Brought to you by TJ13 contributor Danilo Schöneberg
Following from yesterday’s introduction of F1-week here is the second part of my look at Sebastian Vettel.
Use the (Down)force, Luke – or, The Red Bull dilemma
With success come expectation and envy. After the lucky title in 2010 and the frighteningly easy cruise to victory in 2011, things started to change for the man from Heppenheim. First of all, he couldn’t escape the monster that is the German media landscape any longer.
Having collected two titles at an age at which Schumacher had just started to win his first races, winning was no longer enough for the great unwashed in the Fatherland. Endless hype, coupled with his own ambition, made for a stressful time. Soon he was heard complaining much, and sullen replies in interviews became more common. Also his on-track antics started to get rougher, not just around the edges.
Although he still managed to get the title in 2012, it was a campaign littered with uncharacteristic errors, which had been presumed extinct since the Toro Rosso years.
But you know you’re doing well when people hate you for it. And god almighty, was he hated. I’ve been around in the F1 community since the early nineties, and not even in the darkest Schumacher days was someone so universally despised.
I seriously started to wonder if there are such people as Vettel fans. He still has an almighty clout with the women folk, but coming up with names or their modern day counterparts – forum handles – of true Vettel fans is an exercise in futility. They’re probably all hidden away in Hangar 7.
While I don’t believe that Mr. Vettel will give a flying expletive deleted about the rants of internet forum hooligans, I would hazard a guess that the frequent scorn from Blighty might affect him. Everybody who saw his appearance in Top Gear will have noticed that he has more of a British sense of humour than the German variety.
He’s also one of only a dozen or so Germans who manage to pronounce ‘the’ without looking like someone coming third in a wet T-shirt contest afterwards. This is so, because he loves her Majesty’s Empire. And it’s not the sort of ‘love’ that made us try to invade the place in 1941, he genuinely likes Britain.
So, one can only speculate, but I would hazard a bet that all the negativity he’s exposed to at times does not go by without leaving traces.
Things are different in the Fatherland. Those of a ‘Deutschland, Deutschland über alles’ persuasion will love anyone, who causes the Deutschlandlied to be played at the ceremony. But unlike Schumacher, he isn’t the universally loved idol and the reason is his employer – Red Bull.
RB’s popularity over here is a close second to being locked up in a room full of scalded apes. Each German is born with three things naturally: a love of cars, a love of football, and a nasty case of OCD. That’s why we’re so good at all three of them. Red Bull started climbing up on everybody’s s**tlist when they started buying football clubs, poured money into them, and ran roughshod over the competition.
A spoof “ultra group” has changed RB’s iconic “Red Bull verleiht Flügel” to “Red Bull verleiht Prügel” to mock the “plastic club” RB Leipzig. Instead of wings, RB now offers a hefty beating-up.
Nothing goes down worse with German football fans than a club with less than 3.000 years of history and tradition. That’s why clubs like Hoffenheim or RB Leipzig are universally hated. Lower-league clubs were bought, money was poured in by the truckload, and players were bought until the teams started rising through the league ranks at a rate of one promotion per season.
And this is where Mr. Vettel finds himself – in a ‘plastic team’. A hopeless Jaguar team and everyone’s favorite underdog Minardi were bought out, and by way of baths of money were turned into successful outfits in record time, especially the main team. A win at Monza in a Minardi would have made him a demi-god, but it wasn’t a Minardi, it was a money-pimped Ersatz-Red Bull.
Now before you all think we Germans are raving lunatics and our foreign trade partners start paying us in glass marbles and whiskey, I might add that, of course, the knowledgeable F1 fan knows that the 2008 romp at Monza was a monumental achievement. However, for many fans, the simple fact that he is driving a car called Red Bull makes him unlikable, especially since with Mercedes and Nico there’s an alternative that has such a delightfully rich tradition dating back all the way to the time when the Romans abandoned the Limes.
The team is the star or isn’t it…?
For most of this season Vettel has done his best to prove all the often unfounded preconceptions. And probably the darkest hour was Malaysia. Already frustrated with the sort of non-racing required to make Pirelli’s tyres work for longer than 5 minutes, people were rubbing each other raw in the Red Bull camp.
The team was understandably miffed, because the glorious idea of Pirelli to make a tire that would lose a rigidity contest to a paper bag had turned Mr. Neweys latest design into a very expensive doorstop. That doesn’t go down well with an organisation that has never learned how to lose gracefully and thus acquired a rather strange sense of entitlement.
These things are probably of marginal interest to the man himself, but he was getting audibly frustrated by endlessly being told by his team to go slower while all he wanted to do was getting past his team mate to undo the damage of the mistimed first pit stop. And not being well versed in dealing with tight situations, the pit wall whizzes took out The Book and made every mistake in it. And when they ran out of pages, they invented a few more.
Being somewhat fed up by being stuck behind a team mate dawdling about to delta-times prescribed from the Politbüro at command central, he somewhat rudely demanded the old man in the Volvo to be gotten out of the way, elegantly scoring a picture perfect 6.0 on the ‘petulant child’ scale.
A somewhat helpless-sounding engineer tried to calm him by telling him that this situation could be tabled for later, since it was only half-time in the race. I tend to think that this was the moment when the RB-Vettel marriage started to crack. In hindsight we know that the team had no intention whatsoever to change the positions. Completely in the dark about Pirelli’s prank tyres, they were so afraid that they wanted to avoid racing at all cost.
As a result of this truly glorious piece of strategic thinking, Hamilton could close the gap to Vettel while he was still stuck behind a team mate in eco-cruise mode. Promptly, Hamilton leapfrogged him at the second round of stops. At this point RB could probably count their blessings that Vettel isn’t the spoiled brat he’s so often made out to be, because lesser men would have given their team a piece of their mind that wouldn’t be fit for minors.
The team corrected their mistake at the final round of stops by shadowing Hamilton’s stop and overtaking him again, but the damage was done. Or was it? What followed was a scene we’ve seen more than once since then. Fed up with it all he just tossed the team’s incessant scaremongering about the tyres aside and delivered the two of perhaps only five laps that any car ran at full pelt all race in literally rapid succession to make up four seconds in half as many laps.
Not yet completely through with their new-found hobby of trying to drive their drivers nuts, the team decided to deliver the pièce de résistance in the form of multi21, in stark contrast to the teams pleas for patience earlier in the race when he had the chance to overtake Webber.
The rest is, as they say, history. An unspoken ‘sod it’ later, he ran roughshod over his team mate and Christian Horner’s dignity.
So, who’s to blame for this mess? I think mainly the team. False promises in the race, strategical blunders and a useless team order in just the second race would be enough to shatter the composure of Mr. Spock, let alone a racing driver who is prevented from what he lives for: winning.
I don’t think it is a risky bet that one day we’ll look back at this race as the moment when Sebastian Vettel decided that even if the grass is not quite as green on the other side of the fence, it might still be worth sampling.
A tale of a fastest lap
Of course Monaco was dominated by the endless discussions about Mercedes’ dodgy private tutoring lesson with Pirelli and it almost masked out a second story that went largely unnoticed – how Red Bull found a second in just two days.
In Thursday practice they were simply nowhere. While Mercedes gleefully baffled the world with their newly-acquired tyre-whisperer routine, Vettel and Webber were plodding around as if they had accidentally grabbed the cars of Ricciardo and Vergne.
In true Red Bull style, the problem was solved by throwing money and people at it. Test driver Buemi was ordered back to the lemonade bunker and was asked to drive in the simulator until the problem was found. A mammoth 400 laps later the culprit was identified – the front wing. Two new pieces were produced, packed into crates, and Buemi carried them onto a plane and down to Monaco, just in time for making Vettel livid with himself about narrowly missing out on pole position.
What followed then is one of the saddest sights my beer-addled brain had ever to process. Right from the start, the two Mercedes launched into a formidable G-Wizz impersonation by trying to go as slow as possible without nodding off. That gave van der Garde his five minutes of fame in lap six, when for the first time in F1 history one of the weakest cars in the whole field was shown with the text ‘fastest lap’ on the bottom of the screen. It was a farce.
Having proven that he doesn’t take to driving slow very well, Vettel grew audibly frustrated, which culminated a few laps from home, when he produced a blistering fastest lap out of sheer boredom and frustration about being told to go slow and hold station behind a crawling Rosberg. The monstrous 4 seconds difference to what the rest of the field – bar Kimi – was running at the time brutally exposed just how farcical this ‘race’ had been.
Not being outdone, the race engineer decided to show off what he has learned on the Joseph Stalin School of Advanced Employee Motivation and promptly delivered a publicly transmitted ticking off for going too fast, which got him a sullen “but satisfaction” for his troubles.
For many this was a glimpse of the old Vettel, the one who comes back at you with funny one-liners, but it shows also that the man is frustrated, and history has shown he doesn’t handle frustration very well. Your Honor recently said that Vettel doesn’t appear to be the unquestioned golden boy in the team any more and this seemingly innocuous funny reply might prove it.
He doesn’t bother to keep up appearances any more. If he’s annoyed with how the team handles things, he lets them know about it.
I don’t think this is the last time we’ve seen Vettel and Red Bull locking horns. The ideal Red Bull employee does as he’s told and lets others do the thinking. Mr. Vettel has done the wrong thing and developed an opinion of his own.
He isn’t the fresh-faced kid any more with a detonated hair style, grinning all day about his first race. He’s a triple world champion and, no matter what detractors say, a deserved one, and he knows his own value.
If I had a Euro for every time someone wrote or said that Vettel wins only because he has the best car, I’d be filthy rich and running an F1 team by now, flirting with hot chicks even though I have a beer gut the size of Belgium. (Well, it worked for Flavio)
Truth is, the Red Bull to an extent masked Vettel’s true skills. He was often accused of only winning from the front – well, that’s where he usually puts the car in qualifying.
I think once the contract is up after 2014, he’ll go somewhere else. Somewhere, where they need a #1. Alonso’s time is up in a few years and a German in a Ferrari has worked quite well before. He’ll probably collect more wins or even titles and will be badmouthed again, but the Germans will love him