Last year after the race at the Nurburgring, I went into the Red Bull motorhome to congratulate Mark Webber on his first Formula 1 victory.
There was no sign of Webber, but team principal Christian Horner and Dr Helmut Marko were deep in conversation next to the bar. Both looked pretty serious. Webber had won the race while Vettel had finished second, largely due to being rather tentative in qualifying, where he ended up fourth. I watched him very closely that weekend and spoke to him several times and I felt that he was really feeling the pressure of a home Grand Prix where you are expected to win.
Mark Webber’s partner Ann Neal came out of the drivers’ area and walked across the room. One of the team said something like, “Isn’t it fantastic, Mark’s win?” To which she replied rather tartly, “I’m glad someone around here is pleased.” And indeed it did seem more like a wake than a celebration.
Things have moved on and in Monaco two weeks ago the team were certainly celebrating.
Vettel came out on top in the inter team battle last season and looked like he was on target to do the same this year, but then things changed. Webber was furious with himself after losing the lead to Vettel at the start in Malaysia and he has had a long talk with himself and come out fighting.
Webber’s performances in Spain and Monaco were as good as anything any driver in today’s field could produce and he didn’t give Vettel a chance in either race.
The team satisfied themselves and Vettel that the reason for Vettel’s relative lack of pace (and we are talking about fractions of a second here) was some damage to his chassis, so he was given a new one for Turkey.
The team tries to be fair in the way it treats both drivers. They both had new parts fitted to the cars on Saturday, Vettel’s arriving before Webber’s but nevertheless the cars were the same during qualifying.
But there was a suspicion tonight that in the laps leading up to their collision on lap 40, Vettel may have been given more favourable conditions than Webber and may have had more engine revs at his disposal. And it may have been because he was under threat from Hamilton.
“In the situation Sebastian was in, he had no other choice than to act the way he did, ” said Marko on F1.com. “We informed Mark about the situation and it is for the driver to decide. The fact is that if Sebastian hadn’t passed he would have been overtaken by Hamilton. Unfortunately, Mark was not told about the situation accurately by his race engineer.”
Analysis of the race history shows that for the seven laps leading up to the incident, Hamilton was a constant 1.2 seconds behind Vettel.
Christian Horner has been under pressure today and it took him a while to get his line together. Initially he chose to apportion blame on both drivers, but after team meetings his stance seemed to shift towards blaming Webber. He confirmed that Vettel did have more revs available at the time – and that he was happier on the hard tyres – and that was because Webber had used more fuel in the early stages of the race than Vettel, who was able to save some in Hamilton’s slipstream. Vettel had one kilogramme more fuel.
So around lap 38 Vettel was allowed to be on a more potent fuel mix than Webber. Managing the fuel load to the end is one of the disciplines of F1 in 2010 and it seems that teams have been cutting it finer and finer so as not to carry any extra weight.
Today the lap times were fast as the track had rubbered in a lot since practice so the cars were using more fuel than predicted. At various stages everyone had to take care.
Vettel used the moment when he had more revs than his team mate to attack. Is it fair? Should Webber have been allowed more revs to resist, should Red Bull have told them to hold station with only 18 laps to go and a 1-2 in sight? But would that have given Hamilton a golden chance to pass Vettel?
These are the things which will be discussed internally in the coming days. Clearly they need some kind of agreement as to how they will manage engine and fuel use as it contributed to a calamity today. There will also be a new rule established in case of one team mate making a pass on another, to allow each other more room. With that extra room Vettel would have passed Webber today.
Was it because the team favoured Vettel? Did they have a finger on the scales? The only way to know is to look at Red Bull’s fuel data and see where they both were on fuel at the time. To insiders this will be obvious, to outsiders it will be hard to discover.
Vettel is entitled to feel frustrated by his season so far, he should be ahead in the championship but for reliability problems in Bahrain and Australia and also in Spain. It was his car again which proved fragile this weekend when a broken roll bar linkage caused him to lose his shot at pole position. That tipped the balance in Webber’s favour 4-3 in qualifying this year. Today Vettel was recovering from that.
By lap 40 he had got himself in a position to challenge and he went for it. But Webber didn’t make it easy for him, leaving his car well to the left and forcing Vettel to come down the narrow strip of tarmac on the inside, the “dirty side” as Horner described it. He described the lack of room left as the “large mistake” and said that the team wanted to win the race, implying that Vettel offered their best chance of doing that, at that stage. But he also admitted that Vettel came across too early to seal the deal. Vettel was too eager to finish the move before he’d done all the work and they touched.
In Webber’s mind at that moment would have been the start at Sepang, where he let Vettel through too easily. In a tight psychological battle between team mates, he would not want that to happen twice. He would also have been aware that as he was in fuel save mode, Vettel had suddenly started gaining on him at three tenths of a second per lap.
But there is more to it than that; it doesn’t explain why Vettel’s car move to the right. Vettel says he “lost the car” and it does seem that perhaps the car got light over a bump. In the normal run of things it would not have been a problem, but because they were so close, that was enough to take him into the side of Webber’s car.
So where do they got from here? Well, although he says it will be sorted out by Montreal, it will certainly be tough for Horner to paper over the cracks and manage the expectations of his drivers, as it was at McLaren with Hamilton and Alonso in 2007.
Webber is a gnarly old pro and is doing his talking on the track, not making it easy for his young team mate, while Vettel will know deep down that he has to make up for this incident in Turkey as quickly as possible.
The next major crunch will come at Silverstone where the Red Bull should be untouchable on the many high speed corners. Last year Vettel dominated Webber. He will feel intense pressure to do the same.
For what it’s worth, in a JA on F1 reader’s poll, with a sample of 2,000 as of 9pm this evening, 80% of fans say that the accident was Vettel’s fault.