“Not bad for a number two driver” - Mark Webber
“Move him out of the way, he’s too slow” - Sebastian Vettel
“To me at this stage it is quite amusing, if it was the other way around, there is no point – of course I would like to overtake Mark at that stage, so no point trying to do something stupid. I don’t see why there is such a fuss.” – Sebastian Vettel @ Silverstone 2010.
All the above are quotes stolen from the on going drama that is the saga of the sparring Red Bulls. The list of incidents fulling the fire written on paper endangers a forest. The bad blood has boiled over into simmering tension which the team have been containing for years. The mistrust and rivalry has bubbled to the surface and lifted the lid on the intricate workings of the most successful and innovative team at the moment. The image of harmony and balance the team have worked so hard to maintain has been shattered and the events uncontrollably unraveled in the public domain. It’s an event which has the potential to damage the team beyond repair and ruin their hopes of a fourth constructors and drivers championship. The Red Bull machine has remained quiet on the surface but is no doubt in turmoil and engaged in overdrive behind the blinds of the board room.
I want first to put aside the moral questions of whether or not the defiance was right and highlight the underlining issue. Breaking it down to basics, Sebastian Vettel has failed to fulfill his duties as a representative of the team on two levels. Internally he has disobeyed a direct order from his superior and dished him out a thunder storm of headache to weather and also as a representative of the team and all it’s sponsors he has shown a thought that he is bigger than the company which employs him.
In the past, Webber can be accused of doing the same but has he ever actually done it? I doubt it; he is seen as an expendable asset to the team. A variable which can be altered or removed and with only a yearly contract to negotiate he must play to his strength and provide reason to house him. There is certainly not a short que for his seat and any defiance or mistake puts his territory at risk. There is an underlining reason he has remained at Red Bull. He will play ball in the interests of the team. He may not like it and will often openly criticize any suggestion that it is the case but as we saw in Silverstone, he was told to “maintain the gap”. He threw one last ditch attempt into the ring to pass but when unable to he eventually settled down and obliged. It took time and he didn’t like it but ultimately he did it.
Image courtesy of GETTY IMAGES used with permission of Red Bull Racing
No matter what side of the fence you sit, one thing is for sure, Red Bull look toward China as a team with a fractured divide. Sebastian’s true colours have been unveiled and he now stands before us in all his glory. It’s a ruthless streak inbred into the genetic make up of Champions. His desire to win it seems is stronger than his desire to remain as the public's golden boy. He has been disrobed, it's not a bad quality if you want success , it's just not what we expected to see. Although I believe he was wrong on this occasion it is unfair to suggest that he is now somehow tainted and undeserving of titles. It simply means that he will have to work twice as hard to justify them now. This turmoil may turn out to be the making of him. It will force back a reality in which he is not the favoured son and we shall see whether he unravels with the critical analysis of his steps from this point. It will either solidify his critics or silence them. I believe the most damaging backlash is borne not from the actual manoeuvre itself as Webber is guilty of disregarding a similar team order and attempting to mount an attack on Vettel, (Silverstone 2010) but the manner in which he portrayed himself. When he asked for Mark to move over, ‘he’s too slow get him out of the way’ he unveiled a streak of contempt and entitlement not previously seen. Mark responded with a brief demonstration of his lurking speed to satisfy the team and that temporarily subdued Sebastian. When in the green room post race, he seemed to walk in with a smirk expecting a pat on the back, it was only when Adrien Newey walked in with the thunder cloud above that his demeanour changed. His apologies are viewed as hollow and meaningless, even by his fans as they were only generated after he realised that he had incurred the wrath of Horner and Newey. He may not be sorry for the pass on Webber and may feel that he deserved to be first but he has had the foresight to recognise the unrest he has caused and in order to protect his interests he is now attempting to broker peace. He must fear after being ultimately ostracized by the team in front of the press that if Webber continues to refuse to play ball, he will suffer even in a diminished capacity. His apparent lack of respect for his team mate at the time is a big contributing factor.
The pass itself unfolded as one would expect of two competitive racing drivers. The initial attack on Webber came on Lap 44 after emerging from his final pit stop, after a steady defense Mark remained ahead and sent his team mate wide after a repeat manoeuvre. Two laps later, Sebastian took his chances on the inside on turn one. With Webber still leading, Sebastian showed no signs of relenting and Webber appeared to yield to his team mate, despite pundits and viewers agreeing that he had the inside line.
"I wondered aloud during the commentary whether, at the point Vettel finally took the lead, Webber had actually ceded the position. I expected Mark to run Seb right out to the edge of the track, as he was entitled to do, but he didn't.”
- David Coulthard via his BBC Column
The image obtained from the Sky Pad illustrates the racing line in yellow.
Now the issue becomes whether or not Vettel ignored the order to attack and over take as he had the clear advantage or whether he chose that moment to attack and mount an over take as he knew that Webber’s engine had been tuned down and thus put him at a disadvantage. Critics will argue that a racer has the right to race, as they have done in the past with Webber. That is correct. Trying to reign in a F1 driver is an impossible task and one the purist fans do not vindicate. Waiting until your team mate has complied with a combined team request and turned down his engine only for you to not do the same and breeze past with an advantage that the team have instructed you not to have is not racing. The team realised that the threat from Hamilton was decreasing and the threat from Rosberg was being managed within the Mercedes team. They had little need to put undue stress and pressure on either car when a comfortable one, two finish was on the cards. Vettel may have been faster than Webber after the last pit but when he made the pass, he was at an unfair advantage over his team mate who had complied with the team’s wishes.
The overall fan outrage has turned the tide of the war. Webber fans now feel their grievances have been verified and show a three time champion who has been in some respects gifted many points or at least in some way benefited from the Red Bull strategy. Many simply feel a sense of outrage at the fact that the team flaunt team orders so matter of fact-ly. This latest incident coupled with the mirrored but more successful approach of Mercedes has re opened the debate of whether or not team orders should be allowed in the sport, especially such a short time into the season when clear front runners have yet to be established. Whilst I disagree with team orders as a spectator, I do understand the need for them from a teams perspective and acknowledge that they exist and always will, clandestine or not. Formula one is a business and a good businessman protects his interests. From RB’s perspective that is what a team order is. An enforcement of rules in order to protect the largest business asset –the two cars and drivers. Not only is it monetarily damaging to have two cars collide but also dangerous in the long term is one or both are injured.
Mark Webber to his credit has allowed the story to escape in a clever manner. Instead of initially ranting and raving at Vettel in the green room, he allowed Adrian Newey to make initial contact and then followed with a simple message for him but more importantly for the journalist and other teams. Multi 21. Those words echoed through the paddock and instantly brought the real issue to light for his peers and those with the power to pursued. It prevented him from looking like many fans thought on the outset – that he had simply been beaten again by Vettle and showed them that he had the pace. An important thing if he is to make a team switch. It instantly allowed the storm to rage. By the time he came to the podium interview, everyone was already aware what had actually transpired.
Sebastian’s damage limitation came too little, too late for many and his spin doctor will certainly earn their money in the next few weeks. Webber is left in a position of power as he simply sits back and allows public affection to carry him to a tide of potential victory and a further career revival. He is fast becoming the peoples champion – the under dog. People will spur him on and popularity could secure him a further deal with another team if he plays his cards right. He should be entitled to another seat for 2014 but when stacked up to such a talented team mate, comparisons can often be unfair and damaging to a driver of his age and achievement.
Red Bull has been left in a very difficult position. They will have to be calculating in their next manoeuvre. If they punish Vettel too hard, the public affection could swing back to his favour but if they are too lenient, they will do more damage than good. There is little reprimand they can issue to Webber in the event that he does ignore any future team orders issued. The out cry would be far too damaging and lasting in the long term.
The critical response has snowballed in such a manner that even F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone has dusted himself off and waded in, calling for more respect to be given to Vettel as the slurs tarnishing his championship achievements increase in their disdain.
“I'm a big, big supporter of Mark's, and we're very good friends. But Sebastian is a three-time world champion so maybe people should have a bit more respect for him too.'' ''Let's assume that these two guys are in a position to win the championship at the end of the year, then there is no way that Mark is going to help Sebastian,'' he said. ''So Sebastian has to think about that. Maybe there will be a stage when he would like Mark to help him, but I don't think Mark is going to come up front and do it."
Bernie EcclestoneMark Webber is a driver who has been the one continually on the receiving end of criticism since the duo ignited their war but those same critics will carelessly waiver their combined efforts. Red Bull is not a single car team. Vettel did not single handily win the constructors three times on his own. He had support. Like every great team pairing, he has required the assistance of a reliable wing man. * Fans have been quick to dismiss Webber on the basis of his poor starts alone but people need to take note that his starts are determined by the teams clutch grab point on the warm up lap. It is a recurring issue which increases the likelihood that Webber is not blameless and this is a weakness in his armour but in Australia, the horrendous start was acknowledge to be an issue with telemetry. His number two status is his own making, he has allowed himself to play the support role but I imagine that relationship has all but dissolved.
"Mark and Seb have driven together
since 2009 and the pairing has achieved 35 wins, 80 podiums, 13 one-two
finishes and six Formula 1 world championships," - Infiniti Red Bull Racing.
“This successful period includes some
spells of intense on-track rivalry between the two drivers, which began in
Turkey 2010 and has seen both drivers ignoring team orders at different times." - Infiniti Red Bull Racing.
- Manager one issues the radio message “Multi 21”. Fuel saving, tyre maintenance. - Driver one ignores this and activates DRS to pass.
- Manager one’s warning is “This is silly, Seb” adding “That was naughty, Seb” once action complete.
- Manager two upon receiving please from driver one repeats the instruction. He firmlyand clearly explains (as clearly as you can at 200mph over a radio)
Hamilton may have graced the podium with a sour face littered with embarrassment whilst Nico walked away, disappointed and ready to call in the favour but it did not erupt into civil war within the garage or more importantly – in the public domain.
"If Christian Horner doesn't reassert his authority in the team - because he has been totally subjugated by Sebastian Vettel yesterday - then his position in the team is not exactly the role it is designed to be," - John Watson.
2007 Japanese Grand Prix - Vettel is third in his Torro Rosso, Red Bull Racing's Mark Webber is second. They are under the safety car on a rain soaked track. Vettel crashed into Webber taking them both out of the race.
2010 Turkish Grand Prix – The pair famously collided on lap 40, handing advantage to McLaren after neither refused to yield.
2010 British Grand Prix – After having his upgraded wing removed and given to Vettel who had damaged his in practice, Webber blocked Vettel on the first corner and won his third race of 2010.
2011 British Grand Prix - Webber ignored team orders not to pass Vettel but unable to pass crosses the line in third.
2012 German Grand Prix - Webber refused to move over in qualifying to let his team-mate pass
2013 Malaysian Grand Prix - Webber was leading and ordered to conserve fuel, Vettel ignored team orders to win to take the victory.
Perhaps this latest incident will be the catalyst for that rumored move to Ferrari which he has previously hinted that he turned down. The straw that finally breaks the camels back and splinters its legacy.
However much admiration and respect Horner holds for Vettel, we must all remember that Webber holds a deep loyalty and respect within the team also. Horner will also look to protect his own interests and won't want to sour any relationship with Webber that will prevent their continued collaboration on GP3 team MW Arden.
As we wait anxiously for China we sit with a champion tarnished, a hero rising and a team consoling, the next moves in this tense game of chess will be fascinating.
"Ferrari radiates something special, but the most sense would be to stay at Red Bull.''
-Mark Webber .
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Quotes - http://www.news.com.au/breaking-news/mark-webber-rubbishes-suggestion-he-will-have-to-follow-team-orders-to-help-sebastian-vettel-will-getclaim/story-e6frfkp9-1226080534884 / http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/formula1/21952769 / http://www.theage.com.au/sport/motorsport/vettel-may-rue-move-on-webber-ecclestone-20130326-2gsc3.html / http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/formula1/21927284 / http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/formula1/21922429 MW Arden log copyright of - http://www.gp3series.com/Teams-and-Drivers/Teams/MW-Arden/
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