Red Bull’s Formula One team should be thrilled: the Malaysian Grand Prix brought the team a 1–2 finish and another win, the 27th, for wunderkind Sebastian Vettel.
Instead the team is on the verge of splitting, and de facto Number Two driver Mark Webber ponders whether he can put up with Sebastian Vettel essentially stealing a win from him.
Webber led through most of the race, earning the win. After the last pit stop, the team told both drivers to hold position and save fuel, which would have given Webber his first win of the season
Though Red Bull claims both its drivers are equal, it is obvious to any casual observer that the team favors Sebastian Vettel, and why shouldn’t they? At 25 he is the youngest three-time consecutive world champion in history, and probably has a decade of first-rate performances ahead of him, while Mark Webber, 36, is probably in the last few years of his F1 career.
Still Red Bull has a team rule: whoever is in the lead after the last pit stop of a race gets to stay in front. The team doesn’t want its drivers tearing up their cars, or hitting each other (a la Turkey 2010) and losing both cars.
This time however, Sebastian Vettel “made a mistake,” he claims. He somehow misinterpreted standing team rules and directly stated team orders and instead fought his way past Webber in some exciting—and dangerous—wheel-to-wheel racing. Undoubtedly fans appreciated the show; undoubtedly Red Bull Team Principal Chris Horner was gnashing his teeth and tearing his hair, both from fear of a wreck and anger at his orders being defied.
Webber, on cold tires, gave way, letting Vettel have the win, and Red Bull earned its 1–2 finish. But after he race Webber said he needed to get away to think about his future.
Will Webber quit Red Bull? Highly unlikely. He will never get a better ride, if he could even get a seat in F1 at all. Red Bull is his best option until he makes the switch to sports cars which many expect in a season or two. It is an outside possibility that Webber could even win a World Championship with Red Bull (though not if Vettel keeps driving for himself and not the team.) Webber certainly doesn’t command that kind of a ride with any other contending team.
Sebastian Vettel did apologize to Webber, but that is almost an insult after taking away the points for the win. Vettel also admitted to formula1.come that he did hear the clear orders not to pass Webber, and “didn’t mean to ignore the call.”
When asked why he fought with Webber anyway, the German driver replied, “Because I messed up? I guess.
“I did get the message, but no action followed because I misunderstood.
“In the past in such a situation we tended to fight, but these days with the tire situation—not knowing how long they would last—it was an extremely big risk that could have resulted in both of us being out of the race and not finishing 1–2. Fights like that are huge risks for the tires these days—we both could have ruined them within two to three laps.
“I put myself above this decision today, but I didn’t mean too.”
That is as lame an explanation as could be imagined. Vettel should man up and simply admit that he wanted to win and didn’t care who he hurt. He didn’t care what he cost the team, he didn’t care if he offended his teammate, risked the hard work done by the crews, and disobeyed his Team Principal.
Of course, there are other views. For instance: a winner wins, no matter what. If Vettel wins his fourth consecutive World Drivers’ Championship this year, there will be no asterisk in the record book explaining about Malaysia.
Also: while the team claims both drivers are equal, Sebastian Vettel is obviously the lead driver at red Bull. He gives the team its best chance for the Constructor’s title, and the best chance for race wins. As Webber said after the race, “Seb made his own decisions today and will have protection and that’s the way it goes.”Will Vettel face any penalties? Nothing that matters. No suspension, that’s for sure; Red Bull still wants the biggest possible share of the team money at the end of the season. Financial penalties? Vettel is a very rich young man and can afford whatever.
In the end, the story will be forgotten anyway. Vettel had to stab a teammate in the back to get a race win, but in F1 the concept of “team” is a little different than in most sports. Vettel probably doesn’t feel that bad about it, as to a driver, winning is really all that matters, and Red Bull still got maximum team points for the race. And Webber will be back in three weeks for the race in China, having swallowed his disappointment.
Nobody will like or admire Sebastian Vettel for what he did in Malaysia, but no one will really care after the next race. Vettel was hired to drive and to win, not to be a role model. He drove and he won.
Formula One is the pinnacle of motorsports competition, and competition can bring out the best and worst in people. Nobody gets “Sportsmanship” trophies in F1, and no one gets penalized for winning. And in the end, only the winners are remembered.
While what Sebastian Vettel did was so very wrong on so many levels, in the narrow confines of an F1 garage, he did the right thing.
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