Civil war or just a load of old Bull?

F1: A game of murderous honour

There are many aspects of Formula 1 which are contradictory, but somehow quietly pleasing. The competitors and teams are pitched in a technological, political and strategic battle to win at all costs, yet there is behind the scenes a series of “gentleman’s’ agreements” or codes of acceptability. To be in breach or flout these rules overtly leads to recrimination and a sense that a line has been crossed which is quite unacceptable.

McLaren stealing Ferrari designs lead to outrage, recriminations both internally and externally and a very big fine. Yet teams poach and head hunt each other’s key people with impunity even when there are technology sharing or acquisition contractual arrangements.

untitledLewis was highly criticised for lying to the stewards in Melbourne 2009 and this ultimately cost David Ryan – who at the time was the team manager with 35 years’ service behind him – his job and career in F1.

Further, the players present us with the sense that there is integrity about how they play the game. Team orders are a most obvious example of this. To manipulate the result of who finishes ahead of whom would be an anathema in most other sports – if not downright illegal and the subject of censure – but not in F1.

The F1 conflict

We have been educated that the  F1 game is both a team and an individual competition and in recent times the almost unanimous school of thought presented is that drivers should first serve the team’s ambitions and secondly their own. This leads to a plethora of convoluted explanations as to why one driver gets ‘new bits’ ahead of the other and why another driver must allow his team mate preferential treatment in pit stop strategy and track position.

This is of course all plausible so long as there is no blatant break with the party line, no action taken that makes the teams’ well rehearsed – ‘team first’ – posturing look ridiculous. It appears integrity – in perception at least – is a value held in high regard by those who manage and own the Formula One teams.

So was Red Bull’s instructions and Vettel’s subsequent behaviour acceptable in Sepang? Such is our acceptance of the F1 code of integrity, we could have accepted Webber being told to move over had this weekend’s race been in the drivers’ title run in and it was clear that Sebastian Vettel was the most likely Red Bull driver to win out in the WDC battle.

Vettel’s bad call

Yet we saw a rare and unusual fallibility of decision making from the young German and I don’t mean in his pursuit of his team mate in the closing laps of the race. Vettel was told over the pit radio to tell the team when HE wanted to switch from intermediate tyres in the first stint to a set of the dry weather rubber. He made the wrong call and switched 2 laps too soon.

Whilst in sectors 2 and 3 the track was indeed dry it was far too wet in sector one and Vettel’s decision to pit for dry tyres meant that in two laps Mark Webber passed Sebastian and then extended his lead of the race. Red Bull’s paranoia over tyre wear then set their two drivers on a sequence of stints where they were told to drive to a delta time which meant Vettel could not attack Webber for risk of using up his tyres too quickly and would then have been forced into a 5 pit stop strategy.

FORMULA 1 - Malaysian GPWe all know the rules and team mates can fight until the team decide that the race strategy is now set and they are instructed to comply with the current formation. Vettel was aware of this after the first stop because he was told to keep a 3 second gap to Webber on the radio and for lap after lap he had to come to terms with the fact that this was not to be his day.

For much of the race, the Red Bull’s were under serious threat from Mercedes and had Lewis not popped in to the McLaren garage just for old times sake, he may well have challenged for the lead of the race at a fairly crucial time. Yet Mercedes had made a substantial miscalculation on fuel and Hamilton never had the ammunition to fight for the win – a fatal blow for the battle we were watching which could have been epic.

Red Mist or a hatched plan?

Back in Vettel’s cockpit there are those like David Coultard who claim his decision to pass Webber was all in the heat of the moment and that he made a ‘red mist’ misjudgement, but is it this simple? Vettel is consistently credited with having a fantastic racing brain, making calls himself that the team accept, enact and they often result in glory.

The Sepang race 2013 was a day of utter frustration for Vettel from when he first decided to ditch the intermediates too early, and it may be that he stewed and boiled away inside the cockpit all afternoon over his poor decision and was in fact looking and hoping for a small opportunity to rectify it.

have watched back time after time the pre-podium encounter in the drivers’ ready room where Vettel and Newey converse for some time and are then joined by Webber with just a minute before the podium ceremony is due to begin.

I am in no doubt Vettel knew what he had done. Further, Adrian Newey was stretched tighter than the gut on a Nadal tennis racquet. Webber then challenged Sebastian over the team order ‘multi 21’ – which is clearly code for ‘hold station’ – and the subsequent denial from Vettel that he had received this instruction quite simply appears to be a lie.

The Webber defence

Many TJ13 readers have suggested the Webber ‘refusal’ to obey team orders at Silverstone in 2011 was a similar breach of team orders, yet the absolute fact of the matter is the whilst he challenged Sebastian for the last 2 laps of the race – for second place – he did not complete the pass and therefore the team’s order was enacted. #SabreRattling

Brazil 2012 has also been quoted as an example of Webber’s breach of team orders, but if anyone has even been in a mere go-kart race they will understand that the start and first corner positioning is often a lottery. The rule of the game is self preservation. Here is the start footage from Sao Paulo just over 3 months ago – what team orders were breached?

Won’t everything just inevitably be well?

So what? I hear you say. Vettel did what he did and that’s life and by the time we get to China it will all be forgotten and when the lights go out for the race we’ll have something else to talk about. That may indeed be so. Yet there are times in life when an event occurs and there is a general sense that things will never be the same again – something fundamental has changed and cannot be reversed. This is a feeling shared by many in F1 24 hours on and after the heat of the moment.

There are a significant number people who work for the Red Bull team who believe Sebastian screwed up ‘royally’ but they do believe that he and the team will find a way to put things right. On the other hand there are those who believe this was the most serious misjudgement Vettel has ever made and together with his lie has diminished for the first time Vettel’s integrity.

There is bizarrely a ‘rabbit in the headlights’ feel to how the Red Bull management are approaching this matter. The precedents set by the likes of Ron Dennis or Frank Williams when the authority of their teams has been challenged by a driver does not seem to be a path Horner et. al. wish to tread. They increasingly look to be stuck between a rock and a hard place.

What is clear is that this matter will not simply resolve itself but what are the options and possible outcomes? Whatever they are the single biggest factor to remember is that Webber is the oldest driver in F1 and is on a 1 year contract with Red Bull which is widely believed to be his last with the team.

All will be resolved and the tense but previous rules of combat for the Red Bull protagonists will be re-instated.

For this scenario to be the result, Mark will likely require some recognition, or he will feel the need for Vettel to be sanctioned by the team. Sebastian could be dressed down and forced to sit out the race in China on the ‘naughty step’ but this option has to be highly remote.

The team could fine Vettel but would he accept this sanction? It could be that they pull this off by explaining to Sebastian that if he doesn’t want a maverick Aussie consistently scrubbing the tyre walls of his RB9 for the rest of the year – this minimal humiliation – may well be a price worth paying.

Yet Vettel appears to be on a mission to be the greatest F1 driver – ever – and may mean he refuses to have his copy book blotted with what amounts to his team ‘dressing him down’.

Yet what is true is that the current apology has not been sufficient to appease Mark Webber who has gone off to hit the waves in Australia and hope that is medicine to ease his pain. Yet the wounds run deep and Webber has nothing to lose.

To ease Mark back into ‘team player’ role Red Bull could offer him an extension to his 1 year contract to and confirm he will drive for them in 2014. This could be delivered fairly quickly and declares to the world the team is setting matters right. However there is nervousness within Red Bull as to what exactly Webber may do and would exposing the team to an additional year of this driver line up be perceived as ideal.

Then Webber could refuse a contract extension or the team may feel this gesture is too big an admission of their ‘loss of control’. Yet that is exactly what has happened. The team management are now not in control of their cars’ destiny. If a driver wishes to push the car to the limit and burn out the tyres – hoping this will give them the edge – what can Horner and Newey now do?

A fundamental and irreconcilable breach of team trust has occurred and all control is lost.

The most significant issue Red Bull may need to grasp is that it appears that Vettel’s action on track and initial re-actions after the event suggest that he believes the team were wrong in their decision. Yes, he may have apologised but if that is to placate only rather than a true state of mind – if he is indeed unrepentant – what else will he question when instructed by the team?

Should the Red Bull management be concerned over this? Indeed they should because if Vettel is given the opportunity to believe he is truly ‘invincible’ and above the law of the team, then Marko, Horner and Newey begin to look like patsy’s and utterly impotent as the managers of their own organisation. Their raison d’être then becomes that of a team which simply exists to pacify the driver they consider to be the number one and their best chance of winning.

A sense of history may decide

It may be that the difference between Red Bull when compared to say McLaren and Williams is simply one of historical significance. The latter are teams who understand the pain of their history and the struggles for survival in motor racing’s premier discipline. These teams know all too well the absolute value of what it costs to be a long term participant in the sport of F1 and will be dictated to by no one. For them the truism is that ‘form is temporary and class is permanent’ is one that they have been forced to embrace as solace in the barren times that Red Bull have yet to experience.

untitledIs it that Red Bull are the ‘new money’ of F1? The impudent new kids on the block? They are perceived as trendy as demonstrated by with their ghetto blasting ‘big bad wolf’ victory tunes. Having been in F1 so short a time it would be understandable should they have a sense of history which is foreshortened and somewhat short sighted?

Yet should Red Bull underestimate the significance of this matter, it could be that their title hopes for 2013 become derailed due to disharmony and a sense of individualism may develop throughout the team. I amusingly saw this from a Red Bull employee last night who was joking, “We’re all considering disobeying team orders and not turning up for work tomorrow :)”.

The greatest sporting teams in all disciplines see their dynasties collapse at some point. For those great champions at the zenith of their powers there are always those looking for the first crack in their invincibility as a signal decline is imminent.

And yes, there are those who believe strongly tonight that unless the Red Bull F1 team manage this event properly – then the effervescence of the champagne of success could quickly lose it’s fizz with not even the power of Red Bull able to once again ‘give it wings’. In Formula 1, the winning is in the margins – and co-operation is fundamental to success.

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31 responses to “Civil war or just a load of old Bull?

  1. Remember when they took Webber’s wing and gave it to Seb… We’re in for one hell of a season people 🙂

  2. You ask “what can Horner and Newey now do?”. The fact is they can do nothing. They are mere puppets in the game, employees who can be told what to do – quite unlike Ron Dennis or Frank Williams.

    Horner has shown himself to be subservient to Vettel, Vettel has made a fool of Horner in public. Horner has been shown up as an ineffective weak leader with no Bull and/or Balls. Horner has failed in his PR utterings to restore his authority and made excuses for Vettel.

    The power lies with Vettel. The only person with any power over him is the owner of the Red Bull team.

    A fuller record of pit radio comms is available via twitter F1PitRadio and F1PitRadio2, where you will find a link to a video of the race with pit comms dubbed on.

      • Of course there will be a face saving “sanction” handed to Vettel in the form of a PR announcement. Horner will claim he has dealt with it internally, and think that no one will be the wiser. But the whole world will know that he is powerless, Vettel is real the King of Red Bull.

        Unless ….. as suggested by John Watson, Vettel is banned by Horner from taking part in the next race.
        http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/formula1/21922429
        ” …… Watson said Horner’s authority had been undermined by Vettel and called on the team boss to take action.
        “If Christian Horner doesn’t reassert his authority in the team – because he has been totally subjugated by Sebastian Vettel yesterday – then his position in the team is not exactly the role it is designed to be,” said Watson.
        “The only conclusion I can reach is that Vettel should be suspended for the next grand prix.
        “You can’t take the points away from him and give them to Mark Webber. That’s now history and Sebastian has the benefit of those seven additional points.
        “You can’t really fine him – it is almost irrelevant to fine him – so the only purposeful way to bring him to book is to say ‘you will stand out one race’. …. ”

        But …. that article says:
        ” ….. Following the race on Sunday, Horner said Red Bull would discuss Vettel’s move “behind closed doors”.

        On the question of Horner’s authority being undermined, a Red Bull spokeswoman told BBC Sport: “That’s for Christian to deal with, with the drivers. He’s managed the team successfully for a long time and I’m sure he’ll continue to do so.” … “

  3. As for Webber, I think he has only two courses of action open to him.

    either: Resign and leave the team now with his dignity intact.

    or: accept that he is number 2, do what he is told, and with the warning that if there is even the slightest hint of him not doing so he will be paid off.

  4. I would love Webber to prepare a cold dish of revenge. Watch what Ferrari and Alonso can do, and hopefully, later in the season, when Vettel needs a result to pursue Alonso, Webber defends a little too robustly.
    I’m no expert at body language, but yesterday, he looked prepared to walk away, he’d had enough.
    It’s like being the humiliated stooge of a comedy act, except on stage it’s required for laughs.

    Vettel is very much the spoilt brat. We have seen it with different radio messages when behind other drivers and his use of “cucumber” when he’s displeased.
    But maybe a little more disconcerting is his “need” for revenge.
    Alonso at Monza last year. After all, Alonso gave him a car’s width in 2011 and Vettel put 2 wheels on the grass. 2012 – Vettel moved across with Alonso beside him and forced him off track.
    Then yesterday we here from Horner, that this went back to Brazil last year…

  5. Regarding the acceptability of team orders, particularly in this case, I think you are missing something.
    When the team is struggling with tyres, as Red Bull clearly were this weekend, having the two drivers competing for the lead in the last stint gives rise to a prisoners’ dilemma situation.
    The best overall outcome for both drivers and the team is that they cruise to the finish for a guaranteed 43 points. If they race to the finish, there is a strong chance that both cars’ tyres will give out, and neither will score maximum points. But without team orders, neither driver has an incentive to concede.

    Refusing to accept team orders is one thing, but doing so in a manner which effectively tricks your teammate is quite another. It makes it impossible for that teammate in any future situation to trust instructions given by the team in good faith.

    I agree with John Watson; Horner should sanction Vettel by making him sit out the next GP. If he does not have the power to do so, he should resign.

    If he does neither, Webber should leave.

  6. Both drivers are employees of the team, both need to do as they are told. The team’s objective is to win the team championship, the.driver’s championship is secondary.
    If you own a cat, you will know that human’s role on earth is to serve the cat, Vettel is acting as if the team is there to serve him, basically “Schumacher style”

  7. A ruthless driver performing a ruthless action should be responded with a ruthless response. Mark Webber yesterday should have opened a very little door to the brat just to close it taking the brat out of the circuit (not necesarily stamping him against the wall as he deserved, just taking him out would be enough).

    That way, all the weight of disobeying orders would go to the brat, Mark would retain his dignity and, most importantly, the brat would have learnt a lesson for the next time he wanted to break team orders. Why take the chance to disobey if all he is going to do is a DNF.

    BTW, this is my first comment here. Love the blog. Keep it going!

    • Hi Regis – good to hear from you and obviously not a fan of Vettel I’m guessing. I too agree Webber was well within his rights to run Vettel wide and off the circuit, but we don’t know what he was being told in his ear – promises made maybe – the team admitting Vettel was out of their control….

      Don’t be a stranger again

    • I 110% agree with this. I would have thought much much more of Mark for running Vettel off. In the heat of the moment, in the middle of the action, when Vettel is stealing his deserved victory, if at that point of time he is thinking about what the team would like and not just that its my win and ill take it, then there is something fundamentally lacking in his desire to win.
      Mark should run Vettel off, collision or no collision. That would have put Vettel in his place and given a clear message to the team that control your kid or I will on track.

  8. If it was me I would suspend Vettel for the next race. There are many drivers who would like the opportunity to follow Red Bull’s team orders, so get Buemi in for one race, and then see if Vettel has changed his mind. The 25 points that Vettel may lose if he would have won the next race may cost him the championship, but this is worth it. The only difference in this scenario is that nothing went wrong for the team in this instance, but if his tyres had worn away due to aggressive driving so he had to drop back, or the equivalent for his engine, or if he had simply crashed, the consequences would have been horrible. By giving him a proper punishment, the team will prevent these events happening again.

  9. Difference between silverstone and malaysia?
    1. No pre-race agreement of holding station. Mark was quoted as saying “in the last 4-5 laps team came on radio and started ‘discussing’ about holding station. It was never decided that after the last pitstop drivers would just hold position. Mark never agreed to it.
    Probably after this they made some internal pact that after last pitstop drivers wont push and try to overtake.
    2. In silverstone, Mark refused to agree to just following Vettel home. The team knew that, they were trying to convince Mark, but they knew that Mark is not listening, so they would have never told Vettel that the race is his and just cruise now and that he wont be challenged. So Vettel was fully aware and alive to a possibility of an attack from behind.

  10. This is just another example of an undeserving spoilt and immature person having a feeling of entitlement.

    I haven’t seen any exceptional driving at all from Vettel yet and this just confirms my opinion that he is not a worthy champion, never mind a 3 time champion, cases in point;

    2010
    Wasn’t leading the championship until the last race, lucked into winning due to a strategy error by Ferrari.

    Turkey…..say no more.

    Spa……unguided missile straight into Button

    2011
    Even Adrian Newey could have drove that car and won the championship, it was the definition of dominant.
    Also having a car setup for pole, pushing for a few laps to get out of DRS range and then sauntering to the finish doesn’t make a great drive or driver.

    2012
    I would give him more credit if it wasn’t for ;

    All the ‘stretching of the rules’ by RB, flexi-wings, holes in floors, blown diffusers, engine maps etc. and the FIA doing a Ferrari and giving them a slap on the wrist, you can keep the points, but don’t do it again.

    Having an unearthly amount of good fortune in Abu Dhabi, starting dead last, hitting speed signs, damaging front wing, almost crashing twice, having the team move Webber out of the way for him, and still managing to finish on the podium.

    Having again uncanny good fortune, in Brasil, having an accident which puts you facing the wrong way into oncoming traffic would have ended most drivers race day, but not Vettel.

    Episodes like this further make me rate Vettel ever lower, and maybe he only deserves 1 out of the 3 championships he is credited with, and until I see a maturity in and out of the car, I won’t rate him as highly as ones like Hamilton, Raikkonen or Alonso.

    I think the only way Vettel can get the monkey off his back would be to drive for another team and win the championship without this kind of tainted driving, then he may be considered one of the greats.

    • I agree with most of your points and god knows Im not a Vettel fan, but it still doesn’t take away the fact that he did win 3 consecutive championship’s. To bemoan the fact that he only did this in the fastest car is silly, Formula1 championships have by large been won in a car that has been the fastest overall season and no champion can say he never had good fortune in his championship winning season.
      All the teams push the boundaries of what they can do, just because Red Bull have been in the news recently doesn’t mean they are the black sheep in a field of sheep. Remember spygate? mass dampers? Ferrari International Assistance(FIA)? examples are littered through F1 history..
      I fully agree with you that he is not in the best driver out there right now but that does not at all take away the worthiness of his title’s and the work that must have gone in them.

    • I agree with most of what you said, but I have to disagree with you about the race in Brasil. Most drivers in Vettel’s position when facing the wrong way and with the WDC at stake would have panicked and tried to turn the car around as fast as they could, and inevitably caused another accident.

      The fact that Vettel allowed his car to roll backwards to avoid oncoming cars showed a presence of mind and quick thinking that impressed me, and I’m certainly not a Vettel fan by any means. I don’t put that one down to good luck.

      Great article by the way, Judge – one of the best I’ve ever read on this site.

      • Thanks Chris – much appreciated

        There’s another explanation I’ve heard from a racing driver over the rolling backwards. He told me even the biggest rookie would have done the same because to try and spin it round in the middle of the pack was obviously suicide – further that not braking and stopping dead was also a no brainer decision.

        • You might be right – with hindsight it appears the only sensible thing to do. However, I remember at the time commentators like Brundle (an experienced driver himself) complementing Vettel, which doesn’t make it sound like a no brainer decision.

          • I know – and who knows I guess…it was only when I was using it as an example in a discussion – the other point of view was suggested to me…

            DC said Vettel was ‘red mist’ – I think he’s totally wrong – I think he planned it from the moment he made a mistake and called for dry tyres too soon.

  11. This is an excellent article. Well done. It is probably the best i have read about the Malaysian GP saga. I am going to say that Vettel completely undermined not only Horner but the whole team. Vettel knew about the prearranged agreement that they race until the final stop. The Red Bull’s had extreme tyre wear throughout the entire weekend. Vettel glory hunting and went completely against a team order which could have cost both drivers a 1st and 2nd. If Webber had knew that Vettel would be challenging him for the lead then Webber would have drove harder and maybe the battle between he and Vettel could have gone for over 5, 6 or even 7 laps destroying the tyres and leaving room for Rosberg to fly past Hamilton and challenge both Webber and Vettel on heavily worn tyres for the lead. This blatant disobeying of team orders is due to Sebastian thinking he is better than the team. Plain and simple. If he thinks his priorities and above the teams’ (the same team who supply his car and give him millions of dollars to drive it every year) then he should go somewhere else where.

    • Hi there Damoondog39 – I don’t think we’ve heard from you before.

      Your points are well made and don’t be a stranger – the people who come here are pretty cool. No abuse etc

      Come back soon

  12. Since the race data shows both had their engines turned down, and Horner clearly said they did I don’t see the dirty trick.

    I see where Vettel was promised it was a long race and to bid his time he could challenge Weber at the end. That was apparently changed by the team but Vettel ignored it or it went in one ear and out the other.

    The graph of the lap times clearly show Weber was never going to be able to fend off even Vettel even though he ran his fastest lap of the race.

    The real mistake Red Bull made was in not telling Weber to let Vettel by when it was obvious that Weber’s choice of hard tires for the last stint was the wrong one.

    After Weber’s comments aftter Silverstone in 2011 saying that he didn’t have to adhear to team orders and your video you posted blocking Vettel in Brazil and his incredibly airing of dirty laundry in the press conference Weber is the one that should have action taken. Not to mention his illegal blocking of Vettel yesterday nearly sending Vettel into the wall. If I were Vettel I would take this opportunity to flex my muscle and demand Webber set the press straight or be sacked. Vettel can’t trust him and the fact of the matter is teams will line up to sign Vettel. Weber, not so much.

  13. Coincidence that the Association of Teachers and Lecturer’s reports a 53% rise in disruptive behavior saying ” teachers and support staff are suffering the backlash from deteriorating standards of behaviour”, just days before enfant terrible Vettel gives an on track demonstration of oppositional defiant disorder in all its glory. Well yes, utter coincidence but still, one could go on in that vein for some time and not be entirely wrong. The one remaining question is do Red Bull as a team have the will and the tools to deal with it.. For I agree with you, if they cannot reassert that the team’s needs must come before Vettel’s, they will not last in the sport.

  14. Please read the quote below. Here lies the double standard. Weber has in fact disobeyed direct team orders at least three times that I recall. Why wasn’t there a huge media storm? Because he COULDN’T pass Seb. He put both of them in a lot of danger and almost cost Seb the driver’s championship. Weber has been at it a long time. Just because he wasn’t good enough to pull off the pass, people quickly forget.

    Last thing, for all of the people pointing at the Turkey race- if you look at the overhead shots, Webber drove completely off the racing line to push Seb. Let’s just keep all of these things in mind when Webber is playing the victim.

    “… Webber ‘refusal’ to obey team orders at Silverstone in 2011 was a similar breach of team orders, yet the absolute fact of the matter is the whilst he challenged Sebastian for the last 2 laps of the race – for second place – he did not complete the pass and therefore the team’s order was enacted.”

  15. Vettell is an impetuous little twat. He was boo’ed on the podium in Australia, and didn’t he have a long face on him for not winning. He is a clone of Schumacher I’m afraid. I feel for mark. Not had much luck in his F1 career

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