During the post-race press conference in Istanbul, a disgruntled Mark Webber was asked why Sebastian Vettel’s car was faster than his on lap 40 when the two cars collided when the German made a rather impatient move to overtake, taking them both out. Vettel tried to make out that Webber had done something wrong but clearly this was not the case. He kept to his line, he did not move right or left. If the road had been wider then Mark would have lost the place but Vettel ran out of space and drove into the side of his team-mate, presumably thinking that Webber would get out his way, if he made such a move. Webber did not. One got the impression that he did not expect a team-mate to do such a thing.
Webber replied that there was more to the story than met the eye, but would not say more. This clearly warranted investigation. Given that Webber and Vettel were equal on points at the start of the race – each having 78 points – this was obviously a pivotal moment in the season – and the World Championship battle. With one driver ahead of the other it is much easier to dictate what one wishes to see, although, of course, team orders are not allowed, unless a driver voluntarily agrees to help his team-mate.
Webber was on pole because Vettel had some trouble with a broken rear anti-roll bar in qualifying. In the race Webber took the lead and Vettel was pushed back to third by a great move from Lewis Hamilton, despite the fact that Sebastian had made a terrific start. Vettel shadowed Webber and Hamilton until the pit stops after which Webber was ahead of Vettel and Hamilton, slowed by a pit lane glitch. When they were free and running again the gap was 0.8s and it remained much the same from lap 18 to lap 36. The biggest gap Webber managed was 1.1secs on lap 24. The smallest was 0.4s, when lapping Jarno Trulli on lap 29. It was status quo. Vettel was beaten (as he had been in Barcelona and Monaco). Sebastian seemed to have no answer for the Australian.
On lap 36 Webber was ahead by 0.813s, with no traffic ahead. Vettel lapped a tenth slower. Next time around Vettel’s lap times plunged by nearly half a second, from a 1m30.638s to a 1m30.181s. Webber’s lead shrank to 0.660s. On lap 38 Vettel did the same lap time (1m30.190s), while Webber did a 1m30.406s. The gap closed to 0.444s. Being that close to Mark meant that Vettel’s progress was stopped. The two both lapped in 1m30.6s. The next time around they collided. Vettel went up the inside in Turn 12 had the momentum but did not have the space and cut across into Webber. It was the move of an impatient man – with no reason to be impatient.
So what happened? After the race there were whispers that Red Bull Racing had ordered Webber to turn down his engine, to save fuel. Team boss Christian Horner said that they two drivers had the same engine settings, but added “as far as I know – which is never a good sign. When pressed on the subject, he said that their engine settings were the same.
But multiple sources within the team said that this was not the case and that the team wanted Vettel to go ahead, because he was going faster. If that had happened, of course, Vettel would have had a seven point lead in the World Championship. There are conspiracy theorists who argue that it is an Austrian team and that the Germans and the Austrians stick together. We have seen signs of that in the past in the way in which the team has dealt with its drivers. Christian Klien was favoured for a long time. Vettel was Red Bull’s golden boy. Webber was recruited to help with the engine deal, because of his connections with Renault.
If this is the case, then Red Bull has ended up creating a massive problem for itself – “a f@#king disaster” is how Webber described the situation. Yes, it was a disaster that the team lost points because of Vettel’s failure to finish, but the real disaster would be if Webber were to feel that is to feel that he is being unfairly treated by the Austrians and those who do what they are told. The sad fact is that Webber now leads the World Championship, with Vettel is 15 points behind. The two McLaren drivers are both ahead of Sebastian so pushing the German to get more points at Webber’s expense would not be an intelligent move.
And, the whole of the F1 paddock is now going to be looking at the team to see if that is happening.
Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear…