Sepang 2013 – the bitter aftermath

lewispodiumsepangWow, what a race! You look away for a matter of seconds and the racing positions have dramatically changed, team orders have been vehemently ignored and team bosses shake their heads. The last time I can trace tension back this far is Turkey 2010.

As a writer, the events in Malaysia are a gift presented directly from the Motorsport Gods, as controversy and debate once again dominate the news headlines. As a fan however, my celebrations are somewhat muted. Motor racing is exactly that; the wheel-to-wheel action of two drivers each equally as hungry. Team orders do not fit this interpretation.

In fact, the term “team orders” is a sore point amongst fans. Once banned, the FIA admitted defeat as they remained powerless to the internal team politics that were witnessed in Sepang. First one must start with the winners, history shows us that Red Bull often have problems separating the racer from the team player.

In 2010, Vettel apologised, won the championship and the world of Formula 1 moved on. “He’s young” was the excuse so often used in his defence. Now a triple world champion, some appear to be less forgiving. Webber emerged today as the team player, Vettel the villain, who used potentially selfish tactics for a moment of racing glory.

Mark Webber admitted he has held back in the past. Should Vettel therefore do the same? Technically yes, the interests of the team (the men and women who create the car in the first place) always come first in Formula 1. But maybe that’s where Vettel stands apart from his team mate? His overtaking manoeuvres won him the championship last year as he was forced to fight his way to the front. One can’t help but feel for Mark Webber as his 25 points are demoted to just 18 in a matter of a few corners.

“I am not happy I won” said a subdued Sebastian Vettel however if the German wins a fourth championship this year, by seven points, I question whether he will show the same regret for his actions.

Another question that could be posed: is it too early for team orders? It is only the second race of the season, no championship victory can be predicted accurately yet. “I messed up today”, the young German admitted but should the team use such methods at this stage? Given their recent history as drivers, and Webber’s recent body language, you would be excused for forgiving Red Bull – team orders may have been at the sacrifice of racing but it was designed to keep the dominant racing emotions of their drivers in check. Well, in theory anyway. Patterns in Red Bull’s racing history suggest why this may be the case.

Interestingly Mercedes took a similar approach, remember the old karting combination of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton are only enjoying their second Grand Prix as team mates. After Rosberg’s reliabilty issue in Melbourne, a finish in the points was key. The order came from the top, Mr Ross Brawn himself, an indication of stress and unease following the German’s retirement in Australia and the loss of valuable points.

It was the Mercedes team order that angered some more than that of the Red Bull. Not competing for a victory and with Hamilton saving fuel, perhaps it was only fair only to give Rosberg his spot on the podium? Now in his fourth year with the team, loyalty could have been considered. After all, the pressure on the German outfit is minuscule compared to the defending champions. With a new driver line up, who have more than 240 Grand Prix starts between them, 2013 is the year to take risks.

Lewis Hamilton thought his team mate deserved the podium given the circumstances, but the whole situation is tough to call.

ImageDrivers are respectful, Webber himself admitted his respect for Vettel has not declined, nor has the German’s for him. Lee McKenzie posed a meaningful question: can Webber win a championship at Red Bull? If so, this respect and understanding would be key, even if the Australian does not have the same inner-team “protection” as his younger team mate.

Respect too should come from the team to their championship contenders – only at the back of the grid for 10th place in the Constructors would team orders largely be ignored by fans. Having raced for so long, the teams should probably trust that the experience of their drivers would be enough.

However if a team order comes through then the respect goes to that team – without them the drivers would not have the luxury of a race seat to begin with. It’s a tough call, Vettel raced, Rosberg held back.

With three weeks until the cars fire up in anger again in China, two teams, four drivers and millions of fans will have time to stew on the decisions made come race day. Rosberg was the last man to win in China; I predict that redemption and revenge may be on the cards.

Formula 1 will recover from this; the sport moved on quickly from the Piquet Jr/Alonso team orders fiasco that saw a deliberate crash occur on track. Ultimately, sporting politics should not dictate the result but sometimes it will. This is modern day Formula 1. Rubens Barrichello often moved aside to let Michael Schumacher take the victory. The German’s career is remembered fondly in spite of this.

As a fan, I would rather be writing about the great pace shown by Bianchi or the pit stop drama of the Force India’s, but this weekend, these are merely side notes to a truly extraordinary race weekend.

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4 thoughts on “Sepang 2013 – the bitter aftermath

  1. It was certainly very exciting. Fair play to Hamilton who said it was bittersweet and that he couldn’t enjoy the podium because he felt that Rosberg should have been there, but the tension between Vettel and the rest of his team was palpable.
    On a side note, Alonso made a stupid decision in not getting his wing fixed immediately and I’m really disappointed with the pace of the current McClaren car, Perez has almost gone backwards in moving.
    What are your thoughts on the McClaren car? Will they go back to the 2012 car despite saying they’ll stick with the current model?
    And are the Mercedes going to continue being this competetive?

    • Rosberg and Hamilton are friends, they holiday together and they’re neighbours in Monaco so once the helmet is off, I can understand Hamilton’s reaction.
      Ferrari’s mistake not his! Alonso can’t just enter the pits without their say-so, they won’t be ready for him! They have admitted this themselves.
      Can’t see McLaren changing model; that car didn’t really contest the championship anyway and the team have suffered set backs before. Once Perez becomes more experienced with the team and their first batch of upgrades arrive, I expect some change.
      Mercedes are having a good start to the season, China suits Nico’s driving style (especially in the wet) but it will again depend on upgrades. Lewis seems confident in the team but I expect Lotus, Red Bull and possibly Force India to bring stronger upgrades with them.

  2. Thank you for an amazing blog. I can’t help but agree with most of your points. It’s a pity that team orders were supposed to dominate the race. And to be honest as a fan, even though I support Mark Webber a lot a lot more than Sebastian Vellel, I was thankful to Vettel for the show they put on together with Mark. When I was whispering please-Mark-hold-on, when I completely forgot to breath I didn’t know that all of this was not supposed to be happening. I was watching two brilliant drivers putting on a show, for which we love Formula 1.

    I feel for Mark, but the win has never been his. It was RedBull’s, and Vettel had something against the intended distribution of those 43 points. The whole thing with apologies disgusts me to be honest. And I really hope that the media and the fans will move on. Pity that RedBull probably won’t.

    • Great, pleased you like it! It seems what the fans want and the teams want are very different, this is probably the root cause of the conflict. Red Bull hoped Seb would side with the team, he didn’t.
      I was the same. Those moments, when I am pacing round a room, unable to sit down or breathe, are definitely the best. If they were with different teams the whole scenario would be different.
      I’m sure the media will continue to discuss this matter if only a few points separate the drivers. Personally though, I would rather Seb won outright by seven points than lose because the team didn’t let him reveal his full potential. As you say, it creates great racing as well. Having spoken to some drivers in other series, they all agree – racing comes first.
      It will be interesting to see how this changes the team dynamics over at Red Bull, especially as Mark nears retirement and his final years to contest a championship approach.

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