Today was cold and wet in Montreal, creating a subdued atmosphere after all the feverish excitement of the last Grand Prix in Istanbul.
The drivers did their press briefings early to accommodate European press deadlines and predictably much of the talk was about the right and wrong ways of racing a team mate and about the risks of driving close to the walls here in Montreal.
The body language of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber was interesting. Webber went first, sheltered under an awning with rain bouncing off the umbrellas and onto the media. When the subject of Turkey came up, he folded his arms, a traditional defensive gesture. He is obviously still uncomfortable with this situation even though he said, “I’m cool. I’m totally over it.”
He had nothing to hide, after all he’s come out of this episode the best, with the Red Bull management going through several phases of blame-laying, finally arriving at Christian Horner’s interview with BBC yesterday in which he said that the team had been wrong to blame Webber after the race. Horner repeated that this afternoon with us in the paddock.
On top of that Webber has landed a new deal with the team for 2011, so it’s been a positive outcome from a difficult situation. But he doesn’t look very triumphant, or even particularly pleased. The episode still rankles, I reckon.
Clearly there have been some hard words behind closed doors.
As for Vettel, he handled himself very well in a difficult situation. He had some of the English tabloid journos trying to goad him, asking if he felt he had anything to apologise for and whether indeed he was even capable of saying sorry.
He covered it well, saying, “I did what I did, if I had my time again I wouldn’t do anything different.”
At one point he started to get a bit shirty, saying that he would like to move on and talk about the future, but he got hold of himself quickly and carried on his laconic, half-smiley delivery and going over what happened when he turned into Webber. It was as if he suddenly realised that all these hacks surrounding him was a compliment to him and he rose above it. It was impressive maturity for a 22 year old.
It’s hard not to like Vettel. He has a calm, easy way about him and impressive intelligence. I asked him whether he regretted that the episode had blown open the debate about him being the favoured son at Red Bull, due to their massive investment in the young driver programme. F1 fans don’t like driver with a sense of entitlement -just ask Lewis Hamilton. He has suffered from that since McLaren nurtured him into F1. It won’t be until the end of his career, probably, that he is able to shake that off.
Vettel said that he doesn’t regret it, because he accepts that at the top of this business the media will take a view and you have to accept it and focus on the racing. He has sustained some collateral damage over this, mostly because of the reaction of Helmut Marko immediately after the incident and it’s just something he has to deal with.
The other drivers were talking today about this Montreal track and the thrill of racing close to the walls, knowing how finely to judge it. The two outstanding Montreal exponents, Hamilton and Robert Kubica had a lot to say on the subject.
As I posted in the last LG Tech Report, one of the great skills of an F1 driver is judging risk. They work their way up to the limit and every corner is about a micro-decision on how far to push their luck. In Istanbul if they make a mistake they go for a jaunt across acres of asphalt run off. Here in Montreal they hit a wall and it brings out a safety car.
It’s not often that you get the modern drivers to talk about existential subjects like risk taking. They conversation tends to be either factual or opinion. It is especially fitting that we should be discussing risk at a track named after Gilles Villeneuve, F1’s ultimate risk-taker.
Drivers take calculated gambles at every corner, based on the consequences. On a track like Montreal the consequences can be severe, as they were for Alonso in Monaco for example, and it is about closing the gap between what is comfortable and what is fast, finding the limit.
” I like when the walls are close and there is a very small margin for a mistake,” said Kubica. “It’s always more challenging and it gives you more fun to drive. I am a big fan of street circuits, but I’m also a big fan of safety because I have been through a big crash, here in Canada. Thanks to a big effort of the FIA and the teams it becomes much safer and I am still here. Otherwise if would crash here ten years ago with such a big impact as I had, most probably I wouldn’t be here.”
“A lot of us like the street circuits where there is less room for error,” said Hamilton. “Here you can be really close to the walls and there is a real danger factor. The tyres grain here too and if you go off line it’s easy to crash.”
And this brings the whole discussion full circle really, because assessing risks is also a crucial factor when racing against another car, especially if it is your team mate. When you race another car the consequences of a mistake are far less severe than if you collide with your team mate. Both Webber and Vettel failed to assess those risks properly in Istanbul and that is because they were motivated by a desire to get the upper hand over each other at a vital point in the season.
We are told that they have learned from the experience, but what that really means is that they have had their risk assessment retuned by the team. The competitive tension is undoubtedly still there.