From the Pulpit

Regular readers of this column will know that I haven't been shy of denouncing from my electronic pulpit those who earn their crust by counting beans on behalf of the Ford Motor Company in Dearborn, Michigan. But now is not the time for more denunciations. Now, in the aftermath of the successful sale of the team formerly known as Jaguar Racing to Red Bull, we should be celebrating the fact that the 350 men and women who only a few days ago were feeling sadly flat, staring redundancy in the face, are now fizzing once again. Red Bully for them!

From the Pulpit

But 2005 will be a tricky year for them, and they know it. Led by Tony Purnell and Dave Pitchforth, the ex-Jaguar Racing big cheeses who are now the new bosses of Red Bull Racing, they will have to work their asses off. They won't mind that, of course. They'll relish the chance to show the world - and Ford - what they can do. And I wish them well.

Jaguar Racing didn't have a brilliant 2004, though, and there's therefore no reason to expect Red Bull Racing to have a fabulous 2005. The team's designers and engineers have inevitably lost a little momentum during the past two months - months in which only loyalty and pride kept them honest to the task of honing what would have been the Jaguar R6 but will now be the Red Bull Racing RB1 (or, if Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz is as egocentric as most Formula 1 team owners, the Red Bull Racing DM1) - and it will be hard to catch up. Moreover, of Jaguar Racing's erstwhile closest rivals, Toyota Racing should be considerably more successful next year than they were in 2004, while Jordan-Toyota will be a tougher opponent than Jordan-Ford were this year - an 80bhp power hike will see to that; indeed, only the Minardis will have less grunt than will the Red Bull cars...

Moreover, Red Bull Racing won't have Mark Webber, either. Make no mistake, alongside Purnell and Pitchforth, Webber has been a crucial figure in the post-Lauda/Irvine renaissance of Jaguar Racing, and Red Bull Racing will grievously miss his commitment, his hard work, his intelligence, his technical acumen and, lest we forget, his speed. Unless they replace him with a driver (or, preferably, two drivers, for Jaguar Racing suffered in 2003 and 2004 for not pairing Webber with a stablemate of equal stature) of comparable all-round ability, Red Bull Racing could find 2005 unbearably hard.

The favourites, my sources whisper, are Christian Klien and Vitantonio Liuzzi, Red Bull-backed drivers both. Oh my God. Oh my God!

Okay, there's nothing wrong with either of these young men - indeed, Klien recently won F1 Racing's Rookie of the Year award comfortably (albeit beating only the wretched Giorgio Pantano, the miserable Gianmaria Bruni and the okay-ish Timo Glock - a motley crew if ever there was one), voted for by nearly 33,000 of that magazine's large and sophisticated global readership... and anyone who watched Formula 3000 with any care last season will tell you that Liuzzi looks very good indeed.

But that's not the point. Neither lad will be able to replace in 2005 what Webber provided in 2004 - and, for that reason, as a combo, they're the wrong choice. Twelve months ago, don't forget, Red Bull (who were bringing a much needed US$10 million to Jag Rac's depleted coffers) insisted that Klien be hired to the race team against the wishes of Purnell and Pitchforth, who had wanted him to play the Man Friday role instead of the lacklustre Bjorn Wirdheim. The same mistake must not be made again.

So what should Purnell and Pitchforth do, and whom should they hire?

Well, despite the lateness of the day, that's a surprisingly easy question to answer. They should hire... precisely whom they were going to hire on behalf of Jaguar Racing two months ago, and would have already hired had Ford not pulled the plug on September 17 (or 9/17, as that cataclysmic day should perhaps henceforth be referred to in F1 circles).

David Coulthard? Personally, I hope not. DC has been a solid performer for many years - sometimes a lot better than solid, in fact, as anyone who watched, as I did, his ultra-combative victory at Magny-Cours in 2000 and his scintillating pole lap at Monaco in 2001 will remember all too clearly - but a little of that gloss appears to have deserted him over the past 18 months, and I personally hope he doesn't try too hard to perpetuate his F1 career by moving heaven and earth to seek out midfield drives.

(Parenthetically, I urge you not to weep for David. He's won 13 grands prix - as many as Alberto Ascari and more than such great world champions as Mario Andretti, Alan Jones and James Hunt... and more, too, than equally great (greater?) non-champions such as Carlos Reutemann, Ronnie Peterson and Gilles Villeneuve. He's a rich man. He's wise, intelligent and resourceful, and, as such, more perhaps than any recent F1 retiree this side of Gerhard Berger, he's perfectly placed to convert his many assets into a hugely rewarding second career. I wish him well.)

Anyway, where were we? Ah yes: whom should Red Bull Racing hire for 2005? The answer, ladeez 'n' gennelmen, is Anthony Davidson and Alex Wurz, the two men who, with DC, were at the top of Purnell's and Pitchforth's list before 9/17. Davidson may, of course, beat current favourite Antonio Pizzonia to the second Williams drive - he's testing for the Grove team at Jerez at the end of the month - but a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, and Anthony would find a freshly-minted two-year Red Bull Racing contract hard to ignore right now. Moreover, he'd be excellent. He's quick - we saw that every other Friday throughout 2004 - and, at 25, he's young enough to get quicker still over the next couple of years. He's clever, he's sensible, he's hard-working and he's not a prima donna. As an Autosport Young Driver of the Year (2000), as well, his welfare matters to me - just as it should matter to you, dear reader, who have just logged on to autosport.com and presumably therefore understand how many beans make five in this business!

Wurz? At 30, he's old enough to be experienced - he was on the podium, for Benetton, as long ago as 1997 - but still young enough to be hungry. His Benetton career is often maligned - but it shouldn't be. He was quicker than Jean Alesi on his debut - no mean feat, that, for Jean was a fast man - and was usually within a gnat's whisker of the super-rapid Giancarlo Fisichella during their three years together, despite suffering a bullying from Flavio Briatore on a scale that makes Jarno Trulli's recent experiences at the hands of F1's most frightening grandee seem like nothing more than a teenage tiff. Moreover, Alex brings four years of invaluable experience from McLaren, for whom he has spearheaded testing since 2001. He it was, with Neil Oatley, who made the ageing MP4-17D good enough to (almost) win the 2003 world championship, while regular drivers Kimi Raikkonen and Coulthard and the other engineers got nowhere with the MP4-18A.

And my spies at Woking tell me that Alex is plenty quick, too. In fact, they say that, when McLaren's testing results are annually standardised and the conflicting variables (tyres, fuel, weather etc) stripped out, he's practically as quick as Kimi - and faster than DC.

So, here endeth my sermon on the subject of Red Bull Racing. Well done to all concerned. Undoubtedly, there's a huge amount of work ahead. For it not to be wasted, however, no more driver-selection errors can be made.

Ant 'n' Alex would be just the ticket, with Vitantonio as third driver (but on a long contract, with a guaranteed race drive in 2006). Come on, Dietrich - you know it makes sense.

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