What Sebastian Vettel needs…

Mark Webber: hard but fair? Photo by Darren Heath

Mark Webber: hard but fair? Photo by Darren Heath

Mike Conway, currently recuperating from major surgery to his legs and spine, will know precisely what AJ Foyt meant when he described the consequences of two cars touching at racing speed on the banking at Indianapolis: “School’s out, baby.”

As the simmering tension behind the scenes at Red Bull Racing manifested itself before our very eyes at Turn 12 of Istanbul Park on Sunday, I was minded of another quote – one that is (pluggety plug) going to feature in my next book. Graham Hill, in a 1967 interview, said:

I have a little mental card index for every driver. No driver responds in exactly the same way, so I have this little mental index which I look up whenever I come up on another driver so that I know what to expect from him. If you know all this, obviously you’re not going to put yourself in a position which might be very embarrassing.

This might sound terribly self-righteous, and I don’t intend it to be, but very often a lot of near misses can be anticipated and this comes through experience with the people you’re driving against.

If Sebastian Vettel was in possession of such a card index he’d have known not to swerve into the path of Mark Webber in a crass attempt to intimidate him out of the way (if that’s what it was). Steering a Formula 1 car is like flying a kite; at 200mph the merest dip of the hand on the steering wheel can induce a sharp change of direction. Close analysis of the onboard footage shows that this is what Vettel did.

Webber? He moves over for no one. That nugget would come at the top of his entry in the card index. He is hard but fair, and tough as old boots.

On the face of it, a racing incident – an irresistible force meeting an immovable object. Behind it we can trace the fault lines of an increasingly fractious relationship – not so much between the drivers as between the racing team and Red Bull itself.

Commentators have been quick to accuse the team of outright bias towards Vettel. Let’s look at that in a level-headed way, shall we? Both Red Bull and McLaren approached the Turkish Grand Prix with a risky fuel strategy; McLaren were running light so as to push, and their quarry was doing the same in the hope that they could build a gap and then turn down the wick later.

The consequence of these opposed tactics was that Red Bull entered the middle segment of the race without the gap they desired. Worse, by lap 38, when Webber was instructed to change to a leaner fuel map, Vettel was carrying around a kilo more fuel – whether this is because he had embarked with more, or had burned less through running in the slipstream of Hamilton and then Webber, is open to question. Either way, Vettel had three more laps at full chat before he too would have to ‘lean off’.

We know what happened next on-track. Off it, the picture is murkier. Helmut Marko, Red Bull’s motorsport consultant, gave an interview to the energy drink’s TV channel on Monday in which he pointed the finger at Webber’s engineer, Ciaron Pilbeam, for failing to communicate the fact that Vettel was approaching rapidly in the laps before the collision.

On Sunday evening several journalists were briefed to the effect that Christian Horner had instructed Pilbeam to tell Webber to move over and let Vettel past, but that Pilbeam had been unable to bring himself to do so. This conversational lull may be what Marko was alluding to.

In an interview with the official Formula 1 website, Marko also emitted the following curious piece of doublethink:

The fact is that if Sebastian hadn’t passed [Webber] he would have been overtaken by Hamilton.

The manoeuvre was certainly born of desperation. And the irony here is that Hamilton was also fuel-critical. Still, it begs the question: why was protecting Vettel’s position the priority? Why should Webber sacrifice his lead?

You could make a strong argument here for saying that Vettel is the favoured driver at a most senior level – not so much within the race team, but back in Salzburg, whence the money flows. Marko has the ear of Red Bull magnate Dietrich Mateschitz and he was the most unequivocal in blaming Webber – when the majority of experts saw it quite differently. Horner initially sat on the fence, but during the course of Sunday evening gravitated towards the Marko view; interestingly, he appears to have dragged Marko back to a position of neutrality in their most recent pronouncements.

Helmut Marko: Give this man a boating lake! Photo by Darren Heath

Helmut Marko: Give this man a boating lake! Photo by Darren Heath

Webber’s key failings are that he is too old and not cool enough for Red Bull’s core demographic, and above all that he is neither German nor a product of the Red Bull young driver scheme (overseen by – ah yes – Helmut Marko).

Not that being any of the above would have yielded Webber any benefit as he hauled himself up the ladder all those years ago. Marko’s attention-deficit approach to superintending the careers of young drivers has wrecked every one but Vettel’s thus far; perhaps his management style would be better suited to running a small boating lake. You know: “Come in number six, your time is up…”

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  • Comments (17)
  1. brilliant post stuart.

    Still, it begs the question: why was protecting Vettel’s position the priority?

    that must be the number one question. can vettel not be trusted in the role of defensive driver?

    Marko’s attention-deficit approach to superintending the careers of young drivers has wrecked every one but Vettel’s thus far.

    and didi still listens to this man?

    • Aaron James
    • June 1st, 2010

    Mark Webber sure gets involved in a lot of racing incidents. I’m not so sure I would say he’s that fair actually. He’s more Michael Schumacher than Mika Hakkinen, that’s for sure.

    • Aaron James
    • June 1st, 2010

    PS, I say this as an Australian… :)

  2. It would be nice to hear what the race engineer who’s getting the blame had to say. It all seems to be a bit convenient that there is a scapegoat who isn’t a driver.

    I’m really miffed over this. It’s not so much that Vettel is being blamed as careless or even in some circles, dangerous but more for the fact that it makes me realise that Reb Bull are as full of bull as the next team. That refreshing breath of fresh air I felt in being a team supporter is fast disappearing… they are all full of it and changing their stories as fits the situation.

    Can someone please remind me why I love this sport?

  3. Well done Stuart.

    Well written and well researched.


  4. Webber’s key failings are that he is too old and not cool enough for Red Bull’s core demographic, and above all that he is neither German nor a product of the Red Bull young driver scheme (overseen by – ah yes – Helmut Marko).

    I don’t know what gives you that idea? I mean, it’s not like the supermarkets are stocking Sebastian Vettel branded Red Bull boxes, is it?

    Oh, they are?

    My favourite quote on this topic comes from Tony Dodgins’ recent article on Autosport. He said:

    Webber by contrast, is 33. Hardly pensionable but not the stuff of ‘yoof’ icons. All a load of old cobblers, I reckon. I’d be much more likely to swig a can of energy drink or tip it into whatever potent brew I’m supping if I thought it might sustain an Aussie who looks like he’s been cloned from an Action Man figurine, rather than a baby-faced German fresh out of the pushchair who might have eaten too many E-numbers with his Smarties. But you get the picture.

    Sums it up for me.

    • Stuart C
    • June 1st, 2010


    Webber by contrast, is 33.

    I’m sure he was 32 or 33 when I did a big interview with him and DC three years ago…

    • Steven Roy
    • June 1st, 2010

    I really would love to know if Vettel genuinely believed Webber was just going to move aside for him. Presumably he must have or he would not have made such a stupid move. Maybe Webber does move aside when Seb races him on his PS3.

    I think it will be interesting to see how this pans out. Does Webber decide with the senior management so clearly againt him that extending his contract is a bad idea and look at other opportunities? Do the team decide they have to get him to commit to a new contract so that he is more controllable?

    Just as well Hamilton got the position back from Button or we could have two teams going through this.

  5. Great post!
    I love the Graham Hill quote

    BTW, great book too, can’t wait for the next one!

  6. I’m sure he was 32 or 33 when I did a big interview with him and DC three years ago…

    Queue the ongoing question regarding Webber’s age!

    I can remember reading somewhere that a former classmate disputed his age, but damned if I can find it now.

    He shares his birthday with Derek Warwick and Gerhard Berger.

    I’m a fountain of knowledge me.

    • Elephino
    • June 1st, 2010

    Number 6 your time is up.


    Number 9 are you in trouble?

    • Uppili
    • June 2nd, 2010

    While i understand why the discussion about an F1 driver’s age comes up given that most loose their edge in their mid to late thirties, i think it is a bit unfair on Mark in particular. So long as he is fast and fit, age should just be a number.

    • maria
    • June 2nd, 2010

    All is fair in love and in war, and this is war in racing! you just dont expect Webber to give up his number one position to a team mate, do you? they could have a one-two finish if Vettel didnt make that stupid move, and he really made a right swipe on Webber’s car and Webber just maintained his ground, so dont blame him for this useless mishap, blame it on the red bull management team for ordering such a crazy move! I would exactly have done the same thing that Webber did, he was the race leader at the time, of course he would not give way and give away valuable points because he knows deep in his heart and soul that he could win that race!!!

  7. I think I’m in agreement with 99% of the internet in placing the blame with Vettel.

    As you say, top of the Webber card are “will leave space” and “won’t deviate from line” and Vettel should know this from his teammate.

    Webber does get involved in alot of incidents as Aaron mentions, but I think that’s more down to not having the whisker accurate judgement of a Montoya or a Hamilton in his moves, so if they are marginal, he usually blows it (Australia 2010 being a classic example). Not through Schuie-esque malice but more through being a tiny bit rubbish :)

    Saying that, the old Schuie still hasn’t returned and I was thoroughly impressed by his Monaco last corner green light overtake and his ongoing cheerfullness and willingness to give interviews. Long may it continue!

    • michael
    • June 2nd, 2010

    Dear Stuart, please can you have a look at the Macca situation? It seems to me that McLaren actually pulled an identical stunt on Lewis by telling him three laps earlier to tune the rythm down with exact lap times but not doing the same with Jenson thereby putting Jenson in a position to do as Vettel tried – which is where I believe Jenson also needs that mental card of at least his team-mate, stating – Can’t touch this! Can Lewis trust Macca, can he trust Whitmarsch, is Whitmarsh trying to prove himself and his decisions over Jenson, since Lewis is Ron’s kid? I would love to have an insight on Whitmarsh/Lewis/Jenson and Ron :-) since even the BBC is plugging Jenson like hell.

    All the best1

    great blog – it seems so much more philosophical than attitudinal – wish you had time to write more!

    • Stuart C
    • June 2nd, 2010


    I’ve been a bit flat out recently, trying to finish my second book, but the McLaren situation certainly does bear investigation…

  8. I think Red Bull are creating a monster. Their bias towards Vettel is shielding him from the full brunt of the citicism he deserves.

    In the long-run this wonlt be god for Vettel.

    Brilliant article by the way.

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