Vettel, mid-race: “We have to get Mark out of the way – he’s too slow”
Vettel, post-race: "The pass was deliberate, obviously I wanted to pass him...but I didn't mean to ignore the strategy or the call. I made a mistake, simply"
Sebastian Vettel said he wouldn’t find it easy to go to sleep after disobeying team orders to win the Malaysian Grand Prix.
But once the last of some intense television interviews were concluded, and the tellings-off from the higher-ups stop ringing in the German’s ears, he’ll find that the extra seven points he earned from overtaking Mark Webber and taking the race win will prove a comfortable cushion when he puts his head down.
Vettel appeared contrite after the race. Progressively more so, in fact, as the media appearances continued. Perhaps he only realised the scale of his team-mate’s fury after witnessing it on the podium at Sepang, and the fall-out inside and outside Red Bull that accompanied it. Perhaps later in the campaign when a chance presents itself to return the favour, Vettel will pull aside and allow Webber through for a win.
Don’t hold your breath, though. Vettel was calculated about winning that Grand Prix, and didn’t appear to care who or what blocked his path.
The instruction that the drivers were not to race one another in the final stages and to conserve their fuel and positions did not apply to him.
His dismissal of his team-mate over the radio, as an obstacle ‘to get out of the way’, was dripping with disdain.
But the truth is that while he may have let Webber down, and he may have let his team down, he did not let the viewing public down.
There is not a lot of love for Vettel in some quarters - a sense that he has beaten better drivers because he has superior machinery sullies almost every assessment of his career. This despite him being one of just nine men in history to become a triple world champion.
Webber, a skilled, veteran operator with an acerbic wit, is a popular rival, and few will have enjoyed him being stiffed.
Vettel, however, was merely doing what those who dislike team orders would surely want him to do – racing and winning. If you feel uneasy about the concept of team orders preventing racing, why then be upset when a driver decides to flout those orders and goes for victory? The twist to the Malaysian Grand Prix provided thrilling overtaking moves, wheel-to-wheel action, followed by a dramatic and contentious fall-out, and the reverberations could be for the rest of the season. In other words, Vettel put on a bit of a show with his bad boy routine.
What moral failing there was in Vettel’s decision is frankly nothing to do with Motorhead, falling well within the rules on team orders which have finally been clarified – it’s simply an issue for the drivers and constructors involved – between employee, colleague and boss.
The constructor has its own concerns and expectations. High among them is a responsibility not to let its two drivers turn the 43 championship points available for a one-two finish into a blank because, as the Red Bull duo did in Istanbul in 2010, they take each other out of the race while jockeying for position.
Each party’s actions and reactions were understandable despite the ugly end result. Vettel’s desire to win, Webber’s righteous sense of injustice, Red Bull’s eagerness to kill off the racing.
But all things considered, Vettel’s quotes above probably tell us less about the events in Malaysia than Webber’s on the podium:
“In the end Seb made his own decisions today, he will have protection as usual and that's the way it goes."
But Webber has it slightly wrong - Vettel’s protection does not come from some overlord sipping fizzy energy drinks, it’s that he wins. Everything. Almost all the time. He might have been a pet project of Red Bull way back when, but that was three world championships ago. It buys you an awful lot of patience.
In theory, the German and the Australian are equals at Red Bull. They have, historically, been allowed to race one another, without favour or prejudice. It almost cost them the titles in 2010, but ultimately it was the start of an unbroken run at the top of the standings in the sport.
Last year, Fernando Alonso almost ended that streak of Vettel and Red Bull glory. And the Spaniard wouldn’t have come close to pulling it off had he not had a Ferrari team throwing every resource behind him, including a subservient team-mate. Felipe Massa moved aside to let Alonso through more than once – hell, at one point he even had his gearbox taken out by his team just so he would get a grid penalty and move his team-mate on to the clean side of the track.
Further back on the Sepang circuit on Sunday, Lewis Hamilton was busy having his third place protected from his team-mate Nico Rosberg by Mercedes team principal Ross Brawn.
It’s not a luxury that’s been afforded to Vettel in his career, so in the humidity of a Kuala Lumpur afternoon he took that number one status for himself. You can be damn sure what his idol and compatriot Michael Schumacher would have done in the same situation.
And perhaps, because it’s hard as fans not to react emotionally to such incidents and feel a sense of right and wrong, of whether justice was done, Vettel will lose some friends for what he did.
Then again, he might just decide the points are adequate compensation.
Mark Patterson - Follow @Mark_Eurosport