VF1blog: Rumblings at Red Bull
Wow. What a race. The 2013 Malaysian Grand Prix was definitely one of the most dramatic and controversial rounds in recent times. We had rule breaking, collisions, mistakes, pit stop blunders, wet-dry conditions and much more! Plenty to analyse in in this column then…
So this whole Red Bull debacle is something that I will get to later, but first I want to talk about the racing.
I thoroughly enjoyed watching the Grand Prix and I do feel it had all the ingredients that eventually created one heck of a race. We had the rain shower early on which brought unpredictability and was a real challenge for the drivers, there were quite a few off track excursions on the lap to the grid! However it was not all about the incidents, we saw some fantastic, fair and close battles out on track that were a joy to watch. There was some pretty good driving out on the circuit, noteably the controversial Vettel/Webber scrap, Hamilton and Rosberg, Perez and Hulkenberg along with numerous others.
The whole grid started on the intermediate tyres which I thought was pretty obvious, the whole of the first sector was soaking wet whilst the rest of the track was damp at best. What shocked me about the start was not only Webber’s flying start but also Alonso’s rather clumsy punt at the rear of Sebastian Vettel. I appreciate the fact that it was wet, the cars were slipping and tyres were locking but it is not something I expect from Alonso. Whilst Sebastian may have slowed down a bit more than usual to test where the grip was it was rather uncharacteristic mistake. Even more uncharacteristic, I thought at least, was the fact that Alonso’s bright red front wing was quite obviously broken and kicking up similarly bright orange sparks, yet the Maranello team decided to keep him out for a few more laps. There is only a certain amount of time that the wing can skid along the tarmac before it eventually weakens and snaps.
A pretty silly mistake from Ferrari and a risk that unfortunately did not pay off, fortunately Alonso managed to not collect anyone in the process of flying off track with half of his front wing neatly tucked under his F138. There were some good battles early on and by the time of the first stops the order had spread out in to some nice little pockets of cars. However that first stop proved disastrous for Force India. It was a big shame for them as they decided to try and “stack” their cars, but the lead car of Sutil suffered an issue with the wheel nut. Apparently the team introduced a new wheel nut for 2013 but suffered no issues during testing or the first race in Australia. It ended up costing them a good result as they had to retire both cars after similar problems at both drivers second stops, a big shame as their car looked really fast.
Jenson Button had some good battles out on track but looked relatively lonely by the time he pitted for the third time. I was quite impressed by McLaren’s turn in fortunes as Jenson had been running strongly in fifth. Had it not been for the wheel nut issue that followed he would have definitely finished in the top five. He even thought that he could have challenged the Mercedes and he showed that when he rejoined, setting fastest lap after fastest lap in a lowly 14th. It was a good decision to retire the car with no potential to gain any points and get a fresh gearbox for China, but I was pretty gutted for him (as you may know I’m a big fan of his).
The mid-part of the race was mainly focused on tyre wear. Red Bull had complained about their car being so superior that it ate its tyres more in comparison to the others and a few teams even speculated about a move back to the 2012 spec Pirelli rubber. Frankly the teams need to just geton with it, work it out and focus on the car, developing it and understanding the tyres they have. Pirelli were given a brief to stick to for 2013 by making the compounds softer to increase degradation, create more pit stops and with it create the divide in strategies that we saw on race day. In my view they have succeeded in their “mission” so far and some teams (i.e. Red Bull) need to take what they have and work out how best to use it. Not complain and moan when most of the other teams are just getting on with the job in hand.
On the subject of Red Bull comes the highly controversial disobedience from Sebastian Vettel. The German overtook a coasting Mark Webber, who was guaranteed victory by the team, to cause outrage and uproar. He clearly broke the rules and ignored team orders to take the win and with it the extra seven points. He claims that he did not know of his wrong doing but I do not believe that for one second. He apologised to Webber and the team but he failed to give any media outlet a real reason for his actions and due to that I just have to assume he did it on purpose and for his own selfish reasons.
Whilst I think it was wrong for him to deny Webber the victory when the Aussie was so sure he would take the chequered flag first, Vettel is not the only driver to do so. Plenty of people have pointed it out but the likes of Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher did not become racing legends and greats, world champions and race winners without being particularly ruthless and selfish. Vettel did seem like he thought he was greater than the team but he is a racing driver, a three time world champion who wants to join the “greats” mentioned previously. If Webber was in the same situation he may not have overtaken but you have to realise he would have thought about it.
So my feelings on the matter are quite mixed. I feel bad for Mark Webber, he was denied a certain victory and one that would have been well deserved too. He drove a very strong race despite struggling at times with tyre wear and he had a fantastic first few laps. However Vettel proved why he is a world champion, you have to be ruthless, you have to take risks and be selfish at times. The incident has shown this to me now and has slightly tainted my vision of him, for I do not believe his apology nor the fact he did it by accident. However I can not say I am surprised, he always had it in him.
I have to think about the overall reputation of each driver too. If Mark Webber had overtaken Sebastian Vettel to take the victory despite being given team orders the outlook would be drastically different. Webber is a popular character in the paddock and everyone always comments on what he deserves, “he deserves to win” or “he deserves to get pole”. That’s because he is a nice guy, he is open, honest and people feel bad for him being the number two driver. The same thing happened to Rubens Barrichello at Ferrari. I feel though that even if teams say their drivers are equal they are not, even if it’s down to the tiniest fraction of imbalance. It never will be fully equal.
However because Vettel has won everything under the sun for the past three years it has created this dislike to him because everyone likes a different winner, not the same person winning over and over again. It was similar to the Schumacher days and Sebastian’s latest shenanigan has created even more comparisons to the seven time world champion. Personally I like Vettel as a person, he is genually a nice, funny guy who comes across well on TV. However because of his constant success people fail to support him in the same way that the fans do to the losing drivers. As I said before though Schumacher did not become a seven time world champion without being selfish and taking risks, he took many and Vettel has only taken one so far. I doubt he will do it again.
Some may feel confused after reading the past few paragraphs and I do as well. I see that what Sebastian did was wrong and I feel bad for Mark but I understand why it happened and that it was going to happen eventually. It has that “heat of the moment” feeling that after numerous laps stuck behind him Vettel did the impulse thing and overtook. Webber is rightfully fuming but it will (hopefully) all simmer down soon and the team can just concentrate on the season ahead. John Watson was recently quoted saying Vettel should be punished but how? The team are just as selfish about trying to get the constructors trophy as Vettel is with the drivers one. They wont give Vettel a race suspension and risk losing precious points. The FIA can’t do anything about it, it is strictly a Red Bull thing and it should be sorted out swiftly and calmly so focus can switch to the next race.
On the plus, it was a fantastic on track battle and one that I could not take my eyes off. Great duel and quite fair if you remove the context of the situation.
What made it even more interesting was the fact that Nico Rosberg was put in a similar position and stayed behind team-mate Hamilton. It was pretty much the first time Nico had been asked to do something like that and he was rightfully upset at the time but Lewis felt the same way, saying “Nico deserves to be” on the podium and not him. I think it was probably wrong for Mercedes to keep Nico buttoned up behind Lewis because he had a big speed advantage and the difference between this case and the Red Bull one is that Lewis was nursing a low fuel tank and was on strict conservation mode. Whereas the Red Bull’s were both told to turn down the engine and coast it was Lewis who was slow and Nico who had no issue at all.
In that respect I think Nico should have been let past. However I was impressed by the way both drivers handled the situation and you can tell they are friends, they understood the situation and how the other driver felt. Rosberg will surely want the favour to be returned and Lewis will be very obliging to do so. They both drove very good races too and I’m happy to see them progressing up the order and proving so many people (including myself) wrong.
Another “Nico” also impressed me, the Sauber driver finished eighth after starting outside the top 10 and was particularly awesome in the wet-dry conditions early on. I felt so bad for him after not even starting the Australian Grand Prix and he drove very maturely, as well as pulling off some brilliant passing moves. A more disappointed emotion sums up Kimi Raikkonen’s race. After writing in an article for RichlandF1 about how Kimi could be a contender for the championship he was quite… average during the Malaysian Grand Prix. Sure it is early but I expected more from him and for that I am disappointed in his performance overall.
So Red Bull have a lot to patch up in Milton Keynes and I have shared my views with you (albeit a bit confusing but hopefully you got what I meant!) but now I want to end on a lighter note.
How hilarious was it when Lewis Hamilton pulled into the McLaren pit box. I was shocked at first but then couldn’t stop laughing! It was so ironic that he teased Jenson about doing it in 2011 and then he did it himself. He said afterwards that “the teams look so similar” (yeah right) but I suspect he just wanted to say hello to his old mechanics. He probably felt a but homesick.
There were also a few near misses in the pit lane due to silly driver releases, and one collision. It is something you see more often in the tight squeezes of IndyCar, not F1 with massive pit lanes and huge amounts of technology. The Vergne/Pic incident was clearly Toro Rosso’s fault and I’m glad the team were penalised and not Vergne himself who drove quite well. However I do think picking up time in the pit stops has become so much of a priority that these things are bound to happen.
Anyway sorry for the length of this post, plenty to talk about but hopefully you reached the end unscathed and with a slight understanding of my opinions on the current matters at hand.
Author: Jack Leslie
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