I wanted to elaborate a bit more on the events that unfolded at yesterday’s Malaysian Grand Prix. The race recap covered the overall event, but the team orders involving Red Bull are worthy of another look. I’ve been discussing it a lot on Twitter over the last 24 hours and you can read more of that here.
In many ways yesterday’s Grand Prix served as a study into the pros and cons of team orders in Formula 1. On one hand you have Mercedes, who used them to keep their drivers from racing one another and risking valuable points in the World Championship. On the other hand you have Red Bull who used them so ineffectively that it’s created a massive rift on their team. I won’t elaborate too much on Mercedes as the situation is more straight forward. I can understand why Ross Brawn wanted to keep his drivers from racing one another, but I can’t understand what difference it would’ve made to let Nico Rosberg overtake Lewis Hamilton. The decision goes against the team’s philosophy that both drivers are equals, in which case it shouldn’t have mattered who finished ahead. After Hamilton’s humbling podium speech, the team should have no problem getting past this one, if they haven’t already.
The greater problem lies within Red Bull Racing. After being told explicitly by team bosses to hold position, Sebastian Vettel decided to take matters into his own hands and perform a risky passing maneuver on his teammate and the race leader Mark Webber. The pass had come after both drivers were instructed to power down their engines and bring the cars home safely. Unfortunately for Webber it meant losing out on his first win since last year’s British Grand Prix.
While the media has done their best to perpetuate the situation to far greater depths, it does create some serious problems for Red Bull as a team. In one corner you have Mark Webber, a workhorse of a driver who produces consistent results and rarely finishes outside of the points. At most other teams, Webber would be a clear number 1 driver. In the other corner is a proven World Champion in Sebastian Vettel with 3 titles to his name.
Many have taken Vettel’s side and made the argument that the German displays the qualities needed to win championships. His ruthlessness isn’t unlike some of his predecessors, including Michael Schumacher and Ayrton Senna. But at what point does a driver believe he’s bigger than the team that supports him? Despite Schumacher’s cunning and Senna’s sheer aggression, they knew their places within their respective teams and in a sport like Formula 1, no driver is bigger than his team. Vettel’s actions on Sunday say otherwise. By ignoring the team’s orders he showed a lack of respect and everyone watching, that he knows what’s best for himself and potentially his team. Irrational decisions can be made in the heat of the moment and it’s only after the fact that we allow ourselves to consider different perspectives. However, it won’t be easy for Vettel to come back from this. Not only has he put himself in a difficult position, he’s put Red Bull in a difficult position with Mark Webber.
If the World Championship comes down to the line at the end of the season, can Red Bull expect Webber to offer support, if his own championship bid is obsolete? The Australian has reached a point in his career where the opportunities of winning a championship of his own are numbered. 2013 could be his last realistic possibility to do so. Nothing is certain in Formula 1 and if this were to be Webber’s last season with Red Bull, then he would have no greater opportunity than right now. At age 36, this could even be his last season in Formula 1. If that were the case, he’d have nothing to lose and that will certainly affect his willingness to be a team player during crunch time. Red Bull understands this and it could prove to be a major downfall, as they seek to add a fourth consecutive World Constructor’s Championship to their legacy.
After the events that unfolded in Malaysia, Sebastian Vettel has not only further alienated himself from Webber, but potentially his team as well. Even his biggest supporter, Helmut Marko wasn’t pleased with Vettel’s lack of compliance to the team’s orders. Time heals all wounds but some take longer than others. We’re already a month into the Formula 1 season and Vettel may have run out of opportunities to connect with his teammate. The rivalry between both Red Bull drivers has been fierce since day 1, but as Webber stated yesterday, Vettel has protection within the team. While penalizing him isn’t necessarily the answer, Red Bull owe it to themselves to make a move in Webber’s favor or they risk loosing one of their greatest allies on the track. However, that ship may have already sailed.
Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.