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.”