And so to the train wreck aftermath after the massively eventful Malaysian Grand Prix of 2013 (blogged about in Part 1: The Race). Even before Mark Webber made his thunderous entrance into the Green Room (where the drivers get shunted off to glug water and make small-talk before the podium celebrations*) you could feel the tension in there leaping out of the TV. Lewis Hamilton arrived in uncharacteristically bashful mood, blanked everyone, hid from the cameras then scarpered pronto (perhaps fearing the mother of all Red Bull showdowns). Also it seemed like he was a bit embarrassed by the circumstances in which he secured his first Mercedes podium. And rightly so.
*Obviously not in this case!
I think at first Vettel thought he could bluff it all out with his champion’s swagger and he was actually quite cocky to Adrian Newey while milling around in the green room. Yes, Adrian was pretty short with him but then again Seb you had just stuck two fingers up to the team and screwed over your team-mate in a cynical and ruthless fashion. Lets just remind ourselves that Red Bull used to be the abysmal Jaguar Racing and before that the distinctly mediocre Stewart Grand Prix. The real genius in the room ain’t you Seb but the balding guy standing next to you.
And then Mark rocked up to join the Festival of Awkward with his now legendary remark “…multi-21, Seb, multi-21” that had us all (surely I wasn’t the only one?) frantically googling. As everyone on the planet now knows, ‘multi-21’ is a setting that turns the engine down. Something that Mark Webber did and something that Sebastian Vettel failed to do.
The podium was car crash but totally compelling viewing. In amidst all the death stares (burning out of Mark Webber’s eyes in the direction of Seb), poor old Martin Brundle had to somehow pick his way through the race carnage and interview the drivers. Lets thank the Lord that Bernie didn’t give Eddie Jordan the gig as a full-scale punch-up could have erupted.
Anyway time to add my twopenneth worth. I thought about this a lot during the last week. Straight up, I think Vettel was wrong to do what he did. But oddly enough, a couple of other things that Vettel did disgusted me almost as much. Firstly, the scathing terms in which he spoke about his team-mate during the race (he’s too slow…get him out of the way). Ah so, Seb, you are in favour of team orders sometimes then (ie. when they are in your favour). Secondly, for being confused/disingenuous/lying (delete as appropriate) post-race (I misunderstood, I didn’t realise, it was an accidental overtake etc). Dude, basically you wanted to win the race and you just did what you needed to do. Just hold your hands up and admit it or don’t say anything but don’t try and pretend you didn’t mean it. Its safe to say that there is another side to Vettel than the smiley happy-go-lucky chap who banters away with Clarkson on Top Gear and calls his cars daft names. Of course you don’t win 3 back-to-back titles without an inner core of steel running through you. But I think he has to be very careful that his youthful confidence isn’t turning into arrogance and a cruel disdain for his fellow drivers.
Now drivers who tend to win titles metronomically year on year aren’t inherently very popular people, especially when they are German (over here in the UK). Not my view but just reporting the facts of media life in this country. One thing that has vexed me in recent days is lazy journos predictably likening Vettel’s antics to Schumacher’s. Actually if Vettel had really ‘done a Schumacher’ he would have put in some blinding lap-times to gobble into the lead of his team-mate and come out ahead after the pit sequence!! Just saying.
For all Schumacher’s faults and rash moments on track, he never destabilized the team like Seb has just done. Admittedly he had number one status and benefited hugely from team orders. And therein perhaps lies the nub of the argument. Vettel no doubt feels he has delivered big-time for Red Bull and has earned the right to get preferential treatment. If he was at Ferrari (obviously not alongside Alonso!) he’d have had a team built round him and would be the top dog no questions asked.
Clearly Seb is now The Newest Villain on the Block. This incident must be like manna from heaven to the media now that Michael Schumacher has retired. All of this is starting to remind me a little of Schumacher’s time towards the end of Benetton – hugely successful with back to back titles but tainted with Adelaide and the endless accusations of cheating and regulation infringements by Benetton – ultimately Schuey realised in order to to shake off the ‘Schummel Schumi’ tag he had to leave Benetton. For all the Schuey related controversies that went on before (and indeed later), he was a galvanizing force in helping restore Ferrari to greatness again. Great drivers should be able to lead and inspire their teams through the good times and the bad times.
Maybe it’s all been a bit too easy for Seb winning titles in the best car on the grid and through no real fault of his own he hasn’t had to navigate his way through too many difficult times. That kind of success would breed a sense of invincibility in anyone. Lets be honest, if Mark Webber pulled a stunt like that on Seb, Helmut Marko would probably go all badass and throw the book (and a P45 into the bargain) at him. Some drivers are more equal than others unless you have Senna and Prost in the same team. Two seasons managing those two would have broken a lesser man than Ron Dennis.
Vettel has been forced to apologize but he leads the World Championship on 40 points which I suspect in his eyes is the most important thing. I’d pretty much say Seb has destroyed any form of working relationship with Mark but even great drivers need their team-mates. F1 is a team sport. You win as a team and you lose as a team. When team relations implode, its hard to see a way back, eg. Villeneuve/Pironi, Senna/Prost and Alonso/Hamilton. I wonder also where this leaves Christian Horner as his authority has been very publicly undermined. Compare and contrast Horner’s handling of the situation (he sounded over the radio like he was begging for a favour from a mate) to Ross Brawn’s authoritative and patrician tone. Niki Lauda would do well to note how well Brawn handled a potentially very difficult situation. But I fear the writing is on the wall for Brawn at Mercedes no matter what. There are a few big teams that should be on Red Alert (McLaren?) when the time comes.
Seb has now had a taste of the dark side and it will be interesting to see where he goes from here. My money’s on Ferrari. It is a very distinct possibility that this episode will mark the beginning of the end for not just one but two Red Bull drivers and in that sense this race could be a watershed moment in F1.
I don’t like team orders. Never have. But under current F1 regulations they are loosely permitted. At the end of the day, Red Bull gave an order based on a pre-agreed team decision that the cars would not race following the final pitstop. By ignoring the order, Seb showed little respect for his team and team boss. Conversely, Rosberg was obviously hugely frustrated (Ross Brawn actually said he would have been disappointed with any other reaction) in being asked to adhere to team orders but by doing so Nico handled the situation correctly and with immense maturity. One of the more intriguing side stories that is developing this season is how Nico is holding his own against his much-vaunted team-mate.
Overall I didn’t agree with Mercedes’ decision to impose team orders (but if they saw fit to use them, they should be obeyed). So what if Lewis had to nurse his car to the end of the race. Let Lewis make the judgment call as to how best to manage his car and allow Nico to have a go. Otherwise what are they saying, team-mates can’t ever race each other just in case they might crash. In only the SECOND race of the season! I think F1 teams should be careful of being too cautious and trying to eliminate every danger as that goes against the essence of the sport. Lewis has said he would repay the favour and I would be VERY interested to see how that one would play out if the roles were reversed. Was it fair to penalise Nico who unlike Lewis hadn’t been pumping his throttle into oblivion. What if Red Bull started dropping back suddenly (as Nico himself asked)? Surely the fastest Mercedes car should be able to have a stab at catching up with them? As he said at the end “remember this one”. Yes, we will.
There is one final point that is worth mentioning, Force India made the same call as Mercedes in the first race, by effectively ordering Di Resta to hold station behind Sutil. This barely registered a peep even from the pro-British media who have a tedious love-in Di Resta. In their headline-obsessed world, it matters not a jot who ends up in 7th or 8th place. Big names will always make headlines and sell papers.
Blimey, we’ve only had two races and already the title winning team of the last three years is in total meltdown. Just as well we all have another 2 weeks off before China but CANNOT wait for the next instalment