Vettel behaviour could damage Red Bull title push

The controversial issue of team orders was reignited in an action-packed Malaysian Grand Prix with Sebastian Vettel ignoring his team to snatch victory from teammate Mark Webber.

The Red Bull drivers were told to hold positions after their final set of pitstops. However, Vettel ignored the call from the team instead passing Webber for the lead around the outside of turn 4 with 13 laps to go.

Vettel’s decision to ignore the order from the team of ‘Multi 21’, which was the code for him to stay behind Webber, has left team tensions at breaking point, with his Australian teammate bemoaning the protection Vettel seems to be afforded by the team during an incredibly uncomfortable podium interview.

Webber has every right to feel aggrieved by the situation, having turned down his engine in preparation to coast through the final laps, only to be stunned by Vettel’s unauthorised attack. The issue is compounded by the fact that in the past Webber has remained behind Vettel under team orders at a time when, in Webber’s words, ‘it was not that acceptable to do’ (as team orders had been banned prior to 2011). The issue reinforces Webber’s belief that the young German is heavily favoured by the Austrian outfit, a suspicion supported by Red Bull motorsport chief Helmut Marko, who is a well-known supporter of Vettel.

Red Bull themselves will be acutely aware of the issues which Vettel’s subordination has thrown up in terms of undermining the leadership of Horner at the helm of the team. One has to wonder why Webber would ever follow any kind of team order considering his own teammate’s refusal to do so, potentially resulting in significant ramifications in the title race. Vettel’s hollow post-race apology is unlikely to have calmed a seething Webber.

Vettel fans, however, will quickly point to Webber’s seemingly obstructive behaviour in the thrilling finale of last season in Brazil, where Vettel would eventually claim a third successive driver’s title. Tellingly, this is something Christian Horner himself referred to in a post-race interview, motivating Webber’s comment that Vettel will be ‘protected as usual’.

Others may simply state that this cavalier attitude is what makes Sebastian Vettel the champion he is. In light of this incident, the comparisons between Vettel and his boyhood hero and compatriot Michael Schumacher will grow stronger. Schumacher was renowned for his ruthless desire to win and his tendency to cross boundaries in pursuit of victory. He infamously attempted to crash into Jacques Villeneuve in order to secure the 1997 title, ultimately failing which resulted in him being disqualified from the championship that year.

Although nothing Vettel has done thus far is quite on the scale of Schumacher’s actions, he is displaying a similar desperation to win by ignoring team orders which have so often benefitted him in the past. Vettel’s behaviour will hurt his reputation, leaving critics to focus on the apparent arrogance and selfishness of his actions, instead of praising him for his affable nature and prodigious talent. The comparison with Schumacher may be seen as a negative in regard of being considered as a driver who would do anything to win, regardless of the lack of integrity it may entail.

However, the issue remains that for all his faults, Schumacher was a seven-time winner of the world championship, as well as being statistically the most successful Formula 1 driver of all time. His career was somewhat blemished by some of his incidents but in many ways that ruthless desire to win is what made him so successful. Vettel appears to share a similar appetite for success, evidenced by his insatiable hunger for victory even after three successful titles. Furthermore, numerous incidents between the legendary Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost before the era of Schumacher’s dominance show that the former Ferrari and Mercedes talisman was not the only legend of the sport to test the bounds of acceptability.

This weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix brought one of Formula One’s most contentious issues to the fore. Team orders will always be a controversial topic in a team sport where the focus is so sharply on individuals. It is an issue which is impossible to regulate as even when banned, teams found various codes to communicate orders. Ultimately, team orders are not problematic if both drivers are on board – as seen by the tactical approach adopted by Ross Brawn of Mercedes this weekend. A reluctant Nico Rosberg remained behind Lewis Hamilton in third, despite seemingly having greater pace than his teammate.

In the end, it appears that the selfishness of Vettel has resulted in the breakdown of an already strained relationship between himself and Webber. What effect this will have on both his and his team’s pursuit of a fourth successive world title remains to be seen.


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