Webber vs. Vettel: Multi 21-gate

Turkey 2010, a single incident there changed the course of Webber and Vettel’s relationship, only ever professional at the best of times it turned toxic in a single decision by Vettel to overtake. Webber lost a win and Vettel retired early. It spawned a terrible PR photo opportunity headlined ‘Shit Happens’ but things were never the same since. When it looked like things were looking amicable Malaysia 2013 happened.

He's behind you

He’s behind you

The race started wet and all drivers started the race on intermediates, but as the track dried quickly the first part of the team’s tyre strategy was to measure when the best time to switch to slicks was. Vettel was pitted first and as it transpired that was too early, and when they called Webber in he was able to capitalise on this and made it work to his advantage as Vettel had to work a little harder. Having the Mercedes duo duelling and managing fuel levels behind took the heat off, but it was after the final pit stop that tensions began to rise.

Webber just squeezed himself into the front of Vettel who was charging down the straight as he left the pits, and after a bit of nip and tuck Webber prevailed. But then on lap 46 Vettel challenged Webber for the lead and with some serious wheel to wheel racing it was Vettel who came out on top this time around turn 4. He then shot off into the distance in true Vettelian fashion and swept to a victory that matches Sir Jackie Stewart’s total. So why the controversy?

From Webber’s point of view he had his engine turned down and had been assured twice that Vettel wouldn’t challenge him, so to find himself with wing mirrors full of his team mate would have been a shock.

From Vettel’s point of view he had a chance to take a win and he took it. And herein lies that controversy.

Team orders are legal and a part of the sport now, something we’re going to have to get used to if we haven’t already. They were issued to Vettel to hold station, or as Red Bull puts them ‘Multi 21’, but he chose to ignore them, or as he explained to the media he was mistaken in what he heard. It’s easy to see both sides of the argument; both drivers wanted to win, one was told he was going to and the other one decided he wanted to instead.

Flipping Vettel the bird

Flipping Vettel the bird

However a chasm has been ripped open down the middle of the team and one they have three weeks to try and fix well enough to have both drivers line up together in China. It’s happened before but this time the stakes are higher and Webber wasn’t afraid to lay it out for anyone to see. Unless you’ve been living under a rock since the season started Webber is the oldest driver on the grid and it seems that he is being readily ushered out to make way for a Toro Rosso graduate with repeated mentions of his age. What was the most telling aspect of Webber’s post race interview was that in those last laps he had a lot on his mind, and hoped that time Down Under in the surf would be medicine enough.

Vettel offered his apologies to Webber soon after the race, explaining that he heard the call but there was a disconnect between what he heard and his subsequent actions. He also said that he wished he could undo the situation, so one could then counter he had the option to give the place back during the race, but with victory in sight what true competitor could manage that? Here we could divert into two separate reactions to his apology, firstly why should his apologise? He’s a racer, he’s employed to push hard and to challenge for championships. He’s hardwired to win. Then on the other hand he’s part of a team and he ignored a direct order from his employers. Or reactions could equally be a mixture of all of those, but one thing is now abundantly clear, although it always has been, Vettel is willing to do whatever it takes to win and Webber has to respond positively to that.

Of course Webber himself is no stranger to ignoring team orders, during the race at Silverstone in 2011 he admitted he failed to react properly when he was told on numerous occasions to ‘maintain the gap’.  Webber’s defiant response was, “I ignored the team and I was battling to the end.” No public apologies were offered at the time, but with it being a little further into the season and with Vettel having a considerable lead the situation wasn’t quite as open as it is right now.

At least amongst all of this Horner remains the same, he lays the responsibility with the drivers and firmly places the team first. About

Happy campers

Happy campers

Webber in Silverstone he said, “The message was quite clear to him, what the team expected of him – not what I expected, what the team collectively expected.” And about Vettel in Malaysia, “He had made it quite clear what his intention was by making the move. He knew what the communication was. He had had the communication. He chose to ignore it…He put his interest beyond what the team’s position was.” Even Dr Marko was remarkably even tempered about the situation, explaining that the team lost control.

At the end of the day Red Bull have left Malaysia with the maximum amount of points and have leapt to the front of the constructor and driver standings, which ordinarily would be a fantastic result, today it was anything but. What Webber has to do now is to put it firmly behind him and not let it being a weight on his shoulders that drags him down like is has in the past. Rather he needs to channel his fight from Silverstone in 2010. Vettel also has some bridges to mend, and not only with Webber, he has to prove himself a team player to his team and to the public too.

3 Responses to “Webber vs. Vettel: Multi 21-gate”
  1. A nice read. Thanks.

    This whole ‘multi-21-gate’ episode is so reminiscent of the sort of heated, intense & contentious rivalry (b/w Gilles Villeneuve & Didier Pironi) that, it could be argued, indirectly led Villeneuve to his death in 1982, from his dogged determination not to be out-qualified by what he now viewed as a ‘treacherous’ team-mate, at the next race.

    Hopefully ‘multi-21-gate’ episode doesn’t end quite as tragically for Webber….or Déjà vu all over again!

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