Inside the driver call which upset Red Bull and changed the course of F1 history

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Red Bull wanted their sponsored driver Enrique Bernoldi to race for Sauber in 2001 (Image: Getty Images)
Red Bull wanted their sponsored driver Enrique Bernoldi to race for Sauber in 2001 (Image: Getty Images)

Red Bull Racing has emerged, in the last 15 years, as one of the major players in Formula 1.

It all began in late 2004, when the energy drinks giant completed its buyout of the Jaguar Racing team which had been formed seven years earlier by Jackie Stewart, under his own name. But it was not Red Bull's first involvement in the sport.

That had begun a decade earlier, when the company gave financial backing to Sauber. For several years the team operated with Red Bull as its title sponsor, until things turned sour amid an argument over who should race for the team in the 2001 season.

"Red Bull pushed for Enrique [Bernoldi], who had driven in Formula 3000 in 2000," long-serving Sauber sporting director Beat Zehnder told F1's Beyond the Grid podcast. "Peter Sauber asked me to follow him throughout the season. So I sat at the command post for every Formula 3000 race."

But, clearly, he was unimpressed by what he saw of the Brazilian. "Why did he want to be a Formula 1 driver? Is it because he wanted free entry to the biggest clubs? That was my feeling," he added.

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Instead of Bernoldi, Sauber opted to hand an F1 debut season to a young future champion named Kimi Raikkonen. Apparently furious, the sponsor pulled the plug on their funding – scrapping, according to Zehnder, the plan for Sauber to one day become a full Red Bull Racing team.

Inside the driver call which upset Red Bull and changed the course of F1 historySauber instead signed Kimi Raikkonen, who scored a point on his F1 debut (Allsport)

"We went for Kimi instead of Enrique and I think that's when the idea of becoming Red Bull Racing was buried," the Swiss added." He also specifically said: "I think so, yes," when asked if Sauber was set to become the origins of the Red Bull team, rather than Jaguar.

Bernoldi never scored a single point in 29 F1 starts across two seasons with Arrows, so on that evidence Raikkonen proved to be the correct choice. But Red Bull, with their vast resources, have gone on to win 11 titles across the drivers' and constructors' championships since 2010.

Sauber, operating today under the Alfa Romeo brand, have never won a title and have secured just one race win – Robert Kubica at the 2008 Canadian Grand Prix – in their history, in 462 starts. Things might have been so different had they picked Bernoldi over Raikkonen for that 2001 season.

Daniel Moxon

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15.07.2024, 17:44 • Investigation