From the pulpit

Twelve months ago Christian Horner and Trevor Carlin must have put Formula 1 down as only a distant dream, but heading into 2005 they are the latest key men on the scene. The Bish looks at how it all happened and ponders what the future may hold for the pair of them

From the pulpit

Flashback to April 23 2004. That morning's Daily Telegraph carried a story, leaked by FIA president Max Mosley, outlining the FIA's radical cost-saving plan for Formula 1; it included the first serious mention of the now-(in)famous 2.4-litre V8, together with quotes from Max suggesting that, under these proposed new rules, an F1 team could be run for tuppence-ha'penny a fortnight (or some such twaddle).

When journalists, including yours truly, telephoned the FIA's Paris office looking for further info, rationale or perspective on these outlandish ideas, we were gently guided towards Arden International F3000 boss Christian Horner and Carlin Motorsport F3 boss Trevor Carlin. For pressmen who did not have these individuals' mobile phone numbers already programmed into their Siemens SL65s (the latest must-have mobile in F1 circles, I assure you), the FIA's communications department was happy to supply said contact details.

When we called Christian and Trevor for corroborative reaction, it was clear that they had been extensively briefed, doubtless by Max, to toe the FIA's 'life will be cheap' line. Even so, we thought little of it; easy for the FIA president to lean on a couple of young F1 wannabes and get them to say the right things, we thought... and forgot all about it.

Fast-forward to... now (which is to say, Tuesday, January 11, 2005). Christian Horner has just been announced as Red Bull Racing's new sporting director - which is, coincidentally (I think not), the exact same 'handle' that Trevor Carlin has bagged at Midland F1 (the new F1 team due to be formally launched in Moscow in late February this year, and scheduled to debut at the 2006 Australian Grand Prix).

It is surely significant, you might allow yourself to speculate, that these two pleasant but inexperienced chaps (Carlin is 41, Horner only 31, and neither has ever worked in F1 before) should have ended up in teams run by F1's two new multi-billionaire team owners (to wit, Midland's Alex Shnaider and Red Bull's Dietrich Mateschitz); in other words, people whom Bernie Ecclestone (to whom Mosley has always been joined at the hip, and in respect of whose interests he never acts against, whatever he tells you to the contrary) has worked his arse off to draw into the sport.

Shnaider tells me that Ecclestone is "very supportive" of Midland's F1 project, while rumour has it that Ecclestone did a lot to facilitate Red Bull's purchase of Jaguar Racing last November. What a surprise (not). It all fits, you see.

It goes without saying that I wish both Carlin and Horner well, but I have to say I think Mateschitz's decision to axe Red Bull Racing's team principal, Tony Purnell, and his managing director, Dave Pitchforth, beggars belief. Purnell may look like a provincial bank clerk, but he is also one of F1's most original thinkers, and Pitchforth is probably the best engineering manager in the sport. They will both be sorely missed.

So how will RBR fare in 2005? Well, put it this way. Had Ford not pulled out of F1 and put Jaguar Racing up for sale last September, the team would have started off 2005 roughly where they finished 2004 - i.e., in seventh place. The time and energy lost during the agonising weeks when Tony and Dave were working 24/7 to try to find a buyer and thus save 350 jobs, inevitably slowed the pace of new-car development last autumn - Pitchforth has admitted as much - and the latest bombshell will have wrought further damage (not least to workforce morale). Now, surely, progress will have been stalled even further.

But Bernie doesn't care about that - and neither, one assumes, does Max. Their ambition is merely to ensure that these sexy new teams are run by men who will vote in team principals' meetings with the old guard (i.e., Ecclestone and Mosley) and against the growing band of team owners (such as Minardi's Paul Stoddart and Jordan's Eddie Jordan) who are privately beginning to suspect that their best interests may be served by aligning themselves with the GPWC - whose new series, backed by Fiat (i.e., Ferrari), DaimlerChrysler (i.e., Mercedes-Benz), Renault and BMW is slated to be launched in 2008.

I wish Christian and Trevor the best of luck - I really do. I would be truly delighted if their new F1 teams were to shine and prosper. Indeed, for the reasons I've outlined above, it would not surprise me to see them both being extended the odd bit of positive discrimination by Bernie and Max in their teams' formative months (and perhaps even years).

Even so, the task they both face is truly daunting - for Horner, particularly. Why? Well, think about it. At least Carlin will start with a carte blanche; Christian, by contrast, will have to win the loyalty and affection of 350 men and women who feel they owe their very livelihoods to Purnell's and Pitchforth's tireless efforts to save Jaguar Racing - and who now regard their heroes' dismissal as nothing less than a scandal.

Remember what Oscar Wilde said: "One should never make one's debut in a scandal."

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