Red Bull Racing are a team which have been in the spotlight throughout the whole of this week. Sebastian Vettel’s contentious victory in Malaysia has encouraged an array of ex-drivers and principals to speak out, with many demanding Sebastian to be heavily punished. However, Christian Horner is in an almost inescapable dilemma as he has seemingly lost control of the team.
In case you have been living in a cave for the past week, here is a brief recap of the events which have left Red Bull in disarray. Mark Webber led the race and was in a commanding position ahead of Vettel and the two Mercedes.
After the final of four pit-stops, Webber emerged from the pit-lane just ahead of Vettel. It seems that at this point, Christian Horner issued the drivers with the ‘Multi-21’ call. This is believed to be Red Bull code for ‘hold position’. Subsequently, Webber was informed that Sebastian did not pose a threat to his lead and that he could turn his engine settings down and preserve the tyres. Evidently, Red Bull were concerned about their levels of degradation and did not want to use precious tyre life with their drivers dueling each other.
However, the team did not anticipate what was to follow. Rather than turn his engine down, Sebastian did not relent his attack on Mark’s lead. On the following lap, the pair were side-by-side heading down the pit straight. Webber’s robust defending was understandable in the circumstances and Christian Horner took a dim view of the situation. In an attempt to regain control over the German, he exclaimed, “Come on Seb. This is silly”. However, the moment had past. Vettel led the race, leaving an exasperated Webber in P2. It was a Red Bull one-two, but not in the order which was intended.
After an awkward podium, the press conference saw Sebastian apologize for disregarding the interests of the team. He stated: “‘I should have behaved today. I made a big mistake. It’s not a victory I am proud of. It should have been Mark’s.” Despite the apology, Vettel stressed that he “did not mean to ignore the strategy”. He continued, “Obviously I’m the black sheep right now. Obviously I put myself in that position so, as I said, all I can say is apologies to Mark. I know that right now, obviously, having just come out of the car, it’s probably difficult to explain everything but the pass was deliberate, obviously I wanted to pass him, you could see that, otherwise you wouldn’t even try, but I didn’t mean to ignore the strategy or the call. I made a mistake, simply.”
Meanwhile, Mark Webber failed to accept Sebastian’s apology. In an interview with Sky Sports F1 after the press conference, a disgruntled Aussie reflected, “It is still very raw. I was completely reassured twice that we were not going to abuse the cars on each other. It is very hard for everyone to understand the whole situation. There are a lot of people that think they understand the whole situation, but unfortunately it is not possible for them to understand everything. There were a lot of things on my mind in the last 15 laps of that Grand Prix to be honest, so if the medicine is enough we will see.”
The last phase of the statement was one which intrigued many people. It suggested that Webber was unsure whether he could face Vettel again and while many people believed that the Aussie would announce a shock retirement, these suggestions were quickly quelled by his father and Horner. On last nights ‘The F1 Show’, Christian announced: “It was the intent of the team for Mark to win the race. It wasn’t that we suddenly gave Sebastian the instruction to ‘go and pass your team-mate’. He is big enough to know there was no malice and no intent to create any situation like that. He is in a car capable of winning Grands Prix and hopefully winning World Championships. I have no doubt Mark will see out the contract with us.”
Evidently, there has been a great deal of distaste for Sebastian’s petulance. It is difficult to defend such an obvious mistake, however, Bernie Ecclestone has expressed his support for Vettel’s decision. Bernie suggests that it is too early in the season to initiate team orders, stating: “At this stage of the championship, I do not believe there should be any team orders. It does not matter who it is. 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. 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. When you are three-quarters of the way through the year, then it’s important. If there is only one guy who could get enough points to win the title, then the other guy should be helping him, for sure.” While Bernie’s comments are often peculiar he seems to be missing the point with this particular statement. If Webber had not turned his engine down, the likelihood is that Vettel would not have won the race. The German received a massive advantage by disobeying his team. Ecclestone seems to have bypassed this fact altogether.
However, I do agree with his stance regarding team orders. If anything, this fiasco was initiated by Christian himself and consequently, Vettel cannot be entirely blamed for this incident. Team orders should never be enforced at such an early stage of the season. Understandably, the team were looking to secure the 43 points that are rewarded for a one-two finish, however, they should have shown more trust in their drivers. Vettel and Webber may have had previous accidents but these have allowed them to mature and realize the limits when battling on track. Christian should have allowed his drivers the opportunity to race each other, and show trust in their ability. He did neither.
Moreover, it seems that the team did not plan for the eventuality that their drivers would be in the position that they were. On lap 28, Rocky (Sebastian’s race engineer), told his driver, “don’t worry (about Webber), we are only at half distance”. If I heard this message, in Sebastian’s shoes, I would inevitably infer that I had the rest of the race to attack my teammate. Subsequently, it is not out of the question that Sebastian may have saved fuel in the fourth stint to mount an attack on the lead in the final one. This would make sense as Sebastian was on the better compound for the fifth and final stint and had electric pace when in the lead. In that position, it is understandable that he would be frustrated by a radio message telling him to hold position, after a previous stint of calculated preparation for his assault on the lead. While this is some justification for Sebastian’s actions, he should have completed the race under the team’s interests and asked questions afterwards.
Red Bull are now in a dilemma. With the majority of the paddock calling for Sebastian to be punished, the team will have to compromise the driver. This is against their interests, as Vettel is their best shot at a championship. Sorry Mark Webber fans, but it is the truth. As a result, the suggested race suspension will be to the detriment of the team as well as the driver, meaning that such a punishment would be a suicidal move. However, Red Bull will be criticized if they give Vettel a fine, as it will be perceived as a weak reprimand. Subsequently, Red Bull are trapped, with no option of escape. Not only are they unable to punish their driver for his inconsiderate actions, but they have to rebuild a doomed relationship between Vettel and Webber. Webber’s season has been derailed and it will take a great deal of courage from the Aussie to even set foot in the same garage as Sebastian again, let alone challenge him for a championship. Meanwhile, Christian has been undermined by Vettel and cannot do anything to regain his position of power within the team.
Red Bull Racing are at civil war, while Sebastian Vettel is sitting pretty at the top of the championship. The German holds all of the cards.