Thursday, 28 March 2013

A product of his own success, Red Bull’s ‘Golden Boy’ won’t settle for the silver spoon.

Since the chequered flag dropped in Malaysia, the headlines have been alive with opinion surrounding Sebastian Vettel's seemingly infamous victory. 

Some opinions have been laughable and some more plausible but what is clear is the fallout created from Sunday's result is simply not going to be swept under the carpet by Red Bull Racing. The main issue Christian Horner has is the majority of this soap opera between his two drivers was played out openly in front of the world’s media. Not being able to contain the incident and deal with it internally opens Red Bull up to fierce criticism from its closest rivals and figureheads within the sport. Airing your dirty washing in public is an Achilles heel for RBR. It enables opponents to openly offer opinion and destabilise the RBR environment furthermore. External forces fuelling the fire will only serve to hinder the unity within the team. This is a prime example of the importance of good management so these incidents are contained and dealt with internally, away from the prying public eye. 

How badly will Sebastian Vettel's actions on Sunday affect the performance and unity of RBR?! Only time will tell. Mark Webber was not the only victim on Sunday. Vettel has not put only himself in a difficult position but various other key figures within the team too. Luckily for Vettel, immunity seems to be among his strongest suits. Are Red Bull Racing creators of their own downfall regarding this scenario?! I'll come back to this later. 

There are various key issues surrounding Vettel’s actions. I have touched on one above but I think the primary question on the tip of everyone's tongue is: Was Sebastian Vettel right to overtake an unsuspecting Mark Webber?! 

'Multi 21' was the call from the pit wall meaning hold position. Vettel, buoyed by being slowed by Webber earlier on in the race, chose to ignore this call. Was it a request or an order from Christian Horner? We will never know the contractual obligations regarding 'Multi 21' if any, but what we do know is the understanding surrounding the command is very different between the two RBR drivers. Mercedes had no trouble containing their drivers, Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, clearly understood the situation. Is there a respect issue between Vettel and Webber?! Of course and coupled with a 3 time world champion’s insatiable appetite to win, you can sort of understand why second place behind Webber was not an option for Vettel.

So was Vettel right to pass Webber?! No is the simple answer to that. Within elite sport, the margins between success and failure are very slight. Some would argue the margins are almost invisible. At the weekend, Sebastian Vettel came very close to recreating the infamous 2010 incident between the pair, where they clashed during the Turkish Grand Prix. ‘Multi 21’ is a procedure in place for very obvious professional reasons. I personally do not agree with starving the fans of a race but understand the merits of doing so for the teams involved. On top of potentially creating a repeat of Turkey, Vettel has created a very ambiguous situation moving forwards, not only for him but also for the team and various key figures within. 

It is clear that Sebastian Vettel should not have done what he did but I understand why he did it. At Red Bull there is no clear No.1 and No.2 driver. Or shall I rephrase that: Red Bull openly state that each driver is treated with equal merit. There are no team orders. Unfortunately, historically, this has clearly not been the case. Vettel is the Red Bull ‘Golden Child’; a product of Dietrich Mateschitz and Dr. Helmut Marko. Vettel knows this, Mark Webber knows this and seemingly so does Christian Horner based on his sheepish reaction to the situation as it was unfolding on Sunday. 

To go back to my point above: Are Red Bull Racing creators of their own downfall? Dietrich Mateschitz and Dr. Helmut Marko have created through the Red Bull Driver Program a very confident, calculated and self assured individual in Sebastian Vettel. After all, he has 27 of RBR's 35 race victories. He has been pivotal to the success of the team. Who wouldn't feel invincible? So strong is Vettel's belonging, self-belief and relationship with Dietrich Mateschitz and Dr. Helmut Marko, it has almost rendered Team boss Christian Horner powerless. Never more was that so obvious than on Sunday afternoon. Vettel believes he has earned the right to do what he did in Sepang. He is also a clever and clinical winner. Winning is part of his make-up and it certainly comes before dealing with the consequences of his approach.

Interestingly enough, post-race Vettel did show weakness. Sebastian wants to be liked, he likes to be liked and that has wrongly been diagnosed as a facade by some. But no doubt about it, Sebastian Vettel does not wear the hatred of his actions as well as some of his peers would! There was definite guilt on show during the post race interviews, leaving him even more exposed. He would have been better off showing complete conviction and admitting his actions as being calculated and deliberate. However, he felt the pressure and did not. Having said that, do not expect a different Vettel come China as in the heat of battle winning matters to him and consequences do not. But how it affects his human element away from the confines of his crash helmet will be interesting to observe. It all depends on how this is dealt with internally. Personally, I cannot see the Sebastian Vettel wagon being destabilised which leaves Christian Horner in an almost impossible position.

Where does Red Bull go from here? I think it is Christian Horner's position that gives Dietrich Mateschitz the biggest headache. In Vettel, Red Bull has created a winning machine that cannot be suppressed or deflated. They do, however, need someone who can control his direction; an individual who he respects and understands. Can Christian Horner deliver this? Based on Sunday's performance, no!

As for Mark Webber, sadly, nothing can rescue the damage done in Sepang. It is disrespectful towards Webber to expect him to buy into any remorse from Vettel or to buy into any promises made internally off the back of this fallout. Webber is too mature and too professional to openly seek revenge but should the situation ever arise that Vettel needs his help, I don't think he'll be taking the call.


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