Malaysia 2013: Why Vettel was right

Michael Lamonato Columnist

By Michael Lamonato, Michael Lamonato is a Roar Expert

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    Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Red Bull Racing celebrates in parc ferme after winning the Spanish Formula One Grand Prix at the Circuit de Catalunya (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

    The Formula One world was a little bit worried heading into the Malaysian Grand Prix.

    With Easter falling early, it’s now three weeks until the next race in China. What on earth would we talk about until then?

    Luckily, Sepang had a few tricks up its sleeve.

    Team orders have an uncanny ability to steal the spotlight despite being an integral part of Formula One and – notwithstanding an eight year ban between 2002 and 2011 – being totally legal.

    That alone will undoubtedly rankle a few people, but let’s not forget that World Championships have been decided by team orders. In 1964 John Surtees was let through by teammate Lorenzo Bandini to win the title by a single point. Team orders have been, and always will be, a part of Formula One.

    First, let’s look at Mercedes. Hamilton and Rosberg came home P3 and P4. Hamilton used more fuel than Rosberg over the course of the race and had to switch his car into miser mode just to finish.

    Rosberg was ordered to follow him home despite having more fuel to burn.

    Was the call right or wrong?

    Malaysia is the home for Mercedes title sponsor Petronas. The team wooed star driver Hamilton over the summer – wouldn’t you want to get him up on the podium and show him off a bit?

    What Mercedes didn’t count on was Hamilton denouncing the orders on the podium. It seems, at heart, Hamilton really is a McLaren driver after all those years racing under the Dennis/Whitmarsh philosophy. But the call, for the team, was right.

    Red Bull’s situation is a little more complex.

    The tension between Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel is well known after *that* collision in Turkey, 2010. Ever since, Webber has never felt he’s being treated equally at Red Bull.

    Despite this, he’s has generally towed the party line on track. But this weekend the team was in a situation in which Mark was leading Sebastian and, to its credit, it made the call. It wanted both cars home safe and, since the Championship is still in its early stages, it was going to give the win to Mark. No challenges. No passing. Webber-Vettel, 1-2.

    Yet the result is the opposite situation. Vettel disregarded his orders. He took the race into his own hands and decided he should win.

    But was it right or wrong?

    Vettel disobeyed his team. He put at risk all 43 points it had earnt that race. He threatened the already tenuous Red Bull harmony. But he was right to do so.

    There it is, I said it. With the qualification that his manoeuvring as he tried to pass his own teammate was brash, dangerous, and petulant, Vettel was right to pass Mark Webber.

    Put your monocle back in and look at it objectively. Sebastian Vettel is a triple World Champion. He knows he’s better than Webber. Mark is one of the top five drivers out there at the moment, but put him wheel-to-wheel with Vettel and he’ll come off second best. And Vettel knows no team will ever punish a defending triple World Champion for breaking the rules.

    Therefore, if Red Bull is able to secure a title for one of its drivers this year, Vettel will surely be the one to take the trophy home. The last three years have confirmed that it’s right to bank on this probability.

    Moreover, on the evidence of the two rounds just raced, Formula One in 2013 will be closer than it’s ever been before.

    Five teams are in race-winning contention this season, so every point will count when the standings are tallied at the end of November.

    So you’re sitting in your car. Ahead of you is a driver that is unlikely to beat you in the Championship. You know you need all the points you can get to fend off this extraordinarily close field. You can outrace him on track. What do you do?

    You pass him. Of course you pass him.

    Did he break his team’s rules? Undoubtedly. Was it morally reprehensible? Most certainly. But it was right.

    It was a decision calculated on what will be the most probable outcome at the end of the season, and Vettel just tilted the table in his favour. He was right, and it may well prove to be a decisive moment in his title defence.

    As a final point, I’ve seen a few comparisons between Vettel’s actions and those of Michael Schumacher at the height of his ruthlessness – all that win-at-all-costs behaviour that lost him a great deal of popularity.

    Drivers aren’t racing for plaudits, they’re out there for Championships. Schumacher won seven.

    I’d call him a pretty good example for success, wouldn’t you?

    Michael Lamonato
    Michael Lamonato

    Michael is one-third of F1 podcast Box of Neutrals, as heard weekly on ABC Grandstand Digital nationwide. Though he's been part of the F1's travelling press room since 2012, people seem more interested in the time he was sick in a kart — but don't ask about that, follow him on Twitter instead @MichaelLamonato.

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    The Crowd Says (58)

    • Editor

      March 25th 2013 @ 3:11pm
      Tristan Rayner said | March 25th 2013 @ 3:11pm | ! Report

      As I see it Michael, the problem wasn’t that both drivers were in a race. Mark was specifically told that the race was over. No fighting for position. There’s not a lot you can do when you’re blindsided by your petulant teammate. That’s why it’s not ‘right’.

      But the elite of the elite are more hell bent. It’s what drives guys like Lance Armstrong to not see error in their way. Sure, they may have few friends (Mark and Lance were friends at one point, before Lance burned him).

      But they have trophies. And that’s what matters, right?

      Nb. I’m an unashamedly passionate fan of Mark Webber.

      • Columnist

        March 25th 2013 @ 3:36pm
        Brett McKay said | March 25th 2013 @ 3:36pm | ! Report

        well put Tristo, couldn’t have said it better..

      • Columnist

        March 25th 2013 @ 3:41pm
        Michael Lamonato said | March 25th 2013 @ 3:41pm | ! Report

        I think we have to be careful with just how far we take this argument, because there’s definitely scope to bring in that ‘slippery slope’. Vettel and Armstrong are in wildly different leagues of the moral scale, here.

        That said, morally speaking, there is no question that what Vettel did was unjust. Mark was at a disadvantage, he had his engine turned down. I also agree that Vettel was particularly impatient with Mark – which struck me as a little unusual. He’s been known to get flustered in the car before, but Red Bull was looking comfortable at the front of the field for most of the race. He did seem slightly out of character – or perhaps this is his true character…

        But Vettel must know that he has a significantly greater chance of winning the Championship than Mark. Points lost to Webber during a safe Red Bull race are points taken away from Vettel, who has a tendency to hold up the team when Webber’s not performing.

        I could be wrong in the end – Mark could have a stand-out year and blow the field (and his teammate) away from next round. But it’s far more likely the opposite will be true. In that case, was it worth the risk of not passing Mark and losing those seven points to his rivals?

        And, ultimately, it is the Championships that count. I don’t think that makes him a bad person – it’s a sport after all, and you’re racing to win.

        • Editor

          March 25th 2013 @ 3:48pm
          Tristan Rayner said | March 25th 2013 @ 3:48pm | ! Report

          Ah – nail on the head at the end your second paragraph. That’s Vettel’s true character. There’s always whispers of it. He’s not jokey-go-lucky in his team.

          I admire your persistence with your argument – you make a point. I just can’t agree with it, possibly due to my inherent pro-Webber bias. No doubt, Vettel thinks he is the best and would be unable to understand why he couldn’t win.

          Cheers! Enjoying your writing.

        • March 27th 2013 @ 1:09pm
          kid said | March 27th 2013 @ 1:09pm | ! Report

          You need to remember that Formulae 1 is a team sport not an individual one as it might seem. Drivers reley on the strategy of team bosses and must adhere to what they are being told. Seb has effectively sabotaged his own team for personal glory.

      • March 26th 2013 @ 2:12pm
        Kenneth said | March 26th 2013 @ 2:12pm | ! Report

        You say that about trophies, and my mind goes back to Senna and Prost in ’89. What do people remember them for again?

      • March 27th 2013 @ 1:57pm
        Macca said | March 27th 2013 @ 1:57pm | ! Report

        Exactly – It’s like saying tying a rabbit down before hunting it is fair, Webber was no longer racing, he was coasting – overtaking him in that position isn’t “right”! And if Vettel is the better driver why wasn’t he in front?

    • March 25th 2013 @ 3:26pm
      Jim Bom said | March 25th 2013 @ 3:26pm | ! Report

      Your logic isn’t sound. As you know, Webber had dialed down the revs on his engine as instructed by team management. As you also know, Vettel took advantage at that, admitting as much in the post race press conference.
      However, also remember that team mates are not expected to aggressively drive against each other. If it had been Hamilton attacking Webber, for example, he would have been quite within his rights on turn 4 to go wider and put his challenger on the grass thus having Hamilton losing a second or so and eliminating the challenge at that point. You do not do that with team mates however.
      On every level Vettel’s actions took advantage of Webber as his team mate, knowing team orders and knowing he won’t be run wide. It shows his contempt for Webber, and with Helmut Marko as his chief fanboy, he knows nothing but a few strong words will be his punishment. However Vettel’s, and Marko’s and Horner’s real concern has to be, just how much of a bitch can payback be?

      • Columnist

        March 25th 2013 @ 3:55pm
        Michael Lamonato said | March 25th 2013 @ 3:55pm | ! Report

        I’m not arguing that he didn’t take advantage of Webber. In fact, I’m arguing exactly that. And I’m not calling his style of racing clever, either – that is my one qualification. Vettel’s moves on Webber were dangerous, and risked the entire race. On every level, the way he went about it was wrong.

        This behaviour doesn’t make a good teammate – but then, how much longer will Webber be his teammate anyway?

        It doesn’t promote team harmony – but the team almost exists at this point to promote Sebastian Vettel. He’s the first Red Bull-grown Champion and, as you said, the team is too behind him to really want to punish him anyway.

        It also doesn’t win fans – but it does win Championships.

        In the future, when we look back at this era of racing, Vettel will be remembered for the number of titles he won, and if pulling this move on Webber adds an extra one to that tally, the good added to his legacy will outweigh the bad.

        • March 25th 2013 @ 5:51pm
          Blaze said | March 25th 2013 @ 5:51pm | ! Report

          Sure vettel will be remembered for how many titles he won, but do you think, now, that’s all he will be remembered for? I doubt it, not in this country anyway. There is a lot to be sed for an honest and team playing second place, which in many ways to the general public will linger longer in memories. As will the cheating “dog” act of a first place of a spoilt brat with no morals. I know which I’d rather be remembered for…. Great article tho mate, really enjoyed it!

          • Columnist

            March 26th 2013 @ 3:39pm
            Michael Lamonato said | March 26th 2013 @ 3:39pm | ! Report

            I think this generation may well remember this sort of Vettel: the ruthless driver who’s looking out for himself – but his legacy will be more positive than negative. I think Michael Schumacher had some significantly darker moments in his career, but it’s difficult to get past his record-breaking seven titles first. His legacy, in the long run, will be as the most (for now, anyway) successful driver in our sport.

            Don’t forget, Vettel’s a numbers man. He loves collecting trophies and trinkets to add to his collection – constantly itching to set fastest laps and such. Winning more Championships will be above making a nice public image for himself on his list of priorities. I think that’s closer to truth for most of Formula One’s legendary drivers, as well.

        • March 25th 2013 @ 10:27pm
          DMac said | March 25th 2013 @ 10:27pm | ! Report

          Can I be honest? Your article makes me feel a little sick. There is no sense in which what Vettel did was right. It was one of the lowest acts I’ve seen in sport. He proved he is one of the true villains in sport, and should be treated as such from here on. Please, stop trying to justify his actions and condemn him.

    • March 25th 2013 @ 3:48pm
      Average Aussie said | March 25th 2013 @ 3:48pm | ! Report

      Lance Armstrong wouldn’t do it. He knew when to win friends in the peleton to his advantage (even during the time there were bonus seconds for finishing first, Lance had handed stage victory to riders who agreed to work with him at the front).

      It is early in the season. Mark was no match to Seb the last couple of years; he is likely to fade away when the season progresses. Come later in the year it is better to have an extra trusted ally in the race than another enemy.

      I can’t help but think that a scenario will come up at the last race of the season when Seb needing 15 points for the championship racing at 3rd position needs to fend off Mark running 4th, who is going to retire and has nothing to lose.

      • Columnist

        March 25th 2013 @ 4:01pm
        Michael Lamonato said | March 25th 2013 @ 4:01pm | ! Report

        What a story that’d be! I hope that comes to pass, it’d add an amazing twist to the season.

        It’s true, Vettel did himself no favours with Mark should he need his help in the rest of the season. And we can always trust Webber to race hard when he feels he’s been wronged, as we learnt at Silverstone in 2010 after the front wing debacle.

    • March 25th 2013 @ 3:57pm
      Red Kev said | March 25th 2013 @ 3:57pm | ! Report

      While I disagree with the central point of your article, I place all the blame on Webber.
      He was clear of Vettel when the orders came through, he knows Vettel is the team No.1 and will not be punished (and no punishment is going to reverse the podium and Championship points anyway), and he knows Vettel personally.
      Why would Webber and his pit crew let Vettel within 1.0s of them in the wind down of the race? As soon as he started to close it should have been an automatic decision to turn the revs back up and leave him behind.
      That was Webber’s race, he lacked the ruthlessness to take it and I blame his naivety.

      • Roar Guru

        March 25th 2013 @ 5:02pm
        TheGenuineTailender said | March 25th 2013 @ 5:02pm | ! Report

        He turned the revs down because otherwise he’d have run out of fuel. The option to turn them back up would have resulted in a DNF or at least another pit stop for petrol which would have left Vettel a mile in front anyway…

      • March 25th 2013 @ 5:13pm
        Red Kev said | March 25th 2013 @ 5:13pm | ! Report

        Sorry I don’t believe that, you don’t send a guy out with not enough fuel to finish. Vettel was able to finish. It isn’t like Webber had to floor it, just not let Vettel charge past him.
        If he truly didn’t have enough fuel then he needs to have words with his crew chief.

        • March 25th 2013 @ 5:56pm
          Jim Bom said | March 25th 2013 @ 5:56pm | ! Report

          No, I doubt he didn’t have enough fuel. I believe the reason the team instructions at the final pit stop to hold position was to ensure the engine (8 engines allowed for the whole season) was not compromised, the gear box was not burdened and the tyres were preserved. Why battle when the championship points appeared to be in the bag. Yes, of course Vettel disregarded the instructions for personal gain, he is the star of the team and Webber is there to collect points for the WCC, as is Massa and Rosberg. Marko’s comments in January make clear what he thinks of Webber, with more than a grain of truth it must be said. The point of debate is not that Vettel is the best driver, but he chose not to consider Webber a team mate but an adversary and as such disregarded the race strategy for his own benefit. It is easy to accept this if you are a fan of Vettel, much harder, if you are, like me, a long time admirer of Webber. But that’s F1, and like Premier League football, controversy is an accepted and maybe necessary part of the sport.

          • Roar Guru

            March 25th 2013 @ 7:48pm
            TheGenuineTailender said | March 25th 2013 @ 7:48pm | ! Report

            Okay, I was wrong. But the principle is the same. Webber was told to ease off with the assurance that Vettel would not attack. But that wasn’t the case…

        • March 25th 2013 @ 6:25pm
          Blaze said | March 25th 2013 @ 6:25pm | ! Report

          I think the consequences of mark not obeying team orders would be a lot different to vettels….. Especially if it ended in both cars not finishing the race… Vettel is the golden boy, mark was never going to come out of that race with any kind of team support if he disobeyed team orders. The only “good” result was to do exactly what he did and make vettel look the fool.
          Team orders may be a joke and frustrate the hell out of everyone, but the fact remains, team orders are team orders and if you drive for a team you should obey them. Otherwise get rid of them.
          How you can place the blame on webber is beyond me, he did what he was told to do by the team, and expected his “team mate” to do likewise…. It’s ridiculous to lay blame on someone for trusting a team mate follow team orders, regardless of how much a brown nose to the boss he is. Sad part is, no matter who gets the second car gig after webber goes, they will do so knowing that they will be insignificant now. However, not a bad gig for a driver who doesn’t care about winning championships or isnt really passionate about racing.

        • Roar Guru

          March 25th 2013 @ 8:07pm
          Mark Young said | March 25th 2013 @ 8:07pm | ! Report

          Believe it or not Red Kev, not a single car on he grid has enough fuel to run at full pace for the entire lap.

          Since the weight is such a major disadvantage, they underfuel the car so the driver can push for most of the race but has to conserve fuel at other times. The key factor is when this takes place.

          • March 25th 2013 @ 9:15pm
            Red Kev said | March 25th 2013 @ 9:15pm | ! Report

            My point still stands, he didn’t need to go full throttle, just up the ante enough to keep Seb in second.

            • Roar Rookie

              March 25th 2013 @ 10:06pm
              josh said | March 25th 2013 @ 10:06pm | ! Report

              He shouldn’t have had too. If Vettel listened.

              The real question is Mark hates Seb, Mark was offered a drive elsewhere turned it down to stay on with with Seb. Why?

              • March 26th 2013 @ 12:18am
                Red Kev said | March 26th 2013 @ 12:18am | ! Report

                Because the Red Bull car is his best shot a world title

    • March 25th 2013 @ 7:48pm
      nolovein said | March 25th 2013 @ 7:48pm | ! Report

      webber should have punched him.Like to see him expain that on the podium. Just anoter arrogant Grman with world domination tendencies.

      • March 28th 2013 @ 10:14am
        sols said | March 28th 2013 @ 10:14am | ! Report

        As one poster posted, has everyone forgotten Silverstone 2011 when WEB ignored/defied the order not to pass VET? Where was the backlash towards him then? People are quick to say that VET should be punished for his actions, but was WEB ever punished for what he did? I’m thinking that maybe it’s more the case of Mark is well-liked compared to Seb hence the pitchforks.

    • Roar Guru

      March 25th 2013 @ 8:09pm
      Mark Young said | March 25th 2013 @ 8:09pm | ! Report

      Good stuff Michael!

      Great to have another writer on F1 on Theroar

      I have a feeling that this will backfire on Seb, for no other reason then the best case scenario he now has, is Christian Horner explains to Mark that he is the number 2 driver and Webber either loses his edge or walks away to be replaced by a slower driver.

      Great theatre on the podium though wasn’t it!

      • Columnist

        March 26th 2013 @ 3:42pm
        Michael Lamonato said | March 26th 2013 @ 3:42pm | ! Report

        It was one of the most interesting podiums I’ve seen in a while! And the atmosphere was so cold in the green room prior to the podium, too. I’ve not seen anything like it.

        I think if it backfires on Seb, it might be that Mark, with his back up against the wall, gets out there to make a point and suddenly rediscovers his consistency. If he wins the Championship, this whole decision will be for nought – but what an amazing season it’d be!

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