Red Bull in controversy or How to do it wrong

It is not even funny any more, the whole Red Bull thing. I was naïve enough to hope that it was gone, after the statement was issued by the team, stating they will deal with it internally. I obviously was wrong, and now, with the Chinese GP under way, the whole Red Bull drama is getting bigger and bigger. They even manage to beat Pirelli on their share of pre-race commentary, and that’s big!

Sebastian Vettel spoke to the media yesterday providing an example of how to do it in a wrong way.

Flounder in testimony

Straight after the Malaysian GP Sebasian said the following:

If I could undo it, I would but I can’t so it is not a great feeling right now and surely tonight is not going to be easy to fall asleep. I owe a proper explanation and apology to Mark and the team.
— via BBC

It’s not the victory I’m very proud of, it should have been Mark’s.
— via SkySports

There were people who believed him, there were people who didn’t, but it seems that within two weeks Sebastian Vettel has changed his mind and in the infamous press conference he said:

Had I understood the message and had I thought about it, reflected on it, thought what the team wanted to do, to leave Mark in first place and me finishing second… I think I would have thought about it and I would probably have done the same thing. He didn’t deserve it. There is quite a conflict, because on the one hand I am the kind of guy who respects team decisions and the other hand, probably Mark is not the one who deserved it at the time.
— via pultan.org

This is a hell of a change in direction and to be completely honest I ask myself what do PR people at Red Bull get their salaries for. Vettel is 25 and he seems to be completely overwhelmed with the situation, and the fact that actions sometimes come with unexpected consequences is completely new to him. But I think that it’s a duty of the team to provide general guidance and ensure some level of consistency.

I believe it’s completely acceptable to rethink the situation after taking into account all the facts available, but the problem is that if you keep changing opinions some people might think you don’t have one.

Say you didn’t do it on purpose

I got a call on the radio, which I heard, but I didn’t understand it.
— via adelaidenow.com.au

Vettel has chosen to blame misunderstanding of the order he received to justify his actions in Malaysia, and at least in this part he is consistent. He keeps saying he didn’t understand, what the team wanted from him. Multiple times he was told to “be careful”, he was told that it “was silly” and apparently he was told to turn the engine down. Furthermore the whole concept was discussed before the race. But as Horner puts it:

He’s obviously chosen to hear what he wants to hear.
— via BBC

This is what Horner said the whole thing means:

Multi-21 means car two ahead of car one. Multi-12 means car one ahead of car two.It’s not complicated. It’s not that difficult to translate, but both our drivers in the last three races have failed to understand both of those messages. I think we’re going to give up on that code.
— via f1times.co.uk

Doesn’t sound like a rocket science to me. It probably shouldn’t be too complicated for someone who managed a German A-level with a Ø of 2.7, but Sebastian claims he didn’t know what he was supposed to do.

Blame someone else

Being completely honest, I’ve never had support from his side. There has been more than one occasion when he could have helped the team, but didn’t.
— via adelaidenow.com.au

Mark Webber is as much a team player as Sebastian himself, and to be completely honest the German is not that far from the truth. But doesn’t it look a bit childish? This I-do-to-him-what-he-did-to-me approach.

When first quotes from the press conference appeared, with Seb saying that he didn’t apologize for winning, I thought that it took him two weeks to grow some balls and that he can actually manage to get some of the lost respect back. Apparently it takes more than that. He ended up with blaming misunderstanding and positioning the whole thing as a pay back for the times, when Mark didn’t help the team. The more Vettel spoke the further away he got from what I personally would expect.

But do I blame Sebastian for the complete media disaster? No I don’t. Media is not his job, at least not to this extent. It is the team I am disappointed with.

No team, no team orders.

Red Bull stuck in the post-Malaysian controversy is a rather sorry sight and while they are getting all the media coverage, the team looks completely lost. And the biggest issue I see, is the lack of any hint of unity.

Mark knows that Sebastian get’s his protection “as usual”, admitting the fact that there is no equal treatment within the team. Sebastian positions the overtake as a revenge for all the times he believes Webber could have helped the team (meaning himself, probably). Christian Horner, whose job is actually to manage those two and the media, doesn’t do anything to reduce the magnitude of the problem; his solution is – it has always been like that, so there’s nothing to worry about.

In that race he didn’t do as I asked. Was I happy about it? Of course I wasn’t. Did we discuss it? Yes we did. Did he apologise? Yes. Has he learnt from it? I’m sure he has. Is my leadership undermined? I don’t think so. Would he do it again? I think he’d think twice, but as he explained yesterday there is history between those two drivers.

It is not something new, it is something that has been there for four or five years. Let’s not forget they are one of the most successful pairings that the sport has ever seen.
— via BBC

So Horner believes apologies solve the problem. I think he’s wrong – words never solve problems, actions do, and, as Vettel stated, he would do exactly the same thing again. What is the apology worth then?

I think Christian Horner boggles a bit, saying it doesn’t undermine his authority. At least in the public eye, it does. But maybe the issue is different and the authority has never been his at the first place. Red Bull’s management structure, with Heltut Marko playing a bit too big a role for an advisor, appears to be too complicated to have enough power left for Christian Horner. In addition, Marko is part of another team internal conflict, namely with Mark Webber.

In January 2013 an interview was published in The Red Bulletin, official magazine controlled by Red Bull, where Marko severely criticized Webber. (James Allen had an amazing post about it.) This is not exactly how you treat the driver, whose contribution to the third consecutive WCC was a bit more than neglectable. And now when the journalist quotes Marko, asking Webber about team orders Mars says: “Euhm… pff Helmut… yes… Whatever! Next question”. It doesn’t look like anything good.

There is no unity in the team, and while it is not so evident where there is only winning, it becomes strikingly apparent when there is a conflict situation. I always thought the definition of a team involves “together against the world” attitude, not “let’s entertain the world with our problems”.  And when there is no team, there’s nothing surprising about the fact that team orders don’t work.

And at this point I feel sorry for the “back office” part of the team, they deserve better than that. In all this controversy there is little attention to the fact that Red Bull mechanics have performed the  record-breaking 2.05 seconds pit-stop. When McLaren had their 2.3 Seconds pit stop the media, the team itself and the fans were talking about it for weeks. But Red Bull are different: who cares about the pit stop if there is such a drama with the driver going on.

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3 Comments

  1. McLaren_Soul

     /  April 12, 2013

    Excellent post, Daria!
    I have to say I completely agree with you on the PR staff, they don’t seem to be able to handle the situation. But it’s so much bigger than that.

    If you go back to the times when Webber ignored the team orders, what did Horner do? If the answer is: “He punched Mark on the face” then what Sebastian is doing now is unacceptable. But I’m afraid no one thought it was a major issue until Brazil last year, so if they didn’t prevent Webber from putting himself above the team, their hands are tied now.

    You know I can’t be objective because I’m a big fan of Seb but what I think he’s trying to do is apologize to the team but at the same time make his position clear:Webber is a #2 and he’s the leading guy. He’s the one bringing trophies and titles home. Of course you need both your drivers to make a fast car but Seb is selfish, he’s thinking only about himself.

    Anyway, as you say, all of this hurts Horner and all the team back in Milton Keynes. Ron had a hard time in 2007, team principals don’t really know how to deal with drivers anymore – sad, isn’t it?. They should’ve fixed this situation a long time ago, it’s too late now i’m afraid.

    (wow that was long, sorry!)🙂

    Reply
    • Thank you very much for your comment, I really appreciate it, and I am really glad that wordpress provides an opportunity to actually comment unlike all of this tumblr and twitter stuff. That’s why I am really thankful you took your time to comment, because I am really-really interested in what you think.

      I completely agree with the point that equal treatment means equal treatment, and while they let go of the situation with Mark back then, you can’t demand them to punish Seb. All the comments requesting some kind of punishment for Seb have always appeared a bit hypocritical let alone idiotic to me.

      Seb has the right to be selfish (to the certain extent obviously), but it is a trade-off, and it seems that he didn’t get it yet. You can’t be liked and supported by everyone, while being selfish, even in a healthy way. What he needed in these two weeks as a good speech writer – one may say it would be unauthentic, I would say it would be professional. Now he sounds lost with his statements which go in completely different directions. It is explainable, I believe the ability to change your opinion based on the facts is by no means a weakness, but such kind of things need an appropriate framing.

      Ron had a hard time, but Dennis is another kind of a man. Alonso didn’t fit in, he put himself above the team, he blackmailed his own team principal during the Spygate drama, he had to go. It was tough, but it was strong and consistent management for the bigger part of the whole thing. The thing is, Alonso and Vettel appear to be selfish in slightly different ways.

      When I was writing about how RB are not a team I just kept thinking about all the latest controversies with McLaren: Lewis’s probems with Massa, when everyone was blaming Hamilton and Martin kept defending his driver no matter what. The same thing with the problems when Lewis and the team were accused of cheating in Australia in 2009, the first thing Martin did was protect the team as a whole – his drivers his engineers. To the outside world McLaren manage to be a unity. Lewis never blamed Jenson for pushing him into a wall in Canada in 2011, even though one could argue it was the case – they celebrated the win together. Whether Lewis was so calm away from the cameras is questionable. And this is something I love about McLaren, this unity, this we-against-the-world mentality.

      (Sorry this was long)

      Reply
      • McLaren_Soul

         /  April 12, 2013

        We do love being able to write long texts, don’t we?😉

        I feel you. It might well be that there has never been unity in Red Bull. Two small teams working in different directions can turn out to be successful but it’s also a big risk.

        Webber will be leaving at the end of this year (I think we all agree on that) so what will Red Bull do now? They need to find a proper team mate for Seb – a number 2 driver who can win every now and then but never challenge his teammate – and at the same time make sure it’s all smiles for Seb as his contract ends at the end of 2014.

        Surely they don’t want to lose him so who would say no to him? No one. And he knows that.

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