No more Mr Nice Guy

SEBASTIAN VETTEL

Photo source: themotorreport.com.au

Photo source: themotorreport.com.au

Team: Red Bull Racing
World Champ Titles: 3
GP wins: 27
Pole positions: 38

There’s no denying Sebastian Vettel’s greatness. In the Brazilian Grand Prix 2012 he proved his worth by claiming his third consecutive title and put himself in the books as the youngest hat-trick champion in history of Formula 1. It is safe to say that he is considered the strongest contender for another record-breaking fourth title this year, leading the championship by 9 points ahead of Kimi Raikkonen in second after the first two races. These two races were enough, however, to show that winning is Vettel’s highest priority.

As any F1 champion, the young German has proved many a time he is a fierce fighter, despite his upbeat and friendly nature. He used all the chances he was given to get into the sport and into a winning car, making a few more people happy along the way; the misfortune of BMW Sauber driver’s, Robert Kubica’s in the Canadian Grand Prix in 2007 was an opportunity for their test driver to prove his worth: Vettel’s eight position finish established him as the youngest point-scorer n the history of the sport and gave him a ticket to Toro Rosso the same summer – and a promotion to Red Bull for the following season.

Simple solution: Vettel effectively turned Red Bull into a title-winning team Photo source: Formula 1 blog

Simple solution: Vettel effectively turned Red Bull into a title-winning team
Photo source: Formula 1 blog

Vettel was the magic pill the team had been looking for to cure their woes. In his first full season in F1 he brought Red Bull its first Grand Prix win and finally placed them on the constructors’ podium, behind the one-year-story of Brawn GP and their champion, Jenson Button. The 2011 season, theoretically challenging due to the change of the tire provider (Pirelli from Bridgestone), proved Sebastian was Red Bull’s golden boy, when his consistent delivery established him a World Champion four races before the end of the season, and ending the toll on 11/19 wins that year. And then, last year’s dramatic run from the very back of the grid in Abu Dhabi landed him a wowing third place on the podium.

But whilst the team was winning title after trophy, there was one team member who was not so fond of the young champion. All parties concerned admit that for there has been no love between Vettel and his team-mate, Mark Webber. The Aussie, who’s been in the formula for 11 years, is yet to win a title and currently his best chances for that stand with Red Bull. No wonder then that he would be frustrated by the apparent favouritism of the team towards his younger team-mate – a team who has comfortably won the last three Constructors’ Championships thanks to the joint effort of both of its drivers, after all.

…probably I would have thought that Mark wouldn’t have deserved it at that time – Vettel

Webber's (left) declarations that he'll do his best in 2013 can mean war on the track against his team-mate Photo source: Planet F1

Webber’s (left) declarations that he’ll do his best in 2013 can mean war on the track against his team-mate
Photo source: Planet F1

The Multi 21 affair, therefore, was a nail in the coffin, burying any sort of sympathy the Aussie might have felt for Vettel. A clear defiance of team orders that cost orderly Webber his first Grand Prix win since last year’s Silverstone race must have felt like a personal affront, although Vettel swore he had not understood the message on the team radio. The storm was brewing over Red Bull for the three weeks’ break leading up to the Chinese GP, and probably to avoid more lightning, it was only Webber who attended the Thursday press conference. His emotions now all in check, he approached the matter professionally, suggesting the case was now closed for him, until the end of the season.

“I am fine” he told reporters during the conference. “I was always going to Australia after that race… The break was good for all of us. It was good to get a bit of relaxation after winter testing and the first few races.

“But I am now looking forward to getting back in the car and getting on with the racing.”

He’s such a talented driver and he seems like a driver that the team love. And they should, he’s very successful – Button

Shortly after the Malaysian Grand Prix AUTOSPORT ran an article titled Vettel: the monster Red Bull created. Well, this monster has just shown his horns.

“I personally don’t consider myself as the bad guy in this situation, as I don’t think that I did something that in particular could be rated as bad” Vettel said at a separate media call that same Thursday. And then he dropped the bombshell, when asked if he would have done the same thing again:

“I am not sure if I can give you a perfect answer on that question. Of course there would have been a conflict, as I am the type of person that respects the team’s decisions, but probably I would have thought that Mark wouldn’t have deserved it at that time.

“To be very honest I think I never had support from his side. I have a lot of support from the team though, and I think that the team is supporting both of us the same way. I do respect him a lot as a racing driver. But also I think there have been a few occasions in the past where he could have chosen to help the team, but he didn’t.”

Vettel showed no remorse speaking of his actions ahead of another potential clash with Webber at the Chinese GP Photo: BBC Sport

Vettel showed no remorse speaking of his actions ahead of another potential clash with Webber at the Chinese GP
Photo: BBC Sport

The Multi 21 farce has turned Vettel from a hero to a villain in the eyes of the media, whilst his confessions in the run-up to the Chinese GP surprised even fellow drivers:

“Lots of people have won world championships without being like that,” Jenson Button told AUTOSPORT. “He’s such a talented driver and he seems like a driver that the team love. And they should, he’s very successful.

“And he seems like an easygoing character. It’s surprising for him to say that.”

But has the team’s opinion changed about their driver? Team principal, Christian Horner, made it clear that this was not the first time Vettel disregarded team orders; nevertheless, he was still winning the titles the energy-drink sponsored outfit so desperately needed to prove their rightful place in the sport. And yet, considering the dimensions the Multi 21 has grown into, inaction this time might cost Horner any credibility as a team principal to future Vettel-substitutes.

“In that race he didn’t do as I asked,” Horner said in Friday’s press conference in China. “Was I happy? No. Did he apologise? Yes. Has he learned? Yes. Would he do it again? He explained yesterday – but there is history between those two drivers.

“It is not something new, it has been there for four/five years. They are one of the most successful partnerships in F1 history.

“Is my leadership undermined? I don’t think so.I have led the team from the time Red Bull entered to the sport to those three titles, there have been lumps and bumps along the way, but they drive the team forward,” he conceded.

Sanction as in punishment? Maybe it is a little bit of a dreamland that you all live in, but what do you expect to happen – Vettel

German legacy: Vettel is still firmly on the path to reproduce Schumacher's record winning streak Photo: AFP

German legacy: Vettel is still firmly on the path to reproduce Schumacher’s record winning streak
Photo: AFP

And yet, Vettel’s market value might make him an exception from the paddock rule “no driver is bigger than their team” – which, frankly, tends to be the case with record-breaking Formula 1 champions. It is another case to investigate whether arrogance is developed via numerous Grand Prix wins, or whether it is an integral part of a champion’s character; together with ruthlessness on the track (take the example of seven-time winner Michael Schumacher and his aggressive driving style) or in the team’s garage (noting the toxic relationship between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost at Ron Dennis’ McLaren). Despite some black marks on their sporting history, they are all considered F1 greats – and Sebastian Vettel will undoubtedly continue writing his own legend. As for punishment for his actions, he need not to worry, as he said himself:

“I did speak up and I did apologise and I meant it. Sanction as in punishment? Maybe it is a little bit of a dreamland that you all live in, but what do you expect to happen. Make a suggestion!”

The case, indeed, seems closed.

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