The F1 paddock is abuzz this evening after Red Bull team principal Christian Horner took the decision to take the new front wing off Mark Webber’s car and give it to Sebastian Vettel for qualifying. It has triggered a new row about favouritism, which first reared its head after the pair collided in Istanbul.
The German went on to take pole position today ahead of his team mate by 0.14 seconds.
The difference between the two wings is quite clear, as you can see from these two pictures. The older one (pictured above on Webber’s car in the garage tonight) has a single vane on the outer end plate, the new one (below) has a double.
Another difference is a double vent in the side of the new wing, as opposed to a single vent on the one on Webber’s car. Webber said this evening that the team is still evaluating wings and felt that the new one was probably worth “about a tenth”. These things tend to be the product of many hours in the wind tunnel and significant investment. As as the airflow over the rest of the car is dictated by what comes off the front wing, it is quite a significant change.
But it is a decision which didn’t need to be taken, in my view, as there was no obvious threat from outside the team to pole position, so better to let them fight it out fairly between them. Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso was just under two tenths slower in the final free practice session, but the Red Bulls always step up the pace in qualifying and in the end the margin over Alonso was 0.8 seconds, which is huge.
The downside to the team harmony, by favouring one driver over the other in this way, far outweighs the fractional gain in performance from the new wing. Horner said this evening that they had to run the wing because Adrian Newey was very keen to use it, but in this case surely it could have been argued that it would only have been fair for both drivers to run without it.
And it goes further than that because if Vettel wins on Sunday and then goes on
to win the world championship, the Istanbul and Silverstone episodes will make the public feel that there was a finger on the scales in this championship battle and as we know from the Michael Schumacher era at Ferrari, that doesn’t play well.
McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh said that a situation like this “would not happen in our team” and offered his view on it, ” I think if you are in a very strong position then even more cause to be as fair as you are with the drivers,” he said.
“The cohesiveness of the team is such that you don’t need to set up those kinds of tensions and if you are in a strong position you need to be careful to hold it together.”
Inevitably some people will read this and believe that it shows bias towards an English speaking driver, but if the positions were reversed it would still be wrong.
Sometimes the togetherness and morale of a sporting team is more important than a tiny bit of extra performance and this was one of those occasions.