Home > Formula One > The heat is on… at Red Bull!

The heat is on… at Red Bull!

Searching for the right words to describe what we saw at the Malaysian is really very tough. Eventful comes to mind as being the main one but many others would apply fittingly also.

Before we get on to the chaos of the race, let us review qualifying. Sebastian Vettel once again showed he was class of the field by pitting for fresh inters and set a blistering time nine tenths quicker than Massa and a second faster than Alonso. Australian GP winner, Raikkonen was not so clever and also fell foul to a three place grid penalty for impeding Nico Rosberg.

Twenty-four hours pass and the race is started on intermediate tyres after a down pour of rain prior to the race. Lights out and Alonso’s Ferrari got a quick start but Massa was not as quick as in Australia and was passed by his team mate with relative ease. Alonso saw an opportunity to capitalise but locked his brakes on entry to turn two, clipped the back of race leader Vettel and damaged his front wing. Incredibly he battled and held second place until the line of the first lap, but going down the pit straight his front wing collapsed underneath the front tyres and sent him spearing off in to the gravel. Ferrari had told him to pit and were ready with a new front wing but the Spaniard did not and paid the price. Reminded me of Raikkonen at the Nurburgring in 2005 for McLaren where his front right tyre exploded on the last lap of the race.

Alonso’s wing disappears under his car

The first laps unfolded and as the track dried, Vettel was the first to dive in to pit lane for a set of slicks. Turns one to four were still very wet, too wet in fact and Vettel was left battling cars on inters and trying to get his slicks up to temperature. Webber pitted two laps later and benefited massively by jumping his team mate and coming out in the race lead. With Massa’s relative lack of pace it allowed both Mercedes of Hamilton and Rosberg to capitalise and close down the Red Bull pair. Hamilton in particular in the mid part of the race had some excellent pace but it was too much too fast, he had to settle in to fuel conservation mode which allowed Rosberg to close up even further but he was also managing his tyres better.

The turning point of the race came for both Red Bull and Mercedes. Webber had been controlling his pace, tyres and engine management to the point where Vettel came out just behind him after the final round of pit stops. Vettel then engulfed in an all-out battle with his team mate chopping and changing positions for two laps which saw the young German get pushed right up against the pit wall. Vettel had earlier moaned in the race that Webber was too slow but knowing how the Pirelli rubber works, Webber was simply controlling his pace. Vettel eventually threw the car around the outside of turn four and took the lead of the race. While Webber’s earlier battling was valiant he was not too forceful to push his fellow Red Bull driver off the circuit.

Behind the Red Bull pair the battle raged on between Nico Rosberg and, not Hamilton, but Ross Brawn. Hamilton was in pure tyre and fuel conservation mode but settled in to a third place and podium finish. Brawn clearly having understanding of the situation told his drivers to just settle in to their respective positions. A wiley fox like Ross Brawn is not going to be told by anyone, if Schumacher could not then Rosberg is definitely not going to be telling him.

The chequered flag dropped with Vettel crossing the line first, an angered Webber in second and a disappointed Rosberg in third. You can imagine at this point this podium is going to be a rather feisty place. Before the drivers stepped on to the podium and furious Mark Webber walked in to the post-race room, steam pouring out of his ears, glaring looks at Vettel and with a deep Aussie boom voicing the words “Multi 21, Seb. Mutli 21” This is code from the Red Bull team indicating team orders and stay in your positions. On the other side of the podium we had a glum looking Hamilton almost scratching his head and wondering what had just happened.

Martin Brundle joined them on the podium for the post-race interviews and, as ever, Brundle doing an excellent job tried to defuse the situation but Webber was quick to jump and say “Vettel took it in to his own hands, and as ever will be protected by the team”. Sure enough the ears of Dr Helmut Marko and Christian Horner pricked up at that point and knew they were in for a tough evening, the team already in a hot environment the pressure cooker seemingly getting ever hotter.   Hamilton explained how he thought Rosberg should be up there will probably not go down well with Mercedes bosses as it was Ross Brawn’s call. We very much see two different dynamics of team and team mates appearing in both camps. Dr Helmut Marko was quick enough to say that there is a “Clear number one” in Mercedes trying to deflect the attention away from his own team.

Webber’s anger at Vettel © Sutton Images

More was to come yet though as Vettel and Webber had a chat after the podium and before the press conference, Vettel sat down and apologised to Webber but the Aussie was having none of it and did not accept his apology. Webber’s interview with Natalie Pinkham of Sky Sports was the most revealing though. Webber stated that he wanted some time off to head back to Australia and also that he was “questioned things” in the last ten laps of the race. That is quite a bold statement to be saying and while it may be heat of the moment you have to wonder.

I think all Formula 1 fans will have opinions and likely differing opinions on this. Team orders have always been in Formula 1, whether that be a blatant as radio communication or a pre-race agreement. Webber was clearly under the impression that he had the lead, conserve tyres, engine and control the pace to the flag. Vettel was even told “This is silly Seb” by the pit wall but still persisted to pressure and eventually pass Webber. Now, the one big thing here that has been broken is trust. Webber can not only trust Vettel, probably ever again, but also the team. How does he then trust the team that tell him one thing and then another thing happens? Not only that but they still had another ten laps or so to go that they could have swapped the positions back around and never did! This is sour situation to be in and Webber will be left wondering and questioning his own position but also the position of the team. Webber only has this year left on his contract which I am sure he just wants to enjoy racing. After the antics we saw from Vettel today you have to wonder if he will stay.

So let us look at the other side of the garage. Red Bull clearly know that Vettel is the stronger driver and the most likely to challenge for the title. After seeing Alonso drop out of the race they must have been rubbing their hands together. Vettel was behind Webber though after the stops and it took a forceful pass to get back the top step of the podium. The team stated that it was ‘silly’ and that he should be careful. Vettel even said during the race “Get him out the way, he’s too slow” about Webber who was actually looking after his tyres. A lot of comparisons have been drawn with Schumacher in the post-race aftermath and, sure, correlations can be drawn but the things that still stands out for me is Vettel’s immaturity. The youngest triple world champion but hardly the maturity of a world champion. Vettel was booed on the podium in Australia, and even as a triple world champion is far from a fans favourite. Alonso, Raikkonen and Hamilton all with fewer titles hold a better fans reputation than Vettel. After the race today, you can see why.

Flip over to Mercedes and Rosberg got out of the car, fully understood the situation, knows that the same would happen if that roles were reversed and gave a very dignified and diplomatic response to the media, an excellent showing from the German and, if anything, gone up in peoples estimations and I suspect has gained a lot of respect. Hamilton clearly unsatisfied himself, Mercedes almost have a luxury on their hands because they have two friends that want to fight, properly, but also both play the team game.

Fans may be disgruntled by what has happened but I think Red Bull actually have a greater issue on their hands. They have a driver that has clearly disobeyed team orders. Now while Schumacher, Senna or Alonso are/were rarely on the receiving end of that, I do not remember them disobeying the team quite so directly. Argument could state that it is early in the season and they should be allowed to battle, but outright disobeying the team that pays you? That is not something you want to be doing, even as a triple world champion.

Three weeks now until China and a lot of damage has to be repaired and a lot of conflicts to be resolved. Question is, can Red Bull do it or maybe, just maybe was that Mark Webber’s last ever Formula 1 race?

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