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The Failed Reputational Championship for Max Verstappen, Red Bull

By Carlos Mateos - CM Consultores en Comunicación
Director General


By Carlos Mateos | Director General - Thu, 12/08/2022 - 13:00

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On Nov. 20, the 2022 Formula 1 season ended, in which Max Verstappen was crowned champion for the second time, Red Bull won the constructors' championship and, for the first time in the history of motorsport, Mexican driver Sergio "Checo" Pérez obtained third place in the world championship. 

However, during the penultimate race on Sunday, Nov. 13 in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Verstappen and Red Bull made what, in my opinion, is a mistake that could be costly for the team and for the Dutch driver, as they did not evaluate the cost/benefit of image and reputation beyond the competitive technical focus of a race. 

During the 2021 season, Checo’s performance throughout the year contributed to the triumph of his teammate, Verstappen. During that year, the Red Bull team showed exceptional teamwork and Perez's work earned him the title of "The Minister of Defense" for containing on more than one occasion then-reigning champion Lewis Hamilton in benefit of his teammate. 

This generated enormous sympathy among the Mexican and Latin American public as well as praise from the media and fans on social networks. The Red Bull team had dethroned the dominance of Mercedes and the UK’s Hamilton, who was seeking his eighth championship. 

The 2022 season started with a powerful rivalry, as the Monegasque Charles Leclerc, aboard his Ferrari, contested the championship with Verstappen. With the passing of the dates, the Dutchman prevailed until Oct. 9 at the Grand Prix of Japan, when, once again, Checo’s teamwork contributed to Verstappen being crowned champion and Red Bull becoming  the leader of the constructors' championship. 

At that time, second place in the drivers' championship was still in dispute between Leclerc and Checo, so it was anticipated that in the last four dates of the season, the team would focus its efforts on helping the Mexican driver to consolidate that second position and thus close the world championship with a 1-2 in the standings, in addition to the constructors' championship. Unfortunately, things happened differently. 

During the Brazilian Grand Prix, on Nov. 13, the Red Bull drivers were overtaken by other teams. A few laps from the end of the event, Verstappen was in sixth position, while his teammate, Perez, was in seventh. For Verstappen, those points were not significant, as he had already consolidated his championship, while for the Mexican, those two points would have allowed him to overtake Leclerc heading into the last race of the year. However, Verstappen did not give up his position to his teammate and when the team belatedly instructed him to do so, the Dutchman refused. 

The move was harshly criticized by the sports press as well as international motorsport fans, who labeled Verstappen a selfish person who does not know how to be a team player, somone who was ungrateful in front of a teammate who, in the opinion of specialists and fans, helped him to reach the top. 

After the last race, which  was run in Abu Dhabi, on Nov. 20, the championship was settled, with Verstappen in first, Leclerc in second and Perez in third. 

Beyond the sporting issue, from a reputational point of view, it seems to me that Red Bull and Verstappen missed a golden opportunity to win over viewers/consumers. 

According to data from the portal socialtracker, after the Brazil incident, Max Verstappen began to lose a significant number of followers on Instagram. On Monday, Nov. 14, one day after the controversial race in Brazil, the driver lost 40,595 followers; the next day, he lost 33,122 followers; and, on Wednesday, Nov. 16, he lost another 10,633 followers. 

While it has a fairly robust follower base of 9,489,528 followers (as of Nov. 16 according to socialtracker), the loss of 84,350 fans in three days is considerable, particularly because it reflects the mood of people who felt disenchanted. 

This has other important implications that need to be considered by the company and the team. 

While Red Bull largely finances its own Formula 1 team, it receives sponsorship and the drivers receive significant revenue from sponsors who seek to associate their brands with figures who represent values of leadership, teamwork, fair play, etc. Therefore, the attitude of Verstappen and the team in general during the Brazilian Grand Prix could be costly to the company. 

For any organization, especially those in a leadership position, it is important to maintain a vision that is more far-reaching than a race or a season, as budgets and sponsorships depend on their actions. In this particular case, Red Bull and Verstappen would have gained a lot in terms of reputation by sacrificing just a couple of points. 

What would have happened if in the pre-race meeting, the world champion and the team had focused their efforts on helping the Mexican driver to consolidate second place and show the world reciprocation for his performance? 

Surely, Red Bull would have achieved the 1-2 in the drivers' championship, but, beyond the points and classification, the Max-Checo duo would be a world sensation today, assuring the Austrian team monumental support for 2023.

Unfortunately, things turned out differently and now Red Bull and Max Verstappen will have to devote time, money and effort on damage control to win back the lost public. 

Photo by:   Carlos Mateos

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