After last year’s Brazilian Grand Prix, Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz articulated his philosophy of why his drivers would be allowed to race each other right to the end and the team would not intervene, “Let the two drivers race and what will be will be,” he said. “If Alonso wins we will have been unlucky. I predict a Hollywood ending. Worst case scenario we don’t become champion? We’ll do it next year.
“But our philosophy stays the same because this is sport and it must remain sport. We don’t manipulate things like Ferrari do.”
He got his Hollywood ending when Vettel went on to claim the title at the final round. Mateschitz wanted to see his drivers race and his attitude looked like a very noble, Corinthian spirit.
Those words look pretty hollow today, however after Red Bull instructed Mark Webber to “maintain the gap” behind his team mate Sebastian Vettel in the closing laps of yesterday’s British Grand Prix.
Webber had ignored instructions from his own engineer Ciaran Pilbeam and was shaping up for a move, but heeded the instructions after team boss Christian Horner intervened.
Afterwards he made his feelings clear in the press conference, where he said he was “not alright about it” as he felt that he should be entitled to fight for an extra place. As he pointed out, if anything had happened to the leader Fernando Alonso, he would have been fighting for the win.
Team orders are now legal in F1, so there is no official sanction here, but the team face serious accusations of hypocrisy while Mateschitz’s credo seems to have been ignored.
One one level it’s not a big deal; it was only for three points. But on another level it’s huge because Red Bull has given up the moral high ground and worse, has shown that its values were fine when Vettel was the one being given a chance, but that it doesn’t apply the other way around.
Was three points worth sacrificing all of that for?
With Vettel so far ahead in the points and unlikely to be caught this season, fans would argue that there was no need for Red Bull to intervene. Team boss Christian Horner said that they had done so because they feared the drivers might take each other off.
“I’m surprised at what he (Webber) did, so it’s something he and I will talk about in private,” Horner said.
“At the end of the day, the team is the biggest thing. No individual is bigger than the team. I can understand Mark’s frustration in that, but had it been the other way round, it would have been exactly the same.
“From a team point of view, there was a big haul of points on the table and it made absolutely no sense to risk seeing both cars in the fence and coming back on a tow truck.”
This rather underestimates Vettel’s intelligence. He might not have wanted to finish behind Webber for the first time this season, but the big picture is that he would still be leading his team mate and closest challenger in the championship by 201 points to 127 as opposed to 204 points to 124 we have today.
He’d hardly be likely to block or collide with Webber simply to alter those numbers. Vettel is a champion, he proved that last year and he’s proved it time and again this year with his increasingly mature and impressive performances. And he is more than capable of thinking like a champion.
He should be allowed to race, because the downside of acting as Red Bull have done here is that they diminish his achievement by making it look manipulated and have needlessly undermined a set of values that they worked hard and took huge risks last season to establish.
The irony of this is that both Horner and Webber had confirmed over the course of the weekend that they were going to renew their contract for 2012, despite the team receiving overtures from some of the most successful drivers on the grid. This is unlikely to derail that, but it has raised all sorts of questions.