It’s a debate that has been going on for nearly 2 weeks now – should Sebastian Vettel be condemned or praised for his breaking of team orders to win the Malaysian GP? The answer should be obvious… Unfortunately, in the complex world of Formula 1, incidents like this really aren’t that simple.
For those of you who have no idea as to what I’m going on about, Vettel was in second place behind Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber after the final round of pit-stops during the second F1 Grand Prix of 2013. The German was clearly quicker than Webber but was told to stay behind him, yet he still tried to fight his way past. Despite repeated warnings from his race engineer ‘Rocky’ and team principle Christian Horner, the triple-World Champion eventually muscled past and won. Those of you who don’t watch Formula 1 may be thinking ‘well, he was quicker so he should have been allowed past’ – in an ideal world that would be the case, but Formula 1 is a sport full of tactics and strategical decisions made in a fraction of a second and there is no going back on them – Red Bull had decided that Webber was to be the man to win the race as he was ahead after the final stops and that should have been that. It wasn’t.
Vettel, though, cannot be blamed entirely for this. Yes he should have followed the orders of those who employ him to win races, but they themselves could have handed the situation much better. He’s a hungry young driver who is used to success, so it is understandable why he did it. The team should have realised that Webber was too slow and told him to either hurry up or let the German past. But knowing how the Aussie has reacted to similar situations before Red Bull decided that he deserved to be put first for once, a rarity for the team. Since the infamous crash between Vettel and Webber during the Turkish Grand Prix in 2010 (where the German was trying to force his way past while Mark was driving slower to conserve fuel) I feel that the latter has been treated hugely unfairly by the team – he was blamed by both Horner and team owner Helmut Marko for that incident while just a few races at Silverstone he was clearly treated as the team’s second driver. Both cars were sporting updated front wings that weekend, yet Vettel’s broke in practice. The decision was made to give Webber’s to Sebastian and give the German the advantage – if it had been a point near the end of the season where Vettel needed a win to claim the Championship this could have been understandable but the fact was this was a race halfway through the year and both drivers had a very good chance of winning the Driver’s Title. The incident that Webber is probably fuming about currently, though, happened a year later at the same track in a reversal of the other day’s situation – Webber was clearly quicker that Vettel and fighting to get past yet was told to ‘maintain the gap’ at a time when team orders were banned and he should have been free to race his team-mate.
I really do feel for the Aussie and can completely understand his frustration – he is driving for the fastest team on the grid, winners of both the Driver’s and Constructor’s trophies for the last 3 seasons, yet he is the one having to make sacrifices for his team-mate. This time round it seemed as though the team were putting him first for a change and yet still he came off second best. His comments after the race were, surprisingly, restrained, saying that people will never really understood what went on. He did, though, claim that ‘he [Vettel] will have protection as usual,’ referencing the fact that Horner and Marko are often very quick to defend their younger driver whenever he makes a mistake. For the last few years now Webber’s disdain towards certain team members, not least his team-mate, has been evident yet he has always stuck at his job, determined to prove them wrong. But I think this could really the final straw for the man dubbed Formula 1’s ‘unluckiest driver’ for many years now. Don’t be surprised to see him moving on at the end of the season.
The real grievance I have with this incident is not really with the fact that Vettel broke team orders in order to win but that team orders are allowed in the first place. Nothing good ever comes from them and I think that they should be banned, as they were from 2002-2010. If one driver has driven a better race than their team-mate and is clearly going to catch them soon then they should be allowed to race and battle for position. The drivers aren’t stupid, they should know what’s fair racing and what could cause an accident, so should be allowed to race each other. A fantastic example of this was at the same Turkish GP where Webber and Vettel collided – the McLarens of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button found themselves first and second respectively after the incident. Both were discreetly told to maintain position but Button felt he was quicker and fought his way past. Hamilton reacted superbly and got back in front a couple of corners later – it was a tense but wonderful spectacle, two drivers desperate to win yet respecting each other hugely. This should be how drivers should try and win races – if you’re quicker than anyone else and have looked after your car better then you deserve to win!
Another driver on the receiving end of stupid team orders in Malaysia was Nico Rosberg of Mercedes – he had driven a superb race, managing his tyres and fuel level perfectly and was directly behind team-mate Hamilton (in only his second race with the team) who had turned his engine down to try and find enough fuel to finish. Rosberg was clearly quicker and begged his engineer to let him past yet this request was denied and he had to settle for fourth rather than the final podium spot. He was being punished for driving a better race, something Hamilton came out and admitted later on.
Why can’t F1 personnel just accept that sometimes one driver deserves to win based on their race pace and tactics? The sport is becoming too egotistical and success-orientated – certain people need to be taught that us humans can make mistakes and no-one is perfect. If you have got the strategy wrong, then accept it and let the quicker car past, don’t deny them what they deserve because you don’t want your image denting!