The teams are gathering for the Chinese Grand Prix and inevitably the focus of attention at the start of this weekend will be the Red Bull drivers Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber. But it could move on pretty quickly.
In the run up to the event there have been some messages placed in the media setting out a few markers; there will no longer be team orders as in Malaysia, Red Bull mechanics are celebrating their record 2.05 second pit stop in Sepang and Helmut Marko says he never meant to criticise Mark Webber before the season.
The Sepang incident has been dealt with internally and although Vettel is quoted today as saying he will never apologise for winning, this is not the same as him refusing to apologise for taking the win from Webber; we must remember that he apologised to Webber several times in the post race press conferences in Sepang.
That said, he has also suggested that he was motivated by a feeling that Webber had not helped him out in the past.
As for the famous “Multi 21” team order to hold station at the end of a race, this has now been dropped, according to a statement from Marko in Germany’s Sport Bild. This will no doubt be clarified by team boss Christian Horner over the weekend and he will seek to move on from the crisis, ideally with another pole and win.
After Turkey 2010 there is a strong desire within the team to avoid the drivers colliding on track. There is no love lost between them and that will now be even more the case than before. There is danger here, but the management will have made it clear that there will be repercussions if they make contact with each other. It is fanciful to think that Vettel will do anything to right the wrong to Webber in the short term. He has a title to win and it’s doubtful that Webber would accept a gifted win later should one be offered if the title is sealed early. Those things almost never work out anyway, especially with F1 being more competitive these days.
It’s still early days in the championship but it’s already clear that the Red Bull is a very fast car and once they get on top of their tyre management they will be very hard to beat. The delicate Pirellis are the only thing keeping Lotus, Ferrari and Mercedes in it at the moment and they all know that they will need to find more performance once the Red Bull team cracks the thermal management code.
Malaysia worked out very well for Vettel; his main title rival Fernando Alonso shot himself in the foot in Malaysia by not pitting for a new front wing. This has handed the German an unexpected 22 point lead over Alonso to build on.
Last season Red Bull had to come back from a 40 point deficit in the summer time and did so to win the title. This season they are already on the front foot and it is Ferrari that is now chasing.
So how will Vettel play this weekend? He will no doubt say that he apologised at the time, that he and the team have moved on and now they will race each other to the finish. History tells you that Vettel is likely to be the more consistent performer over the season and they look like the strongest package.
He will be looking to maintain clear air between himself and Alonso for the next few races and knows that once the team cracks the code on the tyres he might be able to go on a run, to build a championship platform.
F1 moves forward so quickly the focus on Vettel and Webber may last only the first day or two of this meeting, but pretty quickly it will move on to the bigger picture of which team has the best package with 50 points up for grabs in the next 10 days.