Monday, 25 March 2013

Malaysian Grand Prix - Who Was Wrong?

By Editor - 25 March 2013

And what a scintillating Grand Prix it was. For Formula 1 fans, the drama that unfolded at the closing stages of the Malaysian Grand Prix was absolutely riveting to watch. From Mark showing Sebastian his own version of 'the finger', to Lewis being visibly upset over robbing his friend of a podium, to Mark Webber throwing his hands up, staring daggers at Sebastian exclaiming: "Mult-21 Seb...Yeah Multi-21!"

The 2013 Malaysian Grand Prix will be known for the team orders debacle that affected, not one, but two big Formula 1 teams, Red Bull and Mercedes.

The case of Webber vs Vettel/Horner/Marko has been raging on since 2009, when Dr Marko introduced his protege into a Red Bull seat. At Mark Webber's first win for Red Bull at the 2009 German Grand Prix, Mark's partner Anne said that the post-race celebration was more like a wake than a party. Fast forward to the 2010 British GP when the team showed preferential treatment by giving Sebastian Mark's updated front wing, having destroyed his own in free practice. Then again to Turkey 2010 when Sebastian attempted to muscle Mark off the track causing a collision. Even though Sebastian caused the accident, he made a gesticulation that Mark was 'crazy.' Mark paid the favour back last weekend, by giving Sebastian a one finger salute.

It is no surprise that team orders and inter-team rivalry has raised it's ugly head again at the Red Bull camp.

What is a surprise was Ross Brawn's decision to shackle a fast charging Nico Rosberg to the rear end of Lewis Hamilton's W04. Lewis was short fueled but Nico was not, so Rosberg had the equipment to keep Red Bull honest (not that they needed the extra motivation). In the last remaining laps when Lewis had to backed off to a snail's pace, it was excruciating to see Nico forced to slow down to a crawl just to remain behind his teammate.

So who was wrong?

* It was not Mark Webber - he was robbed of a win.
* It was not Sebastian Vettel - he is a racing driver so he should be allowed to race. Well, he might be a little at fault.
* It was not Lewis Hamilton - was short fueled, AND he was clearly upset for Nico (well done)
* It was not Nico Rosberg - he was robbed of a podium

The people who were in the wrong are the team principals, Christian Horner and Ross Brawn.

This is because both had put a stop to "racing." Formula 1 is the pinnacle of motor racing and when drivers are not allowed to race, then you would be hard pressed calling a grand prix race, "a race."

Christian Horner must take the responsibility for asking both his drivers not to race. Mark Webber stated that he actually wanted to race, but was told to hold station. Vettel did what Vettel does best, race. Mark held a four second lead after the final pit stop and he was on fresher tyres. This lead was artificially reduced to zero when Christian had ask Mark to turn down his engine. Had Mark been able to race, it would have been a sweet sweet victory - for Mark and for F1 fans.

Ross Brawn made one of the silliest calls we've seen in the history of Formula 1. He did this by asking Rosberg to stay behind a flailing Hamilton. Having short fueled Hamilton was also a big mistake. However, here is why the decision was so silly: What if Lewis Hamilton had just enough fuel to make it to the end of the race, but had to drive around the track at 60 mph? Would Ross have instructed Nico to drive at 60 mph as well just to stay behind Lewis? By Brawn's reasoning: YES! In effect, Ross Brawn asked one of his drivers to stay behind another car which was damaged (in this case, short fueled). Totally incredulous!

So what are the consequences?

For Christian - not much. He is the team boss and is "chummy" with Dr Helmut Marko. Sebastian validates Marko's role in the team so he will always "protect" his protege. Further to this, Marko is Dietrich's right hand man so Helmut gets to call the shots.

For Ross Brawn - a lot. Brawn no longer enjoys the same clout he once had in Mercedes. He has the new Mercedes CEO Toto Wolff and outspoken Chairman, Niki Lauda breathing down his neck. The suits back at Stuttgart detest foul play and to rob a fellow German of a podium is just sacrilegious. Expect Ross Brawn to get more than a slap on the wrist for this one.

For Sebastian Vettel, he is safe, but his stock price has plummeted in most peoples' eyes.

Meanwhile for Mark Webber, his stock is on the rise. He'll do some surfing and with the help of his manager, Flavio Briatore and Mark's entourage, he will be sufficiently rejuvenated for the next race.

As for Nico and Lewis, they will most probably continue being good friends....for now at least.

However, there are three weeks until the Chinese Grand Prix in April....and a lot can happen in three weeks.

What are your thoughts?

(Comments will be publish so long as they obey house rules)


  1. Great read. I think the team principals bare much less responsibility in what happens on the track. To think they have complete control of their drivers is both ignorant and naive. Rosberg may have proved his value within the team, but Vettel clearly showed that racing is what it is: racing. I do not agree with RBR's teammate tactics and find their lack of understanding of their drivers qualities pathetic. But overall, if I had to point one factor as the catalyst of these race strategies, it would be the tires. Mark was urged to save them. Red Bull was on a strategy that allowed their main driver, Vettel, to relish a second place "victory" for the team. Rosberg was also fresh on tires and fine on fuel strategy which is why his second-fiddle finish to the new boy will go down as one of the most respected drives I've seen in modern F1.

  2. The situation at red bull is perhaps a bit more complex that you present. During the course of the race the team made decisions that affect both drivers. Based on those decisions Horner made the decision to ask Mark to turn his engine down and to protect the tires. For the good of the team Red Bull chose to turn the engine down to preserve one of the eight engines the team has to use for the entire season. Mark did as asked whereas Vettel, disregarded the needs of the team to satisfy his own selfish needs. Vettel's actions were childish, again, and they compromised the Team.
    F1 constantly tells us that it is a team sport, in any other team sport an individual who places themselves above the interests of the team would be benched. Hockey, Football, undermine the coach and pay the price. The way I see it Red Bull have two options. They can ignore the whole thing and let it fester undermining both Weber and Horner in the process. Alternately they can punish Vettel and remind him that without a car he is not much of a racer. I would sit him out for one race or I would let him race but take away about 3000 rpms from his engine. That would let him peddle around the track like he is in a Marusia or Caterham and remind him of how little he would achieve without the TEAM!

  3. Taking Vettel down by harming his performance in any way just beats the team with its own stick. Every point he looses, the team looses, so there will be no punishment of any sort that impact the next race performance. The only recourse they have is to hit him with a stiff fine and strong reprimand with threats of harsher action if the defiance is repeated. Weber needs also to get over this, or he is dead meat at RBR - which will likely make him feel even more anger as he knows he's stuffed as well. Too bad. Meanwhile, if Vettel faces a strong challenge for the WDC, like 2010 and 2012, that 7 points is going to be critical, so it's hard to completely pound him for being aggressive. RBR is going to feel the stress of being jammed between a rock and hard spot. Too light on the whip with one will likely cause issues with the other, while too much whip can also kill drive in even the most aggressive. I know Vettel haters want to see this as the first brick in the wall that ends him. I'd rather see this as the beginning of the end of fake team order race parading to protect what is turning out to be the worst change in F1 history - intentionally designed garbage tires to force this type of issue to surface in the first place. I really don't understand the up-welling of support for team orders on this. In years past, team orders were seen as the scourge of F1, including the Australian debacle with Rubens, to Austin 2012 with Ferrari (Massa gearbox "issue"). Now pit wall orders are a good and noble thing? I call BS on this one. It's just camouflaged Vettel bashing and nothing more. Weber got a free pass on his jerk move in Brazil, now Vettel served his payback as cold as it gets. Time to move on already - for everyone. Real men would make a joke of this, and use it as motivation. Weber can either suck it up or act the part of jilted girlfriend - his choice. I'd like to see him take this as an act of war and go for the championship with renewed vigor. Team orders are, and have always been, rubbish - just like the Pirelli junk driving this issue.

  4. Team principals must keep the points they are grabbing at the end of the race.

    For doing that, Horner should have order Vettel to give the position back, and Brown to allow Rosberg to overtake Hamilton. Same result in points, and a no-brainer.