Contributor: James Parker, TJ13 on track correspondent
Formula 1, anyone who has been educated in this glorious sport has always acknowledged that the “team game” becomes just as important throughout the season, as the personal glory being chased by the drivers for the World Drivers crown. It is a recipe that few teams have ever been able to perfect over the years and based on the evidence we received on Sunday, is something that can go horrendously wrong when miscalculated.
There are two stories that dominate the Malaysian Grand Prix weekend, and both stem from controversial decisions led by team principals that have thrown the sport into one of its darkest times in terms of sporting code of conduct. In so many regards, what both RedBull and Mercedes tried to pull off in the closing stages of the Grand Prix followed the same principle, but in so many other ways they cannot be compared, and that is what we are going to explore in this article, along with the current stature of team orders within the sport as a whole.
Mercedes – A tactical decision
Let’s kick things off with Mercedes shall we, what the position was from lap 42ish onwards and why Ross Brawn made the call he did. What the team essentially did on Sunday, in regards to Hamilton’s side of the garage, was make a catastrophic mistake for the Grand Prix in under fuelling the Briton’s car to such an aggressive level, he was considered “critical” from an extremely early stage in the race.
Whether the team were clinging on to hopes of a race dominated by wet conditions, or wanted to try and deceive RedBull and control things from the front is another matter entirely. But the decision to under fuel Hamilton was a crucial mistake, and one which potentially cost them the Grand Prix. Judging by Rosberg’s pace during the race, (who was not so “critically close” in terms of fuel level) was Hamilton’s pace and ability to keep hold of the RedBull’s down to a lower fuel load?
I do not think so, and this error of judgement was just compounded even further when Lewis decided to take a scenic stop off at McLaren’s pit garage for his first stop – been a long day had it?
By the latter stages of the Grand Prix, Hamilton was struggling massively to lift and coast enough to make sure he saw the end of the finish line. Although his tyres were not optimum (scrubbed set of mediums) his lack of pace was solely down to fuel, and so the team had a big dilemma on their hands.
His teammate, Rosberg who was hugely faster in the latter stages of the race, found himself tucked up behind Hamilton, after a couple of exchanges in the final corner saw them swap positions for a brief moment. In front of a “home crowd” and with Petronas title sponsors watching on, Brawn took the decision not to risk both cars in a 1 on 1 fight, and safely take home brilliantly solid 3rd and 4th places back to Brackley.
Now I do feel for Rosberg, and bar momentary conflict over the radio, he reluctantly accepted the fate of his race prematurely, gracious in defeat and had shown himself to have the team in mind after Brawn had stamped his authority over the matter.
Now comes the point of whether that decision to keep Rosberg behind was correct or not?
Many have suggested that the reason for Hamilton staying in front of Rosberg was down to a sponsor related issue. The team’s new star man claims a podium finish and sponsors fling their cheque books towards Mercedes’ feet. Others have thought it was down to a contractual point, that Hamilton has an “underlying” position of number 1 driver, as promised to him at the start of the 2013 by the team and therefore he maintained priority.
However Brawn came back to combat that criticism by stating they would do exactly the same if Nico had found himself in an identical situation – something the German I am sure is looking forward to finding out given his statement over the team radio – “remember this one guys”.
Mercedes had a big problem; a tactical mistake forced them to make a tactical decision, but one question mark does rest of their heads… if they did not want to risk the cars (for obvious reasons), why did Brawn not just ask Hamilton to let Rosberg pass “safely”, similar to Ferrari in 2010, and their “Massa, Fernando is faster than you” incident – albeit Massa did not have problem in Germany in that instance.
Their hand was forced and Brawn had to make a quick decision, whether it was the right one or not will always remain subjective, whatever side you sit on the fence. But Rosberg showed incredible maturity with the decision that was taken and I am sure the Mercedes PR people will be spending a lot of time with him over the next few days – but in hindsight you could see why it was done.
RedBull – A bold decision turned bad
RedBull, well where on earth do we begin? Over the next few days I am sure Vettel will feel the whole world will be falling on top of him as the worlds media condemn him from not following strict team orders and therefore break protocol.
Internally, the team must be in incredible disarray, they have two drivers, that since Turkey in 2010 have been arch rivals behind closed doors, with both only sharing a “professional” relationship, whilst Christian Horner has to assess why a driver would intentionally undermine his decision and do the complete opposite to what he wished – a headache, and bitter pill for all to follow.
So we have to ask ourselves, where does this differ from Mercedes?
Well, unlike Mercedes who felt the need to hold station due to problems being felt by one car, RedBull simply had an agreement in place, pre race, that if the situation that was presented, happened, that both drivers would stick to the protocol “Multi21” – or in other words to hold station in their current positions.
There were no problems with either Vettel’s or Webber’s car and the conscious decision was taken by Christian Horner to engage that protocol, with him being heard numerous times over the radio reassuring Webber that, that situation had now been enforced by all parties.
However, what we witnessed on Sunday was something of a complete implosion, almost a statement of intent by Vettel that he was not prepared to settle for 2nd place, protocol or not – a ruthless side to him that we have had flashes of in the past – but not to this scale.
You have to ask yourselves, was it the right decision by RedBull? Should they have let both their drivers’ race to the final 2-3 laps?
I for one do doubt that Webber, after exiting the pits was in “preservation mode” given the close proximity of his teammate, and after the initial skirmish coming out of the pits, the call had to be made to hold station. I think this conscious decision was made by RedBull due to the chequered past both drivers have experienced in the past. 43 points is an incredible haul of points to throw away if the “inevitable” did happen, and given the events at both Turkey 2010 and Silverstone 2011, Horner simply did not want to take that risk.
But of course there are always two sides to every coin, with this being no exception; it begs the question… could Vettel’s actions be defended at all?
Well earlier in the Grand Prix he saw his main title rival from last season crash out of the race due to a rare tactical error by Ferrari, and the winner from Melbourne – Kimi Raikkonen struggling down in 7th place. Knowing how close the margins between winning and losing in Formula 1 (3 pts in 2012) did Vettel pursue an act of sheer greed and ruthlessness to enhance his title credentials?
If that is the case, where does Horner’s authority stand in this situation? That is the sheer difference between Mercedes and RedBull and where I feel the crucial difference lies.
Whilst The Judge will go into the RedBull situation on a much more detailed scale with an article dedicated to the internal issues, it is vital that team orders, whilst effectively issued with the same principal can be carried out in completely different manners.
Brawn enforced team orders due to a catastrophic tactical mistake, the Team had to improvise on the whim, and from that point onwards Brawn take absolute authority and control of that decision making sure it was carried out in a safe manner.
With RedBull however, it was a pre meditated agreement, a mutually respected protocol that both Vettel and Webber should have stuck to. This is where I feel the team has partial blame in this matter. Whilst Vettel should have stuck to the agreement, it is clear that the team did not control the situation to the degree of Ross Brawn and Mercedes.
Vettel claimed that he “did not understand” the multi21 protocol post race, something that Webber was completely mystified about. This is where I feel Christian Horner should have shown a more authoritive side, taking complete control of the situation and instructed clearly to Vettel what his actions should be at that current point in time – something that seems to have got lost in translation given the post race feedback.
That is where the key difference lies between both situations during the Grand Prix last Sunday, and it will be hugely interesting watching how RedBull now deal with the events that proceeded to take place on the track – if it is something they can recover from – but Judge will have more on that for you.
Webber shows his displeasure and cuts Vettel into pit wall post the chequered flag
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