Translate this Blog

Monday, March 25, 2013

Malaise in Malaysia

Some races are relatively boring, some are simply fantastic. Some are defined by controversy, some by cock-ups. And then we have Malaysia.

This race was none of the above.  It had moments of excitement, much of it was boring, There were cock-ups aplenty and the end was not simply controversial it felt like the beginning of a very public meltdown of the Red Bull team.

What happened here is worse than Schumi's desperate attempt to manipulate a dead heat situation in the US Formula 1 race at Indianapolis in 2002; It's worse than any of the shambolic "team orders" manipulations back in the days when team orders were not permitted; It is nearly as bad as David Coulthard "gifting" Mika Hakkinen his first F1 win in Jerez in 1997 under team orders and then gifting him the first race of 1998 after Mika cocked up and drove through the pits for no apparent reason (the beginning of Mika's rise and David's fall).

The difference is, of course, that team orders were ignored by Sebastian, very publicly ignored, and it caused a very serious upset within the team which was played out publicly in the immediate aftermath of the Grand Prix.

In his sights; Vettel eyes up Webber in Malaysia
© Pirelli F1
From my perspective, from the raft of outpourings across the web but most importantly from the fact that it was agreed before the race by the team, this was Mark Webber's race by virtue of the two driver's positions after their last pitstops.

I'm all for healthy rivalry between drivers and I do believe that drivers should be allowed to race their team-mates, but the F1 rules allow for team orders and in that case, regardless of my personal feelings, the team have every right to agree the order in which their drivers finish.  After all, the Drivers' Championship is only a silver medal in the team's eyes, the Constructors' Title is the Gold Standard.

Finishing 1-2 in a GP is their only desire, at this stage of the season.  Sebastian Vettel, by his actions, deliberately and publicly refused to take one for the team.  He breached team orders, flouted their authority, and very possibly compromised his chance to win the Drivers' Championship.

To quote the bible - which I rarely do: They that sow the wind, shall reap the whirlwind.

Your team-mate is your only ally on the racetrack.  When you are ahead of your team-mate on points in the back end of the season a decision has to be made by your team-mate as to whether he will support your run for the title.  If he does, you have a wingman to protect you from the competition.

Conversely, your team-mate can be your greatest obstacle too when he decides that he won't let you past to take valuable points; when he is "unable" to keep your rivals behind; when he races against you for position.  This costs a driver valuable time and crucial points; and can ultimately cost Championships.  Webber's words after the race may presage future action in any similar situation:
 I was completely reassured twice that we were not going to abuse the cars on each other because it was very easy for us to not get any points for the whole team
We saw on a later replay that, should he have wished to, Mark could have pushed Sebastian wide to maintain track position.  He took one for the team but will get no kudos for doing so in this instance.

Mark has the same car as Sebastian and this negative motivation will make him want to beat Seb, to obstruct him, and to delay him.  This kind of thinking is about as strategic as Custer's last stand.

Add to that the fact that Mark Webber is a great friend of Fernando Alonso and, should push come to shove...

Sky Sports talked about Vettel's youth, but he's 25 and has been in F1 since 2006, first as a test driver and racing full-time in the sport since 2008 with Toro Rosso/Red Bull.  He's also a triple World Champion.  I'm afraid that he has no excuse in this particular instance, nor did he look too repentant on the podium.

Lewis looks sheepish, Mark looks "contained" but Sebastian looks...satisfied?
© Pirelli F1
All you have to do is look behind the Red Bulls to the two Mercedes and you see team orders in action.  In that instance though I disagree with Ross Brawn and the team in what they did.  Nico Rosberg held station behind Lewis Hamilton because he was told to, even though he was far faster.  He argued the point, he wanted to overtake, and he let the team know he wasn't happy, but he obeyed the team's order.  That is how driver's must react to their team's authority.

Nico Rosberg.  Frustrated? Yes. Accepting? Yes
© Mercedes AMG Petronas
In the Mercedes case though it was the wrong order.  They should have told Lewis to pull over and let Nico through.  Lewis was saving fuel for what seemed to be the last third of the race.  He couldn't drive the car at any speed, he couldn't challenge the leaders, he could only hope to finish without running out of fuel.  Mercedes had made a strategic error in that they didn't put enough fuel in Lewis's car. Not so in Nico's case; he had no fuel problems.

Were these two drivers not team-mates Lewis would have given up the place without a fight to make sure that he made it home in the points.  Even if it had been Sergio Perez coming up behind him Hamilton would have ceded position to make sure he got the car to the end and the team would have told him to do it too.  The same should have held true for Nico.  It would have cost Mercedes nothing, Lewis was not able to race, and Nico would have had a deserved third place.

Having said all that the point is that Nico Rosberg held station as he was told to.  I trust the team, and his team-mate, will remember that at some point this season.

As for Mark, we can only hope that the sting of this incident will be washed away by a couple of weeks surfing back home.

This is not going to be the end of this, I can feel it in my bones. A Storm is Gathering; Can Red Bull manage to batten down the hatches before it hits?