Like many, I watched the podium ceremony after yesterday’s Malaysian Grand Prix with more than a little bit of grumpiness.
Mark Webber, who had led from early in the race after passing his pole-sitting team-mate, looked, by the final pit stops on lap 43, to be heading for a well-deserved victory. His team had told him to look after his tyres, which meant that he had to slow up a bit and not push the car to its limits. After all, a car that blows up or ruins its tyres on the last lap is no good to man or beast. This needed the co-operation of Sebastian Vettel, who was ordered to hold his position.
The triple world champion was not happy with that. He’d complained earlier in the race that Mark was holding him up. At that point, he’d have been free to pass him and didn’t. When the team orders were given, he disobeyed them, pulling a pretty reckless passing move close to the pit wall that could have taken them both out. Team Principal Christian Horner was heard to say “This is silly, Seb.”
But he got past and took the victory. Mark Webber was clearly unhappy, offering no congratulations and not engaging with Vettel in the podium ceremony.
Eventually Vettel apologised, saying, slightly melodramatically, that he would have a hard job sleeping last night. A little late for that, I think.
It’s been clear to many that the Red Bull team revolves around Vettel. It’s very unusual for a decision or an order that is in Mark’s favour to be issued. It was annoying that when that did happen, the order was disregarded.
So, what happens now? Will Red Bull make him give the position back should he try anything like that in the future? I can’t see that happening. However, there may be a more interesting consequence. When did we last see a great show of form from Mark Webber? In 2010, when relations between the two Red Bull drivers were at their worst. If Webber hadn’t broken his shoulder before the Korean Grand Prix, then there’s a good chance he, not Vettel, could have been the world champion then.
When Mark feels he has been unjustly treated, he is at his best. Let’s hope that Vettel has set in train a course of events that gives Mark the title he deserves. He has been one of the most consistent and fair drivers on the grid in recent years, as well as being a pretty decent human being. It’s time to see achieve the greatness we know he’s capable of.
Elsewhere in the race, how funny was it to see Lewis Hamilton turn into his old McLaren pit spot? I can’t by rights say that I’d never do anything so ditsy, so I have no right to laugh, really, but I did.
Hamilton and his team-mate Nico Rosberg were at the centre of another “team orders” story yesterday when Nico was ordered to stay behind Lewis. Team managers were worried that the cars were not sufficiently fuelled to get to the end of the race and needed to keep them both from running out. Nico was livid that he wasn’t allowed to pass Lewis, although many speculate that Lewis has his position as number one driver written into his contract. Ross Brawn had to patiently explain to Nico over team radio why he had to reign in his natural instincts.
These sorts of team orders are understandable. The sort of thing I really object to is the ridiculous situation where Rubens Barrichello was made to let Schumacher pass purely for points in the championship at an early stage in the season. That’s not the situation we had yesterday.
Apart from Webber, the biggest loser of yesterday was Fernando Alonso. He was not pulled in at the end of lap 1 even though his front wing was hanging by a thread. It was understandable that Ferrari might want to wait until they could be sure it was wise to hange from intermediate tyres to slicks at the same time, but they should have realised that that wing was not going to stay on. If it had bucked a couple of seconds earlier, Mark Webber could have been seriously hurt. As it was, everyone was fine, but that, to me, was yet another Ferrari strategic blunder which could, come the end of the season, cost Alonso dear.