Naïve person as I am, I have always believed that trust is a fundamental thing in Formula one. How much trust you have to have in your mechanics and engineers to drive a hand made car at a speed exceeding 200 mph? How much trust you have to have in your rival to go wheel-on-wheel into Eau Rouge? The only one you can’t trust on an F1 circuit is your team mate.
Yesterday’s Malaysian Grand Prix has provided fans, journalists and pretty much everyone even vaguely informed about Formula One with a theme for a discussion and it would be a shame to miss this opportunity to start a blog with a post on such an adorably controversial topic. The funny thing is, though, that I don’t really see too much of a controversy in the situation, maybe a bit of managerial inconsistencies. But let’s take one step at a time.
I live in Germany (about 10 miles to the north from Hockenheim and 15 miles to the south west from Heppenheim) and this tiny feature of my situation has some devastating implications on my experience of Formula 1, namely I have to watch RTL. For those of my (probably imaginary) readers, who are lucky enough to be unfamiliar with what RTL is, I will just provide one quote from their yesterday’s coverage. When Malaysian national anthem was being performed they switched to an attempt to interview Nico Rosberg with the following words: “Who cares about the Malaysian anthem, if we have a German in a German team for a German interview”. This speaks volumes about the main focus of their coverage, doesn’t it? So imagine their attitude towards Sebastian Vettel, who apart from being German, which is apparently the most valuable virtue of an individual, according to RTL, happens to be a chronic winner, which is the second most valuable virtue. And because of this overvettelization of the F1 coverage and of German media altogether, I have developed somewhat negative attitude towards the young men driving for RedBull even before I developed any love towards the sport in general. Why am I mentioning this? Just to make sure that no one accuses me of being too sympathetic of Sebastian Vettel.
I have to admit that during the past year Sebastian Vettel managed to get some plus points in my personal ranking of the sporting personalities, partly due to my friendship with an amazing person, who happens to be his supporter, partly due to his brilliant performance on track (e.g. Abu-Dhabi 2012). But yesterday there was one phrase that ended up in international coverage that left a big dent in my respect towards Sebastian Vettel, and it was long before he disobeyed team orders and overtook Mark.
I do not see the point in long discussions about how sporting team orders are, we can agree or disagree on that, but the fact that there are strong economic incentives to implement team orders is indisputable. And I do not dare to judge RedBull, Mercedes, Ferrari or McLaren for using it, but I strongly believe, that if the team adopts a particular strategy, they better make sure it works in an intended way.
Let’s be honest, Sebastian Vettel is not exactly the first to have put private ambition above the interests of the team. And while I can come up with a bunch of examples spontaneously and with a couple more after some research, I just want to mention one, that has been mentioned all over the feeds various times this weekend. Yes, I am talking about Mark Webber fighting for a position with Sebastian Vettel in Silverstone:
“Of course I ignored the team as I want to try and get another place.”
And for this reason I personally find it highly questionable whether Sebastian Vettel deserves all of the accusations and even hate that is directed at him since the chequered flag fell. I can also quote Senna for this matter, but since I am not a big admirer of his I will skip this. It is not the fact that Sebastian Vettel ignored team orders, that has stripped him of any of my respect, it is his expectation that the team orders were supposed to work. For his benefit, obviously.
It was his “Mark is too slow, get him out of my way”, that made me cringe yesterday. It is this lack of respect towards his team mate, his wording and the general expectation, that the team was going to follow his request.
I have to admit, that I did not exactly recognize the scope of the catastrophe with his not following team orders before I actually watched a couple of post race interviews (As I mentioned above, RTL are not particularly useful in terms of providing information). And to be honest I was surprised, not by the fact that Sebastian Vettel ignored team orders, but by the fact that Red Bull’s team orders actually were supposed to keep him behind Mark Webber. I mean we are all not idiots, and we know that Red Bull’s long term commercial focus lies with Sebastian Vettel, who is 10 years younger that Mark Webber, considerably quicker (sorry, Mark) and is a perfect superstar in the huge European market. And that is why I was genuinely surprised when RedBull tried to prevent Sebastian from overtaking Mark. And I have an impression, that Sebastian was actually as surprised as many of us were. Mark in one of his interviews indicated that he expected Sebastian to get away with is “as usual”, and to be honest I do expect it even after that lame criticism towards Vettel from the team management.
Keeping in mind everything mentioned above, I don’t see the situation as an issue between team mates, I don’t see it as an issue between Mark and Sebastian. I see it as an issue between Sebastian Vettel and the team management, which has failed to ensure that team internal agreements are fulfilled by all of the parties involved. And Sebastian did not turn his back on Mark Webber, who I am sure did not expect the courtesy of maintaining the gap from Sebastian, but he turned his back on the team, which has always supported him and contributed a lot to all of his personal success. It was the team, which counted on Sebastian following the plan, when they instructed Mark to turn down the engine. Mark Webber was just a casualty of the team management’s failure to tame their driver.
Sebastian’s lame attempts to apologize have downgraded Sebastian Vettel in my personal preference list even further. As I mentioned above, I am a naïve person, but I believe that it’s a full stop that should follow an apology, not a But with a desperate search for self justification. And I also believe, that a person should have balls to be held accountable for the decisions they make. Sebastian Vettel did not make the point that they were racing to win, instead he hypocritically apologized for what he never considered to be a wrongdoing. And here again comes Mark’s quote from Silverstone. You know what I mean, don’t you? But Vettel has got an image to maintain, everybody’s darling namely.
And believe me, here in Germany, where he is a national hero, the media will praise him and celebrate him. It is a German virtue after all, to be a winner, no matter at what cost.