Yesterday’s Malaysian Grand Prix delivered some controversy, at least within the Red Bull team. Against team orders, Sebastian Vettel passed Mark Webber – banging wheels with his team-mate along the way – and went on to win the race. Webber was understandably furious afterwards, as was Red Bull team principal Christian Horner.
Vettel has been roundly criticised in the media, with some going as far as to question his morals. I don’t see how disobeying a team order has much to do with morality, but I do understand what drove Sebastian Vettel to risk the internal harmony of his team in pursuit of victory.
Vettel is a champion. That’s not referring to his achievements, but rather to his approach to everything he does. He wins. All the time. His preparation is meticulous, his attention to detail reminiscent of Michael Schumacher at his peak, and his performance on the track is almost always flawless. Vettel is capable only of domination. He knows no other way.
So when his team principal tells him not to win, as happened yesterday in Malaysia, there is no chance he will obey that instruction. He knows perfectly well how important his victory at Sepang could prove to be in the greater scheme of this year’s championship. Although it is too early in the season to know who will challenge for the title, every result counts. A victory is not more or less important depending on when it occurs during the season or whether or not the team management supported it.
The 2013 Red Bull RB9 could well prove to be the fastest car in the field. If that is the case, then Vettel’s main rival for the championship will be his own team-mate. Looking at yesterday’s drama from that perspective, Webber showed a major chink in his armour – he thought that Vettel, easily the dominant driver of his generation, would stop wanting to win just because his team said he should. Webber let his guard down, and Vettel took the advantage that was presented to him.
It doesn’t matter to Vettel that his team told him to finish second. He broke no rules of Formula One. His points cannot be taken away; the victory is valid. If the team doesn’t like the situation, they are certainly not going to fire him – he’s won the title three years running, what kind of fool team boss would kick him out? If anyone leaves, it will be Webber, and that will be to his own detriment.
Vettel’s actions may be unpopular, but they show a ruthlessness that could very well take this remarkable 25-year old German to a fourth consecutive World Championship this season, and perhaps on to just about every record in the sport by the end of his career. Vettel is not in Formula One to be liked. He is there to win. And in the words of Ayrton Senna, perhaps the greatest of all Formula One drivers, “Nice men don’t win.”
Mark Webber has become very much Red Bull’s number two driver over the past three seasons. That’s more due to the extraordinary performance of his team-mate – triple World Champion Sebastian Vettel – than anything else, and Webber is still highly regarded in Formula One. But it has become clear over time that Red Bull want him to play a supporting role despite their publicly professed policy of driver equality.
Recently, Red Bull Racing Motorsport Director Dr. Helmut Marko criticised Mark Webber quite openly in an interview for The Red Bulletin, Red Bull’s own magazine:
“It seems to me that Webber has on average two races per year where he is unbeatable, but he can’t maintain this form throughout the year. And as soon as his prospects start to look good in the world championship, he has a little trouble with the pressure that this creates. In comparison with Seb’s rising form, it seems to me that Mark’s form somehow flattens out. Then, if some technical mishap occurs, like with the alternator for example, he falls relatively easily into a downward spiral.”
While it certainly seems true that Vettel copes well with pressure, Webber is no slouch. He went into the final round of the 2010 season in Abu Dhabi ahead of Vettel on points and could have won the title if not for a strategic error that put him out of position on a track where overtaking was extremely difficult. For the first half of 2012, it was Webber who looked more like challenging Fernando Alonso for the title, although Vettel certainly found his feet in the second half of the season.
Perhaps Dr. Marko would do better to work within the team and find a solution to Webber’s difficulties under championship pressure rather than undermining his driver by discussing his weakness in public.
Sebastian Vettel has made history in Brazil, becoming the youngest ever triple World Champion and only the third driver in history to win three consecutive titles – after Juan Manual Fangio and Michael Schumacher.
When he made contact with Bruno Senna on the first lap and found himself facing the wrong way with damage to his left side pod, Vettel could have been forgiven for thinking his championship was gone. But instead he produced a true champion’s drive from the back of the field to finish sixth, negotiating weather changes, several overtaking moves and communication problems with his team after a partial radio failure.
Fernando Alonso was Vettel’s only remaining title challenger, and the Spaniard made the most of his car and on-track opportunities to finish a superb second in the race. Unfortunately for Alonso, it was not enough to take the title, and he finished three points behind Vettel.
Nonetheless, Alonso’s class has been displayed throughout the entire season. From beginning to end, he has been the benchmark for the rest of the field. The 2012 Ferrari has just not been quick enough, particularly in qualifying, but Alonso has delivered results seemingly beyond the car’s capabilities and came tantalisingly close to snatching the title away from Vettel.
The 2012 championship has revealed two very different cultures in two very different teams. At Ferrari, there is very much a family atmosphere, with the drivers obviously working together for the best possible team result. Massa has been vocal in his support of Alonso’s championship bid for some time, and the Brazilian played a crucial role in helping Alonso to finish second in today’s race. By contrast, at Red Bull Mark Webber has never shown public support for Sebastian Vettel’s title hopes, even after Webber himself fell out of the title race. In today’s race, Webber did let Vettel through fairly easily on the track, but was otherwise not involved at all in his team-mate’s success.
Vettel’s success elevates him into a very special group of drivers – the triple World Champions. He joins Jack Brabham, Jackie Stewart, Niki Lauda, Nelson Piquet and Ayrton Senna, an illustrious group if ever there was one. Ahead in the record books are Alain Prost on four titles, Juan Manuel Fangio on five, and Michael Schumacher with seven World Drivers’ Championships. At only 25 years old, Vettel is the youngest of the triple World Champions by six years, and has plenty of time left in his career to add to his astonishing list of achievements.
2012 has been possibly the most thrilling season in Formula One history. The first seven races saw seven different winners in five different cars powered by three different engines. When the order settled down, Alonso emerged as the dominant driver, but ultimately he had no response to the technical developments that took place at Red Bull, and Sebastian Vettel’s mesmerising speed delivered four race wins in a row to take the lead in the championship. The title has gone down to the last race, and even to the last few laps, providing plenty of excitement for millions of Formula One fans worldwide. At the end of the year, Vettel is a deserving Drivers’ Champion, and Red Bull are worthy Constructors’s Champions.
Just a few races ago, Fernando Alonso was very much the favourite to take the 2012 World Championship. Now, after four consecutive race victories, Sebastian Vettel has taken over the position of championship leader, and is beginning to assert himself with the assurance that was so evident in his 2011 campaign.
Vettel is now 13 points ahead of Alonso in the standings with three races to go. With 25 points for a win and a seven point difference between first and second places, Vettel will be World Champion for the third year running if he wins the next two races, even if Alonso finishes second on both occasions.
For Alonso to take the title, he has to beat Vettel on the track. Barring reliability issues for the Red Bull driver, that is not looking particularly likely. In yesterday’s Indian Grand Prix, Vettel was untouchable, winning comfortably by just under 10 seconds from his title rival. Alonso did manage to finish ahead of Mark Webber in the second Red Bull, but that was largely due to a KERS problem on Webber’s car in the second half of the race.
Webber is now realistically out of the running for the championship. He is 73 points behind his team-mate with only 75 points still available in the season, which effectively ends his challenge. That should mean, in the absence of problematic intra-team politics at Red Bull, that Webber will assist Vettel to the title if required. The recent dominance of the Red Bull RB8 added to the support of a quick and tenacious team-mate makes Vettel a fairly safe bet to become the youngest triple World Champion in history and only the third driver ever to win three consecutive titles.
On the other end of the grid, the most successful driver in history may be wishing he had stayed in bed yesterday. Michael Schumacher suffered a puncture in the first corner when he was hit from behind by the Toro Rosso of Jean-Eric Vergne, and that resulted in him being so far behind that he was lapped in the opening stages of the race. With no chance of points, the team retired the car in the closing laps of the race for “technical reasons”, although there was no indication of what those might be.
Schumacher’s three-year return to Formula One is fizzling out as he gets closer to retirement. He is now last of the Mercedes-powered drivers in the championship, even behind the Force India pair of Hulkenberg and Di Resta. While Schumacher’s lack of points is arguably largely due to reliability problems on the car in the early part of the season, it will not be satisfying to the seven-time World Champion to be bowing out on such a low note.
Racing resumes in a few days’ time in Abu Dhabi, scene of Vettel’s first Championship victory. Vettel will be the favourite for victory once again, although Ferrari and Alonso will be working round the clock to close the gap. Vettel cannot clinch the title this weekend, but Red Bull are likely to claim yet another Constructors’ Championship. Ferrari must score six more points than Red Bull in Abu Dhabi just to keep the Constructors’ Championship alive. Based on recent form, it seems more likely that Red Bull will be celebrating on Sunday night.
After being hauled in front of the stewards to explain their engine maps, Red Bull will be relieved to have no action taken against their drivers for today’s German Grand Prix.
FIA technical delegate Jo Bauer had examined the RB8 engine maps and found evidence that suggested that Red Bull were attempting to gain an aerodynamic advantage by blowing more air through the exhaust than was required to produce the demanded torque at full throttle at mid-range revs.
Christian Horner was surprised to hear that his team was being investigated, and his confidence in the legality of the RB8 proved justified as the stewards decided not to impose any penalties on the Red Bull drivers.
Sebastian Vettel will start second, with Mark Webber eighth after qualifying third and receiving a five-place gird penalty for changing his gearbox.