As the reigning world champion and an ambassador for Formula One, what Sebastian Vettel did during the Malaysian Grand Prix was disappointing to say the very least.
From certain viewpoints, what Sebastian Vettel did in Malaysia wasn’t wrong; as a racing driver he is there to win, and win he did. His sheer determination to win no matter what should perhaps be respected, but the manner in which he claimed his 27th career victory is a bitterly painful one for Vettel, Red Bull Racing, Formula One and his team-mate; Mark Webber.
Webber, a man who speaks his mind and wears his heart on his sleeve has been a very considerate and obedient team-mate for a number of years; maintaining gaps and not threatening Vettel when told to by his employers not wanting to risk a coming together between their cars (a la Turkish Grand Prix 2010). It would only be fair therefore, that should Vettel be required to do similar, the triple-champion would obey and repay Webber for all those trouble-free runs to the chequered flag.
For those who aren’t aware, Mark Webber lead the Malaysian Grand Prix for much of the way, having jumped ahead of Vettel through a well-timed pit stop. With the two Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg in 3rd and 4th falling further behind, the coded order – “Multi 21” – came from the Red Bull pit wall. Multi 21 means hold station, look after the tyres and bring the cars home in the order they are currently in – Webber first, Vettel second. Webber duly turned his engine down, as requested, and settled in for a cruise to victory. Vettel had other ideas; Ignoring the strict orders from his employers, Vettel launched an attack on his Australian team-mate. Webber rather brilliantly defended, firmly but fairly and to no avail. Vettel went on to win the race and as stated by his race engineer Rocky, had “some explaining to do”.
Despite Webber’s previous obedience, Vettel seemingly couldn’t return the many favours and allow Webber the win he perhaps deserved.
Without doubt, many will lose respect for Vettel because of this, largely due to the personal pain clearly felt by Webber at being betrayed by a team-mate. Mark seemed understandably fed-up post race; he gave the impression of a man falling out of love with his team and perhaps the sport. Vettel meanwhile, squirmed under questioning as he tried to conjure up acceptable answers. He stated that he had “made a mistake” and that he “didn’t mean to overtake Mark” – difficult to believe when you consider the wheel-to-wheel battle he endured to get past. Perhaps “I didn’t mean to do it” were words lost in translation and further explanation was needed – the competitive blinkers were on and Vettel went for it. Victory was in sight and he was going to win at all costs. Vettel clearly subscribes to Ayrton Senna’s mantra of “if you no longer go for a gap that exsists, you’re no longer a racing driver” – not necessarily a bad thing.
Vettel has apologised to Webber but frankly, too little too late. Had Vettel wanted to race to the end then perhaps informing the team – and Mark – that he will ignore the team orders and attack his team-mate would be more sporting, more gentlemanly and more acceptable. The team surely wouldn’t be happy with that but Webber – ever the racer – would have rolled his sleeves up and let battle commence, fairly. Barring any contact between the pair and the one-two finish was secure, nobody could complain. What Vettel did was sneaky, underhand, disobedient and disrespectful; behaviour not befitting a triple world champion.
Under very similar circumstances at the San Marino Grand Prix of 1982, Ferrari driver Didier Pironi disobeyed team-orders and ignored a pre-race agreement by overtaking his team-mate Gilles Villeneuve. Villeneuve fought back when he felt he shouldn’t have to, but Pironi took a very unpopular win with the Ferrari team. Villeneuve vowed to never talk to Pironi again. And he didn’t. At the next race weekend, in Belgium, Villeneuve was so determined to beat the time set by his back-stabbing team-mate that he pushed a little too hard, crashed into the back of another car and was killed, such was his anger and upset at being betrayed. Modern-day safety dictates that that tragic outcome is unlikely to happen again but one thing is for sure; Red Bull will find it nigh on impossible to issue team-orders in Mark Webber’s direction ever again. The race is on!