Red Bull Racing driver Sebastian Vettel got his first win of 2013 in the second race of the Formula 1 season; the Malaysia Grand Prix. However, finishing in P1 lost him much more than he won. His victory cost Red Bull their team integrity, and in the long run it could cost them a great driver in Mark Webber.
As has been so widely talked about since Sunday, Vettel won in Kuala Lumpur by disobeying team orders to stay in second place and passing his team mate.
Webber was leading at the time, and the Red Bull cars had a considerable pace advantage over the other teams. Because the team knew they had the speed to win, they instructed Webber to ease off in and save the engine and tires to avoid any unnecessary accidents. Vettel was also told to back down and to remain in P2.
Second place obviously isn’t a win, but with Australian Grand Prix winner Kimi Raikkonen back in seventh place, it would have been enough to give Seb the lead in the driver’s points. Apparently that wasn’t enough for Vettel, who ignored the team’s order to dial down his engine, stay in P2, and avoid challenging Webber.
Vettel went on the war path and was soon on top of Webber. After a fairly nasty battle Vettel passed his team mate, which prompted a one-finger salute from Aussie Grit. Vettel would go on to win, Webber would finish in second, and what will be remembered as possibly the most awkward podium and post-race interview in the history of F1 would follow.
During the FIA post-race press conference Vettel joked about the whole thing. He jested that, “For sure we both enjoyed that. Of course, I’m standing in the middle now, so I probably enjoyed it a little bit more.”
Webber was far less humorous and obviously wanted to let Vettel and all of Red Bull know that he was not pleased. “I want to race…but in the end the team made a decision”, said the Australian, “Seb made his own decisions today and will have protection and that’s the way it goes.”
In another post-race interview Vettel danced around directly answering why he passed Webber despite being told not to. He made references to misunderstanding the radio message that told him to hold in P2, and not understanding why Webber looked upset when the drivers got out of their cars. Webber apparently didn’t waste any time in getting to the point, and according to Vettel it was only then that he realized what he had done.
There is no way for Red Bull to fix a stolen win, but the worst damagehas come in the form of the lack of disciplinary action that RBR has taken against Vettel.
Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko, a former racing driver and mentor to Vettel, chose to not address what Vettel did as a mistake on the part of the German. Instead, he said that the whole situation proved RBR didn’t play favorites “like Mercedes” and that it was beyond anybody’s control once the two drivers came together on the track.
Marko glossed over the fact that they never should have come together. Vettel was supposed to listen to the team that pays him, and to whom he owes his three straight driver’s championships, by dialing down his engine and not wasting the tires. He is right that Red Bull showed no favoritism by telling Vettel to hold in second behind Webber, but the team has since showed clear favoritism by not somehow punishing him.
By selfishly going after Webber, Seb could easily have caused both drivers to wear down their tires too quickly thus allowing the rest of the pack to catch them and costing Red Bull the 1-2 finish. Worse yet he could have created contact, wrecked the cars, and earned both Webber and himself DNFs.
Webber has essentially labeled this as the last straw in a long line of insults from Red Bull. He will be on vacation in his native Australia over the 16 day break between now and the first practice session of the Chinese Grand Prix, during which time he will contemplate his future with Red Bull.
The facts of the Malaysia Grand Prix are simple: Vettel disobeyed his team and he screwed over Webber, who deserved to win the GP. If Webber decides part ways with RBR, they will have Vettel and their own underhanded favoritism to blame.
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