Two races into the season and already there’s a storm brewing. Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel seem to have lost any kind of friendship and while the two will remain, for now, as team-mates, it looks to be in a purely professional relationship.
It all stems from an incident late in the Malaysian Grand Prix. The Red Bulls, line a-stern, were sure of a race win and team orders were implemented under the ‘Multi-21’ code that Red Bull use, meaning the lead car stays as the lead car. They did this to avoid any incidents like the 2010 Turkish Grand Prix which saw Sebastian Vettel crash out of the race during a botched overtake attempt.
Yet, Vettel either chose to ignore the order or as he put it ‘misunderstood’ what was being asked of him. Either way, he launched an attack on his more experienced team-mate and won. It was a close battle, one which nearly put Vettel in the wall and Webber in the gravel – but Vettel came out on top.
Webber was absolutely furious. Swiping in front of Vettel on the line and threatening to boycott the podium ceremony – something the FIA takes very seriously – was only the tip of the iceberg. He has since taken time away, returning to Australia for a surfing holiday rather than his home in Buckinghamshire or the Red Bull factory in Milton Keynes.
The best guess is that Mark is taking this time to seriously consider his future in Formula One and this rumour has prompted his father to come out in support for Webber, claiming he will be back for the Chinese Grand Prix and although damage is done between Vettel and Webber, it’s not the end.
But many have criticised Mark for what they call his child-like response to the incident. Personally, I don’t see it as an over-reaction.
What one has to remember is that Mark has consistently played second fiddle to Sebastian Vettel. 2010 being the perfect example. Stemming from the aforementioned Turkish Grand Prix, tensions in Red Bull were high. Arriving at Silverstone with two new front wings – one for Mark and one for Seb – Vettel’s broke on the Friday and Red Bull chose to take Webber’s wing, without telling him and putting it on Vettel’s car.
Webber was very upset by the decision and winning that Sunday’s Grand Prix, he took a dig at the structure of the team with the infamous message “Not bad for a number two driver”.
Skip on to the following year’s British Grand Prix and Webber, having dropped from pole position to 3rd place in the race was now chasing second-placed Vettel and catching him at a nice rate of speed. Christian Horner came onto the team-radio and instructed Mark to “Maintain the gap”, seeing as pleas from his race engineer had failed to slow the Aussie. Webber took one quick try at overtaking the slower Vettel before conceding and taking his place behind Vettel, again as the number two driver.
These are but a few of the examples of Webber being forced to play reserve role to Vettel. One has to admit that Webber is a fantastic driver – you don’t win the Monaco Grand Prix twice if you aren’t. The trouble is he’s only fantastic when he is in the zone, and he is in the zone far too rarely.
This is where the problem last Sunday stemmed from. Webber was pulling away from Lewis Hamilton in the other Mercedes, who was then overtaken by Vettel. As I have said, when it gets late in a race and the team have a comfortable 1-2 position, they implement team orders to endure they get the 43 points up for grabs. Webber relaxed now believing this race was his – ironically on his 200th Grand Prix – and one can’t possibly how he felt when Vettel broke team orders to pass him and rob him of the win.
When one plays second fiddle so much, when he has been forced to obey the rules so much they expect the team-mate to do the same. The situation by Webber was summed up perfectly. ““Seb made his own calls today and will have protection as usual and that’s the way it goes”.
Mark can’t step out of line while on a one year contract. He knows Red Bull just cannot scold Vettel, they can’t afford to. Essentially, Vettel has managed to get Red Bull to unwillingly agree to an appeasement policy. He pushes the boundaries of the team and they let him do it because they can’t lose the man who has won them all their championships. So he does it again. Again, they let him push and then he does it again because he has not met resistance.
Webber on the other hand can’t do this. There is a queue literally out their door waiting for Mark to leave so they can step up, Sebastian Buemi for example is waiting in the wings. If Mark disobeys the team, it’s a case of ‘goodbye Mark, thanks for the time’.
This could be what has upset Mark the most. He might feel now that there is really no huge point in being there or that there is no more wins while Vettel is there, no more glory, everything is reserved for Vettel – and THAT could very well be the problem. It’s not that he lost the race but it’s that he can’t put up a challenge and he may now know that.