Red Bulls Lock Horns
Lap 40 of the Turkish Grand Prix may prove to be a pivotal moment in the 2010 Formula One World Championship. The crash between Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel handed victory to McLaren and sent the Red Bull team into chaos. The incident has also resulted in accusations that Red Bull is unfairly favouring one driver over the other.
On lap 40 Sebastian Vettel came up behind Mark Webber exiting the fast Turn 11 kink. Vettel had taken advantage of the race leader’s slipstream and had a quick look down the right side of Webber’s car before jinking to the left when Mark started moving away from the outside ripple strip.
Vettel pushed for a narrow gap between Webber and the grass on the run towards Turn 12 but the Australian saw him coming. Mark stopped moving to the right and gave his teammate just enough room to squeeze through on the inside.
Sebastian forced his nose in front but it didn’t stay there for long.
As both drivers entered the braking zone Vettel swung right to assume a faster line into the corner. His right rear wheel immediately made contact with Mark Webber’s left front and he spun into Webber’s front wing. Sebastian tried to straighten his car but the rear wheel was torn to shreds and he lost all control.
Vettel briefly held the lead of the Grand Prix whilst spinning backwards off the circuit. Webber also ran onto the run-off area but rejoined the race in third position.
There is little doubt that Sebastian Vettel is predominantly to blame for the collision. A number of factors contributed to the accident but Vettel was responsible for the contact itself. There wasn’t any malice in Sebastian’s move and it was a simple miscalculation. He just wasn’t as far ahead of Webber as expected. Vettel said after the clash “I had the corner on the left and was just trying to focus on braking point” which explains how the collision occurred because Sebastian should have been focussing on Webber’s car as well. Mark did not deviate his steering at all and Vettel simply turned into him.
To suggest that Vettel is entirely responsible for costing Red Bull a 1-2 finish is perhaps unfair. Although Webber is not to blame for the accident, it could have been avoided had he given Vettel more racing room. Webber is not obligated to make it easy for Vettel and he did nothing wrong by strongly defending his position, but it was not in the best interests of his team at that very moment. After the race Christian Horner said both drivers were to blame for the crash because “they didn’t give each other room” so Red Bull’s management do not think Webber is completely innocent. Sebastian caused the accident, but Mark put him in a position that made it possible.
Vettel made his feelings very well known immediately after the accident. He threw his arm out of the cockpit at Webber and then indicated to marshals that he thought his teammate was crazy. It’s easy to show anger in the heat of the moment, and it’s great to see some emotion from a Grand Prix driver, but this was perhaps quite immature. Even if Webber had blatantly taken him off, the image of one Red Bull driver thinking the other is crazy is not what the team wants to promote. Vettel should have been more careful about his actions when he got out of the car considering that he was actually the main culprit. Sebastian is brilliantly funny and is one of the few genuine characters in Formula One, but his attitude when things don’t go his way can be disappointing and this was a prime example.
Webber was equally unhappy about the incident and the bitter taste in his mouth was clear during the post race press conference. Rather than gloss over the collision, Mark made sure that his anger was clearly visible. When asked by a journalist at the end of the conference why Vettel was able to pull alongside on the straight, Webber said “you guys need to dig more, somewhere else”.
It’s understandable that Mark would be upset after the race but it wasn’t professional of him to suggest that journalists should investigate the conduct of his own team. It was a surprising comment from the Australian who had otherwise conducted himself with great dignity.
RED BULL’S STRATEGY
Webber’s anger after the race might not have been a result of the incident itself, but due to Vettel ‘s ability to catch him in the first place. One lap before the collision, Mark Webber was told to turn his engine revs down to save fuel.
Vettel was not.
Red Bull’s justification for this was that Vettel had to keep pushing to stay ahead of Hamilton. Red Bull Motorsport boss, Helmut Marko, said “Vettel was under enormous pressure from Hamilton. He had to do something otherwise Hamilton would overtake him”.
Surely the threat from Lewis was a problem for both Red Bull cars, not just Vettel, and they should have both kept pushing to stay ahead of the McLaren. If Vettel did end up passing Webber thanks to his extra speed, Hamilton would have started challenging Mark, and Red Bull would have simply swapped their drivers around instead of removing the threat from Lewis.
It was a very unusual strategy from Red Bull who usually ‘protect the leader’ when their two cars are running together. In previous races, the higher placed Red Bull driver has been given first choice of strategy, and this policy (which is completely fair) protected Vettel in Melbourne and Sepang. During those races, Webber was not allowed to pit a lap or two earlier to jump his teammate because Vettel was leading and was therefore given preferential treatment.
This was not the case in Istanbul.
Christian Horner explained that Vettel had saved fuel earlier in the race behind Lewis Hamilton and was therefore able to push harder than Webber on lap 40. That is a fair point, but giving the second Red Bull car an advantage to pass the leader goes against the strategic direction taken by the team in the past. Red Bull gave Vettel the opportunity to attack Webber, but did not give Webber the same opportunity to defend.
There is no hard evidence to suggest that Red Bull favours Sebastian Vettel over Mark Webber. However, there are other indications that Vettel may be the team’s preferred winner.
After the race, Helmut Marko, the man who acts as a liaison between Red Bull Racing and Dietrich Mateschitz, placed all of the blame for the accident on Mark Webber’s shoulders. Marko said “In the situation Sebastian was in, he had no other choice than to act the way he did. We informed Mark about the situation and it is for the driver to decide. The fact is that if Sebastian hadn’t passed he would have been overtaken by Hamilton.” His comments are only going to add fuel to the fire and will not make the situation at Red Bull any easier over the coming weeks.
Helmut Marko has a vested interest in Vettel’s career and has always been keen to promote the German’s talents whenever possible. He is the man responsible for the Red Bull Young Driver Program and can take a lot of credit for developing Vettel into a Grand Prix winner. Red Bull might not be biased against Mark Webber, but Marko certainly is, and he’s very influential within the organisation.
Christian Horner’s comments may also give the Australian some cause for concern.
After the race, Horner was asked if Vettel had any extra power than Webber at the time of their collision. His reply was that “both had the same engine maps”. Later on, after Webber had told journalists to “dig more”, Horner altered his statement and confirmed that “Mark had changed down into a fuel saving mode”.
Either the Red Bull boss was unaware that one of his drivers had caught the other because of a different strategy (something that Helmut Marko was clearly across) or he was simply trying to avoid the question. It suggests that he might have been trying to hide something. If Webber had not given the press a reason to question Red Bull’s strategy, the team might have been happy to let the world think that both drivers were racing with equal power.
Although there is no technical or strategic bias towards either driver at Red Bull, there may be a degree of emotional favouritism towards Sebastian Vettel. This may have fuelled the controversy that followed the Turkish Grand Prix.
The debrief at Red Bull this week will be fascinating. Management may be criticised for allowing one car to have a performance advantage over the other. Vettel may be criticised for causing a collision, and Webber may be criticised for telling the media to “dig more”.
There are no real positives coming out of this situation for Red Bull.
It will be interesting to see what impact this has, if any, on the contact negotiations between Red Bull and Mark Webber that are currently taking place. The 2011 driver market might suddenly spring back into life.
Expect to see a handshake between the two drivers in Canada along with a Red Bull statement that says everything is now fine between them. Don’t believe it. This incident will be in the minds of everyone at Red Bull for a long time to come.
McLaren self imploded in 2007 when their drivers fought for the championship and one felt the team was favouring the other. Even last year Brawn ran into trouble when Barrichello lost faith in his team’s management. Red Bull is now on course for the same spiral into defeat and it may end up costing them the World Championship.
They have already hit the self destruct button once.
Who do you think was to blame for the Red Bull crash? Leave your comments below.