Good Friday Today is the day when hundreds of millions of people across the globe, remember an event they claim demonstrates the ultimate act of human sacrifice. They honour and venerate someone they believe laid down their life willingly so that fellow human beings – whether they loved of hated him – could be saved.
Whether we agree with them matters not there are thousands of stories of heroic acts where one human being has laid aside personal ambition or even life itself for the benefit of others.
Being aware that we are part of something much bigger than just our own individual lives many would argue is a unique trait of humanity which places us above the animal kingdom. Regardless, it is clear that the animals do not organise global competitive events and as such sport itself is an expression of humanity.
F1 divided This week has been a fascinating and revealing week in F1 as the dividing debate over Vettel’s blatant disobedience of the instructions of his team have dominated the media coverage, even in publications that are not regular commentators on F1.
The latest addition to the conversation came from Bernie Ecclestone who volunteered that, “If I was Sebastian Vettel and someone came on the radio giving me such instructions, I would tell them “I know what I’m doing”. Bernie explains his thinking by adding, “Show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser – Sebastian is a winner”.
Nigel Roebuck, a writer on motorsport for some 40 years describes Ecclestone’s comments in support of Vettel as ‘fatuous’, suggesting “Bernie would chew on a razor blade before criticising Vettel”. He cites the greatly respected Gilles Villeneuve who was the very toughest of competitors, but he behaved with honour and respect.
There was an interview with Sky UK with Christian Horner that was truly revealing. From what he says it is not difficult to argue that Christian is clearly not in control of the team which is now amusingly being called by many in the twitter sphere as ‘Vettel Bull Racing’. Christian told us that Vettel had apologised to the whole workforce at the regular post race debrief in Milton Keynes this week.
Multi 21 Vettel also told the assembled masses in Milton Keynes he did not understand the ‘multi21’ code which he had been given.
He explained, “Obviously you have a lot of things to do and worry about when you are racing, looking after the tyres and trying to find the right settings making constant changes in the car at the time and obviously the code that we use was not clear to me at the time because I was busy adjusting the settings”.
What we now know is that ‘multi21’ means car 2 holds station ahead of car 1. Horner revealed they have also used a variant of this in the past, obviously that would be ‘multi12’ and even more obviously this code has had a far greater airing.
Vettel’s explanation appears to be completely disingenuous because Horner told Sky the night after the race that for 3 laps the team had been instructing him to hold station both via Rocky and even Horner had intervened to tell Sebastian that he was to remain behind Webber.
Sebastian reasserts to the Milton Keynes gathering that this was a ‘heat of the moment’ decision and that he is sorry for any embarrassment this has caused the team. Further, he specifically stated, “I do not apologise for winning the race, because that is my job”. This win at all costs mentality has been the crux of the debate this week amongst the F1 great and good.
Clutching at straws
Were you ever on the end of a parental judgement of wrong doing with your sibling where the verdict was ‘6 of one and half a dozen of the other’? At times this assessment may be fair, but how deep is the injustice felt by one party if they are innocent and the real culprit of the crime then escapes the proper sanction.
Horner’s non condemnatory defence of Vettel is exactly that 6 of one… position. He has repeatedly alluded to the fact that both drivers have ignored team orders – yes in Silverstone 2011 and at the start in Brazil just a few months ago.
The Sky UK F1 show replayed the footage and the conclusion was that Silverstone was different. We see clearly Webber pulling up alongside Vettel out of Woodcote and then he clearly backs off having proved his point well before the entrance to Beckets.
Brazil was also examined and again the evidence is scant for the Webber misdemeanour argument. To begin with Vettel does not get a great start and Hulkenberg starting behind Vettel gets away like lightening.
Massa behind Webber is also quick out of the blocks and Webber moves across towards the centre of the track preventing Hulkenberg from coming through. He steers away from Vettel before the first kink in the track again defending from Hulkenberg who in fact drives around the outside and finishes up ahead of Vettel between turn 1 and turn 2.
Further, what ‘multi12’ order was given there? The start of a Formula 1 race is an incredibly hectic few seconds and if Sebastian – 10 seconds ahead of 3rd place Hamilton – can’t hear team orders because he is very busy – how much busier was it in the first few seconds of the Brazilian GP.
The great divide
The debate this week held by those who are and have been involved in the sport, has been formed around two completely different opinions on how a driver should behave and treat the team for whom he works.
On the one hand we have the view that the team is bigger than any driver. This belief has been demonstrated by the more historic F1 teams who have jettisoned world champions at their own expense when others at the time questioned the sense of doing this.
The other side of the argument is represented by those in the paddock who present that to be great, a ‘win at all costs’ mentality is required. The driver is excused any indiscipline due to their incomparable and uncontrollable desire to win, win win. It is this mentality it is claimed sets them apart from the ordinary and makes them great champions.
Different kinds of legacy
Vettel was given some air time on Bernie’s F1 website this week and he revealed in a question and answer type interview that Michael Schumacher is his all time hero. However, the Michael Schumacher legacy and place amongst the F1 greats is a debate makes that patently reveals that winning at all costs and being top of the all time F1 driver statistics for titles, pole positions, fastest laps and race wins – does not bring universal acceptance of supreme greatness.
Many would suggest the likes of Fangio, Villeneuve Snr and many of others represent what a great F1 driver is about far more than Schumacher does.
This week, Red Bull have in effect admitted they are a group of people to whom winning is everything. No longer can they hold to the position that the team is of supreme importance and that it is their team work that has seen them all conquering over the past three years. This claim now rings somewhat hollow when the expectations and instructions of the team were wilfully subverted for one individual’s personal ambition – and without sanction.
It may be that the truly great drivers of yesteryear – being faced with likely death in pursuit of their glory and the battle to finish top – understood that winning was not in fact everything. Is it that seeing their competitors regularly burn to death or be mangled beyond recognition created a mutual respect for their opponents whether they loved or hated them? And did this create a code of conduct and honour amongst very brave and hard men that is impossible for the modern F1 driver to ever understand?
Just normative behaviour
Winning was never considered to be everything in the yesteryear of F1, it is a modern phenomenon incubated by the influx of vast amounts of money. Further, it is propagated and given life by the increasing number of participants who have no idea how it feels to live through an F1 weekend where a team member to pay the ultimate price in pursuit of winning a motor race.
If sport is an expression of our very humanity, then what we saw in Sepang should be of no surprise. Human history has been littered with the brave and honourable who have sacrificed their own rights for the good of others and been considered great heroes.
Yet human history also reveals the alternative side of humanity, where those obsessed with acquiring ultimate gain at all cost have done so by means of duplicity, murder and unfair advantage. Why be shocked when in sport and F1 we have those members of the human race for whom a ‘win at all cost’ mentality prevails?
Yet the jury of history will in time judge how ‘great’ achievements of the moment really are. What is certain is that Sebastian Vettel, who is credited with a great sense of Formula One knowledge and history, last weekend put his entire legacy on the line – and for what? Just 7 more points.