I have been travelling since just a few hours after the Malaysian GP. That allowed some decent sleep after a heavy race weekend in physically-draininhg conditions. Now, en route between Dubai and Paris, it has provided some time to think about the implications of the bad blood in KL between the Red Bull team-mates.
Sebastian Vettel has probably not read much of William Shakespeare. Perhaps he should have done. If he had, he might have known about Mark Anthony’s celebrated speech at Julius Caesar’s funeral, which relates that “the evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones”.
So let it be with Vettel. Sebastian is a highly intelligent and hugely talented racer and until Sunday the worst one could say about him was that he did not give enough away much about his real character, and thus came across as rather bland, despite the odd petulant outburst. He has made some mistakes in his career, but he was never really unsporting in his behaviour. He seemed an honourable man. After Malaysia there is no doubt at all that he is willing to go beyond the acceptable to win races.
After the race he said that he was sorry and had done wrong, but the admission of guilt does not change the implications: Vettel has the World Championship points and his apology, while half-decent PR, is irrelevant. Let’s not be silly here. Vettel knew exactly what he was doing. He knew he was going against team orders; he knew that Webber would be furious and he was bargaining on the fact that Red Bull Racing would allow him to get away with it.
He is probably right. Webber made no bones of the fact that he did not expect anything from the team. Vettel, he said, in his anger, would “be protected as usual”.
That one phrase let the genie out of the bottle and placed the question firmly in the public domain. The “as usual” hints at stresses and strains within the team which risk blowing the dynamics apart. Perhaps Mark will continue to fight for a team that he does not believe is really behind him. Perhaps not. If he truly believes that Vettel is favoured, then it is hard not to argue that Mark is in the wrong place.
The incident in Malaysia will have other implications as well: it will show whether or not the Red Bull Racing management is running the team, or whether Sebastian Vettel can do as he pleases. If a driver is allowed to call the shots then the team management loses all of its authority. Christian Horner said that Vettel had done the wrong thing, but said that he could see no point in calling up the German and ordering him to give back the place. One team boss I spoke to after the race said that if Vettel had been his driver, he would have called him into the pits just to make the point that it is the team, rather than the driver, who calls the shots. The other thing I heard was that Red Bull’s F1 consultant Dr Helmut Marko was very unhappy about what happened, perhaps because he realises that the team’s credibility (and his own) is being undermined. Perhaps in time this will be seen as the first point at which the Vettel-Red Bull relationship began to break down because Vettel got too big for his boots. Perhaps not. But whatever the case there is a lot at stake.
Unless Sebastian can do something to right the wrong he has done in more than nominal fashion he is now forever going to be seen as unscrupulous. He has done the very thing that has blighted Michael Schumacher’s reputation in the sport. Yes, Michael won a lot of titles, but on several occasions he proved that his moral compass was flawed and so people always tended to see the bad in him. That was fair enough. It looked for a long time that Vettel was smarter than his idol and that he had a little more integrity and sportsmanship than Schumacher. It is rather sad that he has proved himself to be wanting.
There are some who argue that a racing driver’s job is to win and that there should not be team orders. I think that is naïve. Teams need to have such structures in order to keep things under control.
The other thing Malaysia has done is something positive. It has given the F1 world a story to tell with good guys and bad guys. It will produce large amounts of copy and loads of sound bites, and that will create more interest in F1. In this respect it is good. There are bound to be a lot of red herrings thrown into the arguments as well. We saw that with Webber when he had begun to calm down. He proved himself to be a real team player by using the incident between the drivers as a justification for Red Bull’s arguments about the Pirelli tyres spoiling the show. He said that if the tyres were different this situation would not have arisen. Red Bull says that the tyres are not good for the sport. Rivals teams say that Red Bull is simply trying to get the rules changed because the cars were not as competitive as they might be. Campaigning for rule changes has often been used by Red Bull Racing in the past when things are not going its way. It uses its financial and political clout in order to try to sway the F1 powerbrokers. I hope that they remain steadfast… and do the right thing.
And I hope that Vettel does likewise.