Monday, 1 April 2013

Blame for Red Bull’s team orders incident should lie with Helmut Marko.

With the utterance of the derogatory words “Get him out of the way, he is too slow” during the Malaysian Grand Prix, it was clear to the world that Sebastian Vettel holds little respect for Mark Webber.  The moment his Red Bull swept past to take the lead, defying instructions from the pitwall, his lack of respect for the team was also transparent.  

Trust between the team mates was eroded during the Turkish Grand Prix in 2010. Running in first and second positions, Vettel attempted an overtaking manoeuvre on Mark resulting in a collision which put him out of the race and demoted Webber to third.  The short term ramifications of this incident was the loss of 28 points for the team, but long term, their fortieth lap smash left a relationship fragmented and fractured.    Although Vettel was the driver widely regarded to be at fault for the incident, Red Bull team advisor, Helmut Marko, came down firmly on his side apportioning the blame to Mark and his race engineer, Ciaron Pilbeam. 

The team mate tangle at Turkey that eroded trust between them.Photo:  

Following the race in Malaysia Mark Webber said that Sebastian will continue to be protected by the team.  Vettel is their protégé, they have nurtured him since he entered the Red Bull Junior team at the age of eleven and his relationship with Helmut Marko is strong.  The events in Istanbul, and ensuing defence of his actions by the team are an example of the protection Webber alluded to, and will have given the young German an inkling that he can do as he pleases.  If a child endures no consequences for behaviour, that behaviour will escalate. 

Three races later at the British Grand Prix, Mark Webber took victory despite having his new spec  front wing taken to replace Vettel’s, following damage caused by the German to the same part in practice.  Understandably still reeling from the blatant favouritism oozing from the aftermath of the race in Turkey, Webber was incensed by yet another example of spoilt Seb, and celebrated his win by making his feelings clear, “Not bad for a number two driver.”  A year later at Silverstone, hot on the tail of his sheltered team mate, Mark was told not to race him, an order the Australian chose to defy.  These actions can be understood considering the bias he battles against in the team.  Unfairness in any walk of life breeds bad feeling.

Helmut Marko further compounded the obvious nepotism surrounding the relationship between himself and Sebastian Vettel, and his disdain for Mark Webber by making negative comments about the performance and strength of the Australian earlier this year. 

Marko and Webber.  Photo:

Although the intended outcome of the recent episode of Red Bull team orders was in Mark Webber’s favour, the actual outcome was in total contrast.  Speaking after the race, Helmut Marko said, “But then came the attack against that strategy and it got out of control.  You couldn’t control it over the radio or anything like that.  Sebastian the racer came out and took the lead.”   In the same race Nico Rosberg respected team orders, so why can’t Vettel?  Who is to say that Nico is less hungry than Vettel?  Bernie Ecclestone’s defence made reference to the fact that he is a triple world champion so he knows what he is doing.  Do we make special allowances for drivers because they are championship winners?  The difference in the case of Vettel is that Red Bull and Helmut Marko in particular, have created and developed a selfish beast that can’t be tamed.  Who can halt petulance born from a culture of ‘what Seb wants, Seb gets?’

Sebastian Vettel has followed up his immediate apology for his actions in Malaysia by visiting the team’s base in Milton Keynes to make further admission of his mistake to members there.  As identified by Christian Horner, he has been surprised by the ferocity of the backlash.  Were his apologies genuine or were they compulsory to keep some measure of harmony in the team?  Having had Helmut Marko support him so staunchly, is it any wonder the team didn’t figure highly in his mind when he saw a chance for a win and pounced?    Maybe this incident will form part of a learning curve for him, helping him realise that he is not bigger than the team, and giving him an understanding of the effect selfish actions can have within a team environment. 

Vettel tries to make amends.  Photo:

As team principal, Horner’s priority is the constructor’s championship, so every decision made is a step towards that goal.  Having a united team striving towards the same goal is imperative for success and that means keeping Mark Webber happy; something he is well aware of.  Christian Horner explained that the conflict he needs to manage is not between the team mates, but between driver and team.  Vettel’s desire and greed for more wins and titles is all encompassing.  However he would not have amassed the trophies he has, were it not for the team and an impeccably designed car, but the safeguarding he has received from Helmut Marko has clouded his ability to recognise this.  Marko’s transparent love for Seb and equally obvious disparagement of Webber has been detrimental to the team and their aspirations.  If Vettel is unable to learn from this and if Helmut Marko fails to perceive what impact his partisan, biased treatment of the drivers has, then Horner will have a continuing battle to contend with. 

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