Run With David Coulthard’.

And finally, here’s the latest episode of the Inside Line F1 Podcast ‘Hungar(y) Games’ for your listening, sharing and commenting.

The Inside Line F1 Podcast is now available on various platforms and I would welcome you to choose your platform to listen to the humour that we add to the otherwise serious and complex sport of Formula1. And while our podcast frequency is weekly, come ‘like‘ the Inside Line F1 Podcast on Facebook and on Google+ for frequent humorous updates from the world of Formula1.
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The Inside Line Formula1 Podcast is produced and hosted by Mithila Mehta and Kunal Shah. Follow us on Twitter and on our SoundcloudDailyMotionSpreakerMixCloud and YouTube channels.

Kunal Shah is an FIA-accredited Formula 1 journalist who has been reporting on Formula 1 for nearly two decades. He worked with the Force India Formula 1 Team for 6 seasons in Marketing, Sponsorship and Commercial roles. As a former single-seater racer, he was responsible for Force India's grassroots talent program, One from a Billion Hunt. Presently, he co-writes a regular Formula 1 column for Firstpost, speaks on Inside Line F1 Podcast & Pits to Podium and produces broadcast/OTT content for NENT Group (Viasport & Viaplay).

6 comments On What About The Red Bull Young Driver Program?

  • I hate to be harsh, but this article wasn’t good at all. My reasons for being disappointed are that neither did it shed any new information on anything nor was your explanation for how young drivers are handles in the sport any different from how they are handled in any other sporting event. Lastly, I hate to read you doubt your own research in one of the opening statements. All said and done I am extremely happy to have discovered fellow f1 enthusiasts from the nation but you guys can improve a lot ! Power to you and best of luck.

    • Huzefa, welcome to my F1 blog. Glad to see Indian readers read and comment. Even though I reside in India and blog from here, the readership is largely outside of India. So your comment does bring a smile on my face, even though it isn’t an entirely positive one 🙂
      As for the topic, I have merely raised a question that not many have raised before in the Red Bull Racing quit threat rumours. I am not entirely sure what you mean when you say that I am doubting my own research in the opening statements. I am firm that this post was only to raise the curiousity regarding the continuity of RBR’s Young Driver Program in the wake of the team’s quit rumours – there isn’t an answer in the real world, but that’s possibly because not many have asked this question.
      If you wish to discuss more on how young driver programs work and benefit racers, I will be glad to shed some more light.

      • Hey Kunal, the point i was trying to make was that almost everything i read in your article was something i already knew. Although, on re-reading your article and realising that your primary objective is to initiate a discussion rather than disseminate new information i apologise !
        I get a little peeved every time we bemoan the fate of talented drivers and place them in a special category; essentially differentiating them from athletes in other sports. I agree that there are phenomenal challenges involved but that is true for almost every sport. All young athletes struggle to be recognized and gain meaningful employment to sustain their lives.
        As far as the Young Drivers Programme goes i feel, RedBull need to be seen as doing something about their lack of speed in the press, it began with the public humiliation of Renault and then has retreated to the trench exclaiming “we will quit unless….” It harks back to the days when Ferrari kept discovering new issues every fortnight with Bernie,the regulations, the FOTA and so on. I think RedBull being one of the primary investors of the sport (by means of running a pace setting team) understand their importance to the sport and the fans and therefore wish to use it as a bargaining chip to somehow even the scales in their favour.
        The RedBull drivers will most definitely be snapped up by any team who can afford the cut in sponsorship axing particular drivers would mean.

        • Huzefa, that’s a very interesting parallel you’ve drawn between young athletes in F1 and in other sports. Thanks for pointing that out.
          And RBR is already the second most important team in F1 (after Ferrari) in the payment scales, etc. And like you’ve pointed out, them being an investor (for two teams) makes them believe that they too need special attention. Oh the politics of F1! But Bernie won’t let them go – too much at stake, four chassis!!

  • Hate to say it but the reality fact is Carlos Sainz Jr and Daniel Ricciardo paid to be in Red Bull Junior Team, Another two very good examples are Lance Stroll and Nikita Mezipin, their father’s a billionaire’s. According to Mitch Evans one of the most brightest talents motorsport. He was offered to join Red Bull and Ferrari Junior Team but in order he had to provide some money. Yes they have the talents but driver development scheme should be only talents not money i don’t know about Mercedes but Mclaren defiently not the have pure talents with them Stoffel Vandoorne is one of them, the most successful one is Lewis Hamilton.Red Bill signed Sergio Sette Camara in their Junior Team, his results aren’t the best he finished 14th last year in Formula 3. It’s all smoke to the eyes. there are many talents out there but the prefer talent and money or just the money.

    • Thanks for your comment, Akashdeep. The world of Motorsport is expensive and unfortunately (or not!) talent has to be backed by money at every step of the ladder – F1 or otherwise.
      However, the benefit of being part of a team’s talent program are many. 1) You get a team backing your talent, monetary as well as brand-wise. This helps reduce your costs (to a certain degree, rest to be funded yourself) and helps you approach sponsors who will find your talent far more credible. 2) There’s a guarantee of an F1 test coming your way SO LONG AS you match all the criteria laid out in your contract.
      So for a budding driver, a team program does more good than harm, in the larger sense of the term.
      From a team point of view, it limits their risk in an already expensive and less funded sport. Also, by offering limited scholarships, they’re able to pick more eggs in the same basket.

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