Red Bull Racing may have the fastest car in Formula 1 this year, but the team has made a fundamental mistake. And the fact that the two drivers collided is not the problem. That was unfortunate. The real problem is that one of the drivers – the one leading the World Championship, no less – is no longer sure that he can trust his own team. Someone in the team has to take the blame for that – and it is not Mark Webber. At the time of the crash Webber was in the lead and Vettel’s rash (some might say desperate) manoeuvre seemed to catch him out. Lewis Hamilton, who was following behind in his McLaren was clear that he felt that Vettel was to blame.
“I saw Sebastian go to the inside, where there’s not much room, and there didn’t seem to be any reason for him to try to move to the right,” he said.
Webber was clearly trying to avoid controversy – being loyal to the team – but it was also clear that he was not at all happy. He explained that there was no reason why Vettel should have been able to close up on him.
“I wasn’t too slow, no. Seb had a top speed advantage and it looks like he turned pretty quick when he was alongside and we made contact.”
In a previous post we examined the lap times involved and it was clear that Vettel was suddenly able to speed up in relation to Webber. Team boss Christian Horner has now confirmed that the drivers did have different engine settings – something he initially denied. And “denied” is an important word. He did not say that he thought they were on the same setting. He said that they definitely were. Later he recanted on that. Explaining why Horner and Red Bull representative Helmut Marko attacked Webber after the race is going to be difficult to explain.
It is up to the man overtaking to make the move stick and Vettel failed to do that. Webber did not give him much room but there was no reason why he should have done. Webber 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 in the end Vettel drove into the side of his team-mate, presumably thinking that Webber would get out his way.
The problem now is that everyone in the F1 paddock thinks that the Red Bull camp wants Vettel to be World Champion and the whole business has created the ironic situation of Webber being 15 points ahead. To make matters worse the two McLaren drivers are now between the two Red Bull drivers and so trying to help Vettel will be watched for and could open the way for one of the McLaren men to steal the title – which would not be smart at all.
The big teams have all learned over the years that favouring one driver over another is a very blinkered approach. It worked for Ferrariwith Michael Schumacher, but in the overall scheme of things, this means that Michael is not given the respect that perhaps he deserves when he is rated along with the all-time greats as he had many advantages and very little pressure. Williams has always tried to treat its drivers fairly, right back to the days of Alan Jones and Carlos Reutemann. There were similar problems in the Nelson Piquet- Nigel Mansell era, although Nelson has long since admitted that he stirred up that trouble deliberately to try to destabilize Mansell. There is no doubt that in 1986 the two Williams drivers lost the title to Alain Prost because they were allowed to race one another. McLaren has to deal with the same problem with Ayrton Senna and Prost in 1989 and was unable to keep the peace and the same happened in 2007 when Fernando Alonso found it impossible to accept the concept that Lewis Hamilton could be as fast as he was. This did serious damage to Alonso’s reputation, although the Spanish media has convinced itself that the English team favoured the English driver.
The Istanbul incident has done nothing to help the relationship between the two Red Bull drivers, although Webber made it clear that he can see a way to get over it. The real “f**king disaster” to which he referred is not about Vettel, but rather about whether he can trust his team or whether he has to watch out for behind-the-scenes meddling. This uncertainty will weaken the team. One can dismiss this as paranoia, but what was clear in Istanbul was that almost no-one in F1 outside the Red Bull camp thought Webber could be blamed for the incident.
Red Bull has long had the bad habit of messing with its drivers. If the team wants to win the World Championship, this must stop.
Down at McLaren they must be laughing all the way to the bank…