I’m going to upset a few people with this post, but guess what… I really don’t care.
The Vettel booing phenomena is lambasted by those in the English speaking F1 media and certain self proclaimed social media fake celebrities as ‘boorish’ behaviour and is condemned from their pejorative castles as ‘unsporting’.
Fans cheer their heroes unreservedly when they believe they deserve the acclaim and worship they offer. Equally fans express their unhappiness when they believe that something is amiss.
I’m sick and tired of the ill considered view that the booing from F1 fans of Vettel is from a group of lager louts, or a clandestine sect who are travelling the world to wreak vengeance on F1’s youngest most successful driver. I’ve said it before, Vettel is probably as humorous and engaging as any F1 driver in the current crop, but this message is not getting through to the fans.
We are lectured by the F1 intelligentsia that all dominant champions are disliked, and variety is what any sport needs in terms of winners. Rubbish, scores of dominant champions across a range of disciplines have been loved and adored by the public. I don’t hear any boos for Usain Bolt when he keeps breaking world records and smashing the fields arrayed against him. Roger Federer is as popular today as when he was sweeping all aside. We could go on.
So let’s please lose the idea this is an anti dominance vocalisation, because given the right circumstances, there are equally if not more dominant world sporting champions than Vettel who are universally praised and adored by the fans of the sport in which they compete.
Now, for those of you who believe there is an anti Vettel agenda happening here, you are wrong. I have repeatedly reported that Vettel is probably one of the most complete and rounded drivers from a social perspective on the F1 circuit. He is very funny, does self deprecation incredibly well and on the stage at the Silverstone village following the British GP he made di Resta look like a monochrome, 2 dimensional caricature.
I see the problem as a Red Bull issue. Since the Schumacher years Ferrari have clearly declared that they have a number one and a number two driver. On the other hand McLaren stubbornly remain of the philosophy that both drivers are equal, and the girl like squeals of Button over the pit to car radio when he has been under attack from Perez suggest this to be true.
It is Red Bull who has failed Vettel and this by a simple lack of PR noise. Mark Webber was within a whisker of being the F1 drivers’ champion in 2010 and as with Massa in 2008, the smallest of margins mitigated against him.
People like to mention that Vettel had beaten Webber in 2009, overlooking the fact Webber had barely been able to stand in winter testing of that year. He was barely fit at the start of the season. Webber was indeed no number 2 to Vettel that season and the team rightly recognised this.
However, since 2010 Newey has continued to exploit the aerodynamics of the car to deliver downforce to the diffuser and this has lead to Vettel’s emerging dominance. The cars Newey has been delivering require a counter intuitive driving style that means when the back end is sliding, you plant the throttle rather than easing off as normal. Vettel has mastered this art more than Webber and as a relatively young driver this transition has been simpler so the car development is focused around Vettel and his ability to exploit Newey’s design.
This has led to the team ‘favouring’ Sebastian in the eyes of the public. The front wing issue in 2010 was clearly misjudged by the team’s management. The part of the story that is never told is, that Webber actually said it didn’t really make the car better for him, something he proved by winning the race with the old design. As a result the anti-Vettel brigade is still frothing at the mouth about it, as they think the team nefariously stole Mark’s wing.
The Australian has certainly made no effort to correct this little detail, which is understandable if not a trifle unfair, although Vettel had already been scratched from his Christmas card list by then. Why the Red Bull management let Vettel be exposed to the subsequent fan barrage of abuse, despite knowing that the fans only knew half the truth is a mystery.
So a combination of poor PR by Red Bull management and Webber willingly playing the poor slighted underdog still comes back to bite Vettel in the backside three years later.
And it would only be one of several oversights and weak decisions by the management, which the German has to take the boos for now. After the collision at the Turkish Grand Prix, which saw Vettel crash into Webber, the team immediately blamed Mark, without waiting to analyse who had really caused it. Webber recalled it being one of the only times in his career he has been booed on the podium. While initially it looked like Vettel had just senselessly piled into Webber, in the end they likely were both at fault.
A year after ‘wing-gate’, at the 2011 British Grand Prix, the weak leadership of Christian Horner was exposed in a very obvious manner. Webber ignored team orders to hold station behind Vettel, commenting after the race: “I’m not fine with it, no. Of course I ignored the team and I was battling to the end.“ Asked if he still felt like a #2 driver: “Not really. I just want to race until the end. Of course I ignored the team because I wanted to try and get a place. Seb was doing his best, I was doing my best. I wasn’t going to crash with anyone.“
The management’s reaction to such a public and blatant disregard of the team was non-existent. Horner spat a few angry comments into a few microphones after the race, but other than that Mark got away with not much more than a few angry looks and maybe some team members silently switching their allegiance to the other side of the garage. As irony would have it, many of those who boo Vettel these days hailed Mark for sticking it to the pitwall brigade.
The whole charade repeated at the Brazilian GP in 2012 – the final showdown between Vettel and Fernando Alonso and the TV pictures suggest that the two Toro Rosso drivers did more to help Vettel than Webber did, despite having been asked to do so. More angry comments from Horner and more sitting on his hands rather than dealing with Mark’s unwillingness to cooperate with his thoroughly disliked team mate.
But the really big issue reared its head at the Malaysian Grand Prix. Diving in for the last pitstop, strapping on a fresh set of options Vettel, who had fallen behind Webber due to a mistimed first stop, stomped on the ‘loud pedal’ and made up a four second deficit on Webber in just his out-lap and the first flying lap at the end of which Webber came out of the pits, narrowly managing to stay ahead, but on a set of inherently slower primes.
Soon the team gave the now infamous “Multi21” order, which Vettel subsequently ignored and still gets the flak for these days.
There is no question that Vettel’s actions were wrong, however the real questions have to be asked to the management. Team orders are now allowed. Why didn’t the team radio something like, “Seb, stay behind, nurse the tyres to the end. We’re not sure they’ll make it if you race Mark,” instead of a cryptic code, which didn’t tell him why he was asked to gift away a win.
Ross Brawn told Nico Rosberg why the wanted him to stay behind Lewis, Horner and Rocky did not.
They had let Mark go unpunished twice in the past for ignoring team orders. Why in the wide world of sports did they even expect Vettel to obey them. Especially as they asked him to give away more points than the winning margin of two of his three championships, in the second race of the year, at a time when Ferrari and Lotus were much closer in pace than they are now and to top it off – without any explanation, just a cryptic code.
Rocky, Vettel’s race engineer, had been telling the German protégé throughout the race to wait and he would have his chance to attack Mark at the end. How a management team on the pit wall change their instructions mid race and expect a driver going for the WDC to hold station.
True to himself Horner spat a few angry comments into a few microphones, but other than that… but we already had that. If there is a book called “F1 Team management for dummies”, you’ll probably find a detailed description of the 2013 Malaysian Grand Prix in the section “How not to do it, stupid”.
So the boos are mainly a result of a few actions by Vettel himself, like the cringe-worthy handling of the aftermath of Malaysia, but in big part his unfavourable image has been created by mind-bogglingly inept leadership skills and PR prowess straight out of the “Joseph Stalin School of Applied Employee Motivation”.
Another problem is, the team Vettel drives for. If he dominated the scene like he did the last four years in a scarlet overall, he would have been celebrated at Monza, not booed. The Tifosi are the most vocal fans decrying him for a very simple reason. Ferrari has been in F1 for over 60 years – it oozes tradition. Naturally in the eyes of the Tifosi the very idea of someone winning, who is not wearing red is pure blasphemy. Yet there comes a fizzy drinks company from Austria, with no history in the sport, and dominates it.
A similar phenomenon has occurred in Germany with the football team that Red Bull have taken over, RB Leipzig. Not accepted due to being a team with ‘bought’ success, it appears people care more about tradition than just out and out achievement.
Whether Vettel would still be hated if he was named as the number 1 driver is a contentious issue. Webber certainly would not have stuck around with the Milton Keynes team for so long if this had been the case. We may hear some interesting stories coming out after 2nd January, when Webber’s Red Bull contract expires. However, Red Bull are still sponsoring his Porsche drive, so perhaps not.
Webber has been forced to drive a car that has been developed for Sebastian. This would be fine, as long as Red Bull admitted this to be their policy. Honesty is something that people cannot (and will not) call you out on. Just take the example of Ferrari breaking the seal on Massa’s gearbox in Austin 2012. They were honest about what they had done so people could not condemn them for hiding their intentions.
Furthermore, with Ferrari in mind, why does Red Bull not publicly rebuke their drivers for going against the wishes of the team? Il Padrino recently clipped the ears of Alonso very publicly, showing him who was in charge. This is something Red Bull will never do.
Will 2014 be any better with Ricciardo? Red Bull has said they will have equal status for 2014 but saying they are both going to be equal is ridiculous. Who are they trying to fool? Does the team honestly think that people will believe this?
This was a golden opportunity to say that Vettel is now the number 1 having been at the team for longer. So as long as Vettel continues to dominate and Red Bull management shows a lack of backbone and discipline the boos will continue. Vettel is the messenger and he is fighting a losing battle against his own institution. If anything, it just makes it more impressive that he has the will power to laugh it off and keep on driving.
“We keep on working, we do our thing, we are who we are.” Sebastian Vettel, Australian GP qualifying 2011.
This is part 1 of a two part series. TJ13 will look at Sporting Code and the ethics (or lack thereof) of booing.
Credit also to Adam Macdonald and Danilo Schöneberg for their input.