F1 News

Is Red Bull Junior Team too hard? Former drivers give their opinion

Is Red Bull Junior Team too hard? Former drivers give their opinion

30-09-2023 20:00 Last update: 21:57

Red Bull's junior programme is both famous and infamous. While the Austrian racing stable has given many drivers the chance to develop in motorsport in recent years, many insiders and former drivers are also critical of the Red Bull Junior Team's policy. Speaking to the official Formula 1 website, a number of former Red Bull drivers share their views on the policy pursued.

A Red Bull Junior Team since 1999

Years before Red Bull made their debut in Formula 1 in 2005, the Austrian energy drink manufacturer was already scouting young talent in motorsport. Led by Helmut Marko, a Red Bull Junior Team was started back in 1999, operating in Formula 3000. In 2005, Red Bull took over Minardi's team and appeared on the F1 grid a year later as Scuderia Toro Rosso. Red Bull's second team aimed to give young drivers from its own education a chance in the top class of motorsport.

Over the years, Red Bull has therefore brought many debutants to Formula 1, with Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen as dream examples. Even the (on reflection) lesser gods were given a chance in Formula 1, but were still deemed too light by Red Bull after a year or several years. This sometimes led to fierce criticism of decision-making within Red Bull and mainly Helmut Marko.

Liuzzi: 'Without Red Bull, I don't know if I would have ever been an F1 driver'

Vitantonio Liuzzi, a former driver at the racing stable, relates his experience:"We all know how much it takes in terms of time, effort and economically [to become a Formula 1 driver], so without Red Bull I don’t know if I would ever have been able to reach F1. It’s so important for a driver to be supported by a company like Red Bull, because they really give you wings." However, the Italian does stress that Red Bull expects results in return for sponsorship and that the decisions made can sometimes come across as harsh, but "they give incredible possibilities to the young generation".

That Red Bull's decisions can sometimes come across as harsh to the outside world is something Christian Klien also acknowledges. The Austrian driver, currently an analyst by profession, says: "I would say it’s a little bit harder than other programmes, probably, because that’s the [style] of Helmut, he’s a tough guy in that respect. In the end, Helmut is just looking every 10 years for that one special driver like Sebastian or Max now. That’s for sure very hard on a lot of drivers, and I felt that as well."

Still, the tough and sometimes hard training process is not something Klien blames the team for. "Sometimes it’s just not happening because there’s no space, or in their view you’re not 100% talented enough, it still gives you plenty of opportunity afterwards in your career," said the Austrian, who was the first Red Bull junior to debut in Formula 1 in 2004.

Coulthard: 'Which junior who was popped out has risen up to a top team?'

David Coulthard also agrees with that opinion, while also bringing up another fact. The Briton knows all too well that the Red Bull programme has received a lot of criticism, but Coulthard looks at that criticism from a completely different point of view. When he hears criticism about the termination of a Red Bull youngster's contract, he would prefer that critics also ask themselves a counter-question:"If the industry as a whole feels you’ve been shortchanged, name the one driver who’s popped out of Red Bull’s system and then risen to the highest level with Ferrari, Mercedes or whoever. They haven’t."

The only name Coulthard can name on that is Carlos Sainz. Red Bull gave Sainz the chance to debut at Toro Rosso in 2015. Four races before the end of the 2017 season, the Spaniard decided to leave the Red Bull family and joined Renault. Via a stopover at McLaren, Sainz eventually joined Ferrari, where he managed to take his first Formula 1 victory.