Get ready Red Bull Racing, it’s time to play the Family Feud.
The ongoing bad blood between Red Bull Racing’s drivers boiled over into a full-blown feud after the end of the Formula One Malaysian Grand Prix, which saw three-time world champion Sebastian Vettel ignore orders from his pit and pass Mark Webber late in the race to snatch a win from his teammate’s hands.
As the race entered its final stages, Webber and Vettel made their last pit-stops and were comfortably at front when the team told them turn down their engines, take care of their equipment, and cruise home. Instead of holding station, Vettel attacked aggressively for two laps before overtaking him with 13 to go, something that did not sit well with the veteran Australian.
“After the last stop, obviously, the team told me the race was over,” Webber said.
“We turned the engines down and we go to the end. I want to race as well, but in the end the team made a decision, which we always say before the race is probably how it’s going to be – we look after the tires, get the car to the end and, in the end, Seb made his own decisions today and will have protection and that’s the way it goes.”
Family Feud was a game show that debuted in the 1970s hosted by the late Richard Dawson. It pitted two teams of family members against each other in a contest where they had to guess the top answers Americans gave to surveys on a wide range of topics.
A bright, thoughtful driver, there’s no doubt Webber used the word “protection” for a reason. He may have been thinking back to the 2010 season, where friction between the two caused some bitterness, something the team didn’t help by appearing to back Vettel over Webber at every opportunity.
In Turkey that year, Vettel clumsily crashed into Webber while trying to overtake for the lead. Rather than admonish Vettel for causing a collision and robbing the team of what looked like a certain win, the team backed the young German. Despite evidence showing otherwise, Red Bull motorsport boss Helmut Marko blamed Webber, saying he should have just let Vettel pass.
Six weeks later at the British Grand Prix, a newly designed front wing was taken from Webber’s car and given to his teammate after the one on Vettel’s car were broken in a practice session. Webber got his revenge in the race after Vettel suffered a first lap puncture and was never a factor, while the Australian drove his car home to victory. In one of the more memorable F1 quotes from the past few years, Webber took the chequered flag and responded to team boss Christian Horner’s congratulations with a sardonic: “Not bad for a No. 2 driver.”
In his book about the season, Webber wrote that he thought the situation was handled “interestingly from my perspective” and suggested the wing was taken away from him because the team would have had “a full-scale meltdown on their hands” if it went the other way.
The acrimony and suspicion between the pair was more than confirmed when Webber arrived in the green room after the race to wait for the podium ceremony. He glared at his teammate and shook his head, making no effort to hide his disapproval of Vettel’s tactics.
The mood in the room was reminiscent of the icy podium 30 years ago after the San Marino Grand Prix, where Didier Pironi went against a gentlemen’s agreement between the pair and passed Ferrari teammate Gilles Villeneuve on the final lap to take the win. Villeneuve was incensed by the betrayal and vowed never to speak to the Frenchman again. His body language on the podium told the story, with the late Villeneuve not even being able to bear looking at his teammate. Two weeks later, the driver many feel was one of the best to ever sit in an F1 cockpit died in a qualifying accident at the Belgian Grand Prix.
While many feel he gets preferential treatment, this time Vettel was told by the team that he had “some explaining to do” after being congratulated for the win over the radio. His comments in the post-race interview likely won’t be the last word on the issue inside the team, but his account of the events that unfolded left a bit to be desired.
While he admitted to an error and suggested that maybe passing Webber was a bad idea, he tried to make it sound like it was an honest mistake rather than a planned move.
“I didn’t ignore it on purpose but I messed up in that situation and obviously took the lead which, I can see now he’s upset, but yeah, I want to be honest at least and stick to the truth and apologize,” he said.
“I know that it doesn’t really help his feelings right now, but I think other than that, obviously a very good race for the team. We handed the tires, I think, pretty well today. To sum it up, apologies to Mark, obviously now the result is there but, yeah, all I can say is that I didn’t do it deliberately.”
Whether Webber was buying it or not remains to be seen.
When asked whether he would turn down the engine and hold station if the situation were reversed some time in the future, Webber’s response probably didn’t make his team bosses feel too warm and fuzzy.
“I think that question is not going to be answered right now,” he snapped. “Let’s just say there were a lot of things going through my mind in the last 15 laps of the grand prix, lots of different reasons, not just from today but also from the past. We’ll see what happens. We’ve got three weeks before the next race.”
For more from Jeff Pappone, go to facebook.com/jeffpappone (No login required!)