March 27, 2013

The nature of the beast

Sebastian Vettel won in Malaysia, but at what cost? © Getty Images

Sitting in the Sepang press conference room after Sunday’s race, waiting for Seb, Mark, and Lewis to make their way from the podium, was an interesting experience.

My introduction to awkward post-race press conferences came about in Hockenheim in 2010. That particular one – ‘Fernando is faster than you; can you confirm you’ve understood this message’ – took place on a stage at the front of the media tent, meaning all 300 members of the F1 press corps were present to give Fernando Alonso a hard time about his undeserved victory over teammate Felipe Massa.

The atmosphere in Sepang was identical. It was obvious we were going to be in for a candid session when Mark’s podium comments referred to Seb being protected “as usual”, drawing an ‘ooh’ from all those present. Then there was the moment when the two Red Bull PRs tried to rush into the green room as the drivers left the podium, presumably to have a few placating words, but had their way blocked by the FIA media delegate, who wanted to ensure the press were given honest replies.

It’s hard to know what to think about the whole Red Bull team orders situation.

On the one hand, it’s obvious the boy done wrong. The driver shouldn’t override instructions from the pit wall, and while all championship points count for the same, it’s a little early for anyone to have been written out mathematically.

But any driver capable of winning three back-to-back titles – however good the car – is a predatory beast hungry for the win. All’s fair in love, war, and motorsport, and SebVet knows that seven points are likely to make more of a difference to his WDC chances come Interlagos than they are Mark’s. So why not take advantage of the opportunity to claim a win, even if it countermands orders from the boss?

What Vettel failed to understand when he made his manoeuvre was not the likely reaction from the fans and press – he couldn’t care less if negative things are said about him; he’s a winner, a racer, not a high school cheerleader hoping to be prom queen – but the anger of Dr Helmut Marko.

Marko is thought by many to be the real boss of the Red Bull team, calling more of the shots than team principal Christian Horner. Whether or not that is the case, Marko has long championed Vettel, supporting the team’s young star in the face of more than one media storm in a teacup. But on Sunday I was told that Marko was so angry that he left for the airport while Seb was still on his cooling off lap, unwilling to face his young charge before he had his thoughts in order.

By deciding to ignore team instructions, Vettel was showing himself to be more important than the team that nurtured him to three competitive titles (and numerous broken records along the way). Competitive animal he may be, but the team must now assert their authority or risk losing their ability to rein their driver in at all.

But how does one punish a driver for disobeying team instructions? A fine would be irrelevant, and there’s no way the team would lose out on valuable championship points – for team or driver – by standing Seb down for a race. Even a one-race Toro Rosso switch, as has been suggested elsewhere, could hurt their championship chances.

An unnamed team principal told Joe Saward that he would have called Vettel into the pits after the move, as a means of establishing authority. It’s all good and well, but would he have obeyed? After all, he’d already ignored one clear instruction on Sunday afternoon.

Vettel has shown himself to be something of a loose cannon, a risky proposition, in addition to annihilating any belief in him as a team player. But will he mind? As the record books show, the drivers we remember as legends are often those who ruffled feathers on track and off, whose reputations are a little blemished.

From Senna to Schumacher, some of Formula One’s best loved drivers are also the sport’s most hated. The single-minded determination it takes to dominate a top level sport is not the sort of character trait that leads to obedience, to acquiescence. Racers are aggressive, they’re fighters, they’re risk takers.

What Sebastian Vettel did on Sunday was not remotely out of character. But it is a move that he will come to regret.

By asserting that he was bigger than the team in such a provocative fashion, Vettel has harmed those relationships that have helped put him on the path to victory. No longer will Webber be willing to play a supporting role, whatever the terms of his contract – the fight is on between the two Red Bull drivers.

Both Horner and Marko have expressed their displeasure at Vettel’s actions, and he will need to work to regain their confidence. But this is motorsport – a few more race wins, another set of championship silverware, and (tarnished though it may be) the 2013 Malaysian Grand Prix will be just another entry on Sebastian Vettel’s long list of wins.


Posted by Marcus on 04/04/2013

Sorry but those team orders were wrong & Vettel now knows the repercussions in ignoring them. Vettel did turn down his engine too not as low as Webber's since he was preserving is tyres. Vettel had new faster tyres & pit wall said "you have the 2nd half of race be patient." Vettel does not see Webber as his main rival he sees Alonso in his mirrors always. Everyone who hates Vettel now pronounce Webber as true gentleman & ethical. He is not. He has always disobeyed TO to not race Vettel when race has been decided. He nearly crashed Vettel in Brazil last year going 3 abreast in a turn. Webber has never helped Vettel. In races when Webber was in position to help he either lost grid places from his consistent poor starts or just got passed by inferior cars. Funny how haters of Seb always say "If he wasn't in a fast car or in a RB..." Sorry but Adrian Newey cars do not have the superior advantage like Schummi's Ferraris. They still need to be driven on the brink of the edge & Vettel does.

Posted by bjack on 31/03/2013

They should have raced to the end.
Alan Jones was correct in saying that.
Remember senna v prost
villeneuve v pironi and so on
Just race but vettel is selfish

Posted by Barney on 30/03/2013

It fair boggles the mind why all the attention is on Vettel when the real cause of RBR's discord has been Horner. He has spent three seasons entertaining Webber's delusion that he is (or should be) on equal status to Vettel, in effect buying the cooperation of the most petulant #2 driver in Formula 1 by writing cheques against the good will of his team's indisputable #1.

Well, Chris, your account is overdrawn and your cheques are bouncing. It's time to either balance your account with Vettel or find a different banker.

It has for four seasons been an uneasy peace at Red Bull, but now the genie has let himself out of the bottle, and he won't be put back. Vettel's heretofore apparent contentment at Red Bull doesn't mean Horner can't make such a row over this that he would "pull a Hamilton" and abandon the team over spoilt relations. So Horner should stop trying to placate his #2 and worry about wooing back his #1, else the team might find itself in need of TWO drivers for 2014.

Posted by N. Weingart on 28/03/2013

Evidently, Red Bull team orders are a charade designed to advantage Vettel. The whole team is dedicated to Vettel and their results show the effectiveness of this strategy but why all the subterfuge? Vettel has to lie to Webber in order to what, suggest some sort of fairness in the treatment of the second driver? So, Vettel's integrity is worth 8 points and it's assumed that people will forget that fact soon enough. This speaks to the character of the team and further illustrates the moral vacuum of Formula One presently.

Posted by Kris on 28/03/2013

If it was Webber overtaking Vettel despite team orders, the press (and the English language press in particular) would laud Webber for being a racing driver.

Don't believe me? Just journey back to press reaction to every single instance when Webber went against the team, or when he did not play along. Silverstone, Germany, Hungary, Interlagos...

Posted by rick on 28/03/2013

Vettel is by far the most powerful driver in F1 since the Schumacher era. It is fascinating how he dominates Webber, who I can readily see is cowed by Vettel. This is power play action at the highest level. Whatever one thinks of Vettel, his combination of sheer speed, intelligence and ruthlessness cannot be dismissed. He made a calculated and very cold decision to disregard team orders and attack Webber while his rival was in the pits, and no one from Red Bull would have been capable of changing his mind. Vettel has my utmost respect.

Posted by Steve Mangan on 28/03/2013

People saying that "noble Mark Webber turned his engine down while cheater Vettel did not" are just exposing their stupidity. Both drivers turned their engines down. It's not like Vettel has ever needed to cheat to beat Mark in the past - he's beaten him very consistently for the past five years!

Posted by pjay on 28/03/2013

webber turned his engine down as instructed, vettel didn't. low act by vettel

Posted by Sven on 28/03/2013

You keep saying this incident means Vettel thinks he's bigger than the team. If so, what does Mark's repetitive habit of disobeying TOs mean? He's way way way bigger than the team and with far less achievement under his belt?

Posted by Brad on 28/03/2013

Vettel is like a spoilt brat! He HAS been favoured at RBR because of Helmut! It must be soul destroying for Webber to not get an even opportunity as in Silverstone 2012 where Vettel got the new front wing and Webber not. Webber still went on to win the race and claimed "not bad for the no.2 driver....." This causes resentment. If the "race was on" Vettel would not have beaten Webber! The fact that Vettel won by 4.2 seconds is irrelevant as Webber continued as per team orders and displayed extreme self contol by not fighting back , after all he is also a "racer" not just Vettel. Shame on Vettel for showing a total lack of respect.It is as important to be gracious in defeat as it is in being magnamous in victory......

Posted by Richard Piers on 28/03/2013

I believe the last time a direct order was abused in this manner was the Italian GP when Pironi went past Villeneuve.
Many people blamed Gilles subsequent fatal accident on the resulting ill feeling.
Theses are not dodgem cars and with the problems with tyres and the restriction on engine numbers team orders must be followed in the interests of the team - the paymasters. He who pays the piper calls the tune !

Posted by Thomas on 28/03/2013

But on Sunday I was told that Marko was so angry that he left for the airport while Seb was still on his cooling off lap, unwilling to face his young charge before he had his thoughts in order.

Err... as seen on TV Marko was standing down there at the podium ceremony.

Posted by Mach on 28/03/2013

WRONG!!!!!underhand tactics are wrong!!!

We miss SENNA! other modern would champion comes close...
There's a huge difference between all these calculating and team assisted so call world champions (like your Schumachers and Vettels) and Senna ...with SENNA, none of this farcical would happen:
you know that SENNA will not take team orders;
you know that SENNA will race you all the way;
you know that SENNA will pass you;
you know that SENNA will cross the chequred flag and bring the car home win for the team and his passion for racing;
and there's is nothing any team managers and FIA can do about it...that's why we worship his passion, not numbers and dollars!

Posted by Lalit on 28/03/2013

Feeling very helpless whether f1 journalism is forgetting history or deliberately trying to hide the facts.Come on there are just 20 races.It's not cricket match every 3rd day that you forget something.It's clear the media is driving vettel towards negative publicity ever since he won the WDC 2nd time.The viewers may be biased.But what is the reason behind such a tragic ignorance from the media.The fans have a psychological reason of their favourites losing,& even the neutral ones get bored of seeing 1 guy winning thrice in a row.But the media is expected to behave responsibly.Remember,if the media keeps losing impartiality ,criticism even if it's sensible,will be taken by vettel fans as crap.It will make vettel even more ruthless.Please be fair

Posted by Mike on 28/03/2013

Silverstone and Interlagos will show you what kind of teammate Webber is. This was desire for the win, a show of dominance, and payback. Webber is just as much a shark as Vettel is but Webber doesn't have the consistency to pull it off. I'm not saying it is right to disobey team orders but he's going by Webber's example if anything else.

Posted by Duff Daddy on 28/03/2013

Team orders are fine when your guy wins Webber is a class act Comes off like a seasoned pro S Vettel comes off like an ass and a spoiled silver spoon chump

Posted by Sam Chiu on 28/03/2013

It is interesting for being argued that Vettel did what he did because of his champion quality. I see quite the oppositive. Being a champion you need to be a great leader who have the ability to move the mob, at their own wills, for your benefits. To achieve that, you need to give them a sense of purpose, or in Mark's case, hope. To let Mark took the win is not doing a good deed for Mark, but for keeping Mark as the wingman. It is taking a step backward to move forward, an art of championship. By overtaking Mark, Vettel also killed off the very last bit of hope in Mark. Vettel might thought he estabished authority within RBR, in fact, it was quite the oppositive.

Posted by Capo on 28/03/2013

Everyone seems to ignore the fact that if the race was allowed and proceed as normal and there was no order from the team to Mark to turn the engine down and coast and consequently lose the gap he had over Vettel, he would have been in with a fighting chance and from the pace he demonstrated throuhout the race he may have maintained his position. To be informed that your position is safe and the gap diminish at the time would not have meant much to Mark, but it did for Vettel as he was now in the DRS zone and had a tyre advantage and got the jump. It was a dirty and calculated plan by Vettel a very clever one but morally wrong! So ignore history and judge on that single act.
And look back in time and you will find that on numerous occasions Webber has been refrained from attacking Vettel by RBR and obbeyed these orders, would have Webber won on those occasions, who knows just like if Webber knew the fight was on would have he been passed its anybodys guess.

Posted by Richard on 28/03/2013

Redbull may have nurtured him, but they wouldn't have those 3 world champiopnships without him. If I was him i'd tell the team to get screwed coz I am here to win.

Posted by lee on 28/03/2013

Not one person has mentioned WHY the orders were in place.. TO GET TO THE FINISH! It is just plain commonsense in motor sport to nurse the car home when in the lead. To then risk a big crash, thus putting BOTH out, was stupid. This is the bottomline in this argument, so any other argument is just white noise.. As the great Jack Brabham used to say.. Win the race in the slowest possible time..

Posted by Rommel on 28/03/2013

For those who say Vettel was faster in Malaysia. Go watch the bloody race again will ya!
Webber was the better driver that day - FACT! He should have won - FACT! Vettel is a lying dog - FACT!

Posted by Tim on 27/03/2013

Helmut Marko was not off to the airport on Vettel's cooling down lap. He was watching the post race interviews, from the pitlane, as captured on the live broadcast. His grim facial expression told an interesting story though.

Posted by onerottenpug on 27/03/2013

Really not a case of if one is a fan or not. Drivers are employees. If a driver starts his own team and drives the car then he is entitled as the owner to do what he wishes but, if he does not own the team the reality is, like anyone in any job, pay the price for disobeying your superiors. Can he be replaced? Yes. With Newey they can hire any driver they like to take their car to the World Championship.

Posted by Richard on 27/03/2013

Even Michael Schumacher played the team game in Malaysia 1999. I have lost all respect for Vettel - Rosberg showed how it should be done - make the point but be a man, not a petulant child. Webber proved his integrity - such as Senna or Prost would have turned in a bit earlier. Vettel has lucked into a fantastic car that suits him 100% - and that is why he will never leave Red Bull in case he has to carry a less than optimised race car.

Posted by Paul Palombi on 27/03/2013

You are wrong about Marko heading for airport. He was on camera during the podium interviews looking up with a scowl

Posted by Arnold on 27/03/2013

What a load of rubbish, this sport is a team sport and as such has many players not least the crew that make it possible for these two drivers to compete race after race and take all the glory. One of them failed to adhere to a direct order from the coach and as such should have been pulled from the field "thats the mistake that RB made" there is no denying that on any day Seb is the faster driver but that is not what is in question here " he disobeyed a direct order" lets not make excuses.

Posted by Vernon Mitchell on 27/03/2013

Steve. No not sarcastic. My wording should actually have been. Team orders between team drivers. If that makes sense.
Most certainly a good year ahead.

Posted by MspikeD on 27/03/2013

What RedBull needs to do is wait until the constructors is wrapped and sit Vettel out for however many races are left over. If the constructors goes to the last race, fine him 1 million after the last race.

Posted by Hey Steve Mangan on 27/03/2013

Hey Steve, I know nothing about F1 either. Could you please post some of the apparently many examples of Schumacher disobeying team orders in detriment to his team?

Posted by Harry on 27/03/2013

Sebastian did the right thing, RB team orders were wrong, Sebastian was faster and to my knowledge the fastest car/driver deserve to win.

Posted by Cool KA on 27/03/2013

I dont understand what all this fuss is about. Isnt this racing? Why does he have to drive behind Webber, who eventually finished 4.2s in just 10 laps? And to add to this circus we have the Brits - Button & Lewis commenting! To top it, Flavio The Cheat. RBR should be ashamed of their team order. Didnt Webber disobey team orders in the past? Vettel fought against Webber as much as he did against all other drivers on the grid for all of his 3 WDC. Now this year's effort is "tarnished" !! Bull shit is what this is..

Posted by Henrik on 27/03/2013

Some very good points made in the article! However, there is one conclusion that can be drawn from Vettel's action that has not been mentioned yet - Vettel sees Mark Webber as his most dangerous rival this year. The move is not about a mere seven points, it's fourteen and a race win, both counting towards the championship.

Had Vettel obeyed, they would have been tied on 33 points each but Webber would have been ahead as he'd have had a win to Seb's none. Now Vettel is fourteen points plus a win ahead, something that may prove crucial if and when the team has to support one of its drivers' push for the WC towards the end of the season.

Posted by Steve Mangan on 27/03/2013

@"Everyone talks about Senna and Schumaker's ruthless driving and competitiveness, but did they disobey a direct order from the team to achieve a win. I THINK NOT."

Comedy gold!

It would help matters if the "F1 fans" commenting here knew even a little bit about F1.

Unless the commenter in question was being cleverly sarcastic ...

Posted by Marc Ponthus on 27/03/2013

we always knew he was ruthless and selfish. what has appeared now is that he is a fake, pretends it was a mistake, pretends to be nice, and more. his entire persona is one of pretense and make believe.

Posted by bob on 27/03/2013

Everyone talking about Vettel not obeying ,but Webber did the same thing,and at a time when the points mattered,he refused to let Vettel by. This is racing,Vettel was faster ,red bull made an error in their order,in reality Vettel won why is Mark upset,because he thought he was being given a win.We all know that webber is to inconsistent to win championship as long as there are drivers like Alonso and Vettel,Hamilton.Let racers race.Fans who cant take it if their fave doesn't win are watching the wrong sport.

Posted by Alex Antonoglou on 27/03/2013

Teams have various means with which they can discipline their drivers. Such behaviour would never go down well with Ferrari for example. Barichello tried something similar in the 2002 Austrian GP and Todt reminded him of his contract at whicj point Rubens yielded even at the last possible moment. Back then, two way telemetry was also allowed, which means that Ferrari could have turned his engine down remotely! Nowadays this is not possible but Red Bull can easily mess with his car in China. At any rate, a hefty fine (a cool million perhaps?) is in order!!!

Posted by Steve Mangan on 27/03/2013

"No longer will Webber be willing to play a supporting role"

Webber has never played a supporting role at Red Bull. Webber has done far more to damage Vettel's title efforts of the last three years than he has to assist them. By omitting that fact - a fact well known to everyone who follows F1 - this story verges on journalistic malpractice.

Posted by vernon Mitchell on 27/03/2013

Everyone talks about Senna and Schumaker's ruthless driving and competitiveness, but did they disobey a direct order from the team to achieve a win. I THINK NOT.

Posted by Steve Mangan on 27/03/2013

"Mark’s podium comments referred to Seb being protected “as usual”"

Remind me again, what punishment has Mark ever received for his numerous flagrant violations of team orders over the years? He is being outrageously hypocritical here. If RB had punished Mark for breaking orders he would be entitled to demand that they treat Seb the same way. But he's never received more than a stern talking to.

And it would be nice if all the F1 reporters writing on this story would stop airbrushing Mark's past actions out of the history books.

Posted by lalit on 27/03/2013

Someone please ask Kate who helped vettel at Interlagos last year ? 'Not at least Mark Webber'.Instead he was pushed to the left at the very start by the WOULDBEHELP Aussie which probably set the stage for that collision with Bruno.Probably Seb figured that out before disobeying team orders.Whatever ethical crap press throws we all know who's good who's not.Wish Seb does it over & over again...

Posted by Zayyad on 27/03/2013

SV might have made a mistake but the fact that Alonso DNF made him needed that 25pts more.. Redbull didnt wanna be in the spotlight maybe by telling Webber to give way but it would have been the right call with SV being the number 1 driver of the team.. Poor Seb, took matters into his own hands and is paying for it but in my opinion, it only showed his desire, will and passion to win.. Ruthless he is, thats why he's a TRIPLE WORLD CHAMPION!

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Kate Walker is the editor of GP Week magazine and a freelance contributor to ESPN. A member of the F1 travelling circus since 2010, her unique approach to Formula One coverage has been described as 'a collection of culinary reviews and food pictures from exotic locales that just happen to be playing host to a grand prix'. Kate Walker