Horner in a corner after Vettel ignored orders in Malaysian Grand Prix but Webber the biggest loser of all
Vettel now looks the real leader at Red Bull
Sebastian Vettel: did not come out of the incident well.
In the media centre at Sepang on Sunday night, former drivers and gnarled old race-watchers were on their feet, mouths gaping, as they watched the TV monitors.
It was not because Sebastian Vettel had ignored team orders from Red Bull ’s pitwall HQ to hold his position behind Mark Webber – okay, that was part of it – but the real reason was there was some absolutely compelling racing going on.
There is not much love lost between Vettel and his team-mate Webber but that made their duel all the more exciting. And it was a proper battle. This is what we see all too little of in F1: racing. Everyone is so concerned about conserving their fuel and looking after their tyres and following the dreaded team orders they forget why we are really here.
Ironically, it was Webber who had complained on Friday that F1 was too much about tyres. “Tyres, tyres, tyres, tyres,” he moaned, referring to Pirelli’s latest version of melting rubber, brought in to increase the number of pit-stops (if we cannot have real racing let’s spice it up with tyre changes, or KERS, or DRS).
But, here on Sunday evening, we had some good old-fashioned racing, even though it took a break from convention on the part of Vettel, who ignored instructions from team principal Christian Horner and decided to challenge Webber for the win, which he duly achieved.
Vettel, though, did not come out of the incident well. What he did on the track was bad enough in terms of jeopardising the team’s chances but it was his shifty behaviour afterwards that will have lost him a lot of admirers.
He said: “I just didn’t get the message. I got it. I heard it. But obviously no action followed because I misunderstood.”
What does that mean? He would have come away with a lot more credit if he had told Horner on the radio: “No, Christian, I’m going for this. I’m going for the win.”
Even though Red Bull got the 43 points they were after, with their 13th one-two finish, what happened has placed them in a tricky position.
Horner needs to reassert his authority, show Red Bull is not just Vettel’s toy shop. When he said on the radio: “This is silly, Seb. Come on!” it did not have the sense of command Mercedes principal Ross Brawn conveyed when issuing his orders to Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton in the race. Rosberg, of course, remained behind Hamilton.
Also, when Horner was asked why he did not tell Vettel to give his place back, he said: “Do you honestly think if we had told him to slow down and give the place back he’d have given it back?
But did he try? “There’s no point,” Horner replied. “He’d made it quite clear what his intention was by making the move. He knew what the communication was. He chose to ignore it.”
Again Horner, the best team boss out there, did not sound like a boss. Is Vettel really top dog at Red Bull?
The former driver John Watson feels Horner needs to get back in charge. He says: “If Christian Horner doesn’t reassert his authority in the team – because he has been totally subjugated by Sebastian Vettel – then his position in the team is not exactly the role it is designed to be. He also said the team should suspend Vettel for one grand prix to bring him back in line.
But Gerhard Berger, the former McLaren and Ferrari driver, said the German was merely showing the ruthlessness of a great driver.
“To win a world championship three or four times you have to be very selfish,” he said. “These boys have such a big killer instinct – they cannot follow their brain and they just do what their instinct tells them. This is part of Vettel’s success and nobody, no team-mate, no team chief, will change it.”
But it is where the whole affair leaves Webber that is most interesting. Although he was the fall guy on this occasion – not for the first time – it could backfire on him rather than Vettel.
At 36, he may feel his relationship with Vettel, never good since 2010 but manageable, is now so poisoned he will walk away at the end of the year. Or Red Bull might dispense with him anyway. Better that, than deal with feuding team-mates.