Formula 1: Red Bullets in China

I don’t know whether to admire Sebastian Vettel’s clouded honesty, or to lament his brutal arrogance. His delivery to the world’s media yesterday, ahead of Sunday’s grand prix, brought into focus the obvious conflict within Red Bull’s Formula 1 team.

The nature of Red Bull’s hierarchy should not surprise anybody, and as we continue to witness at Ferrari, this is by no means a unique situation.

Nevertheless, the fact that the three-time champion believes he can discuss sensitive and divisive issues in public, and moreover, clearly at the expense of his beleaguered principal and colleagues, I find disturbing and unprofessional.

At yesterday’s press conference, Vettel was asked if he would repeat his actions from the Malaysian Grand Prix, his answer “I’m not sure I can give a proper answer because in the moment it might be different, but I would probably do the same.” He went on to say, “The bottom line is that I was racing, I was faster, I passed him, I won.”

Webber-ChineseGP-FridayMark Webber in the pit garage during this morning’s China GP First Practice. This would make a great caption competition, don’t you think?

Feuds between team mates have been commonplace, ever since team sports began; and within Formula 1, they continue to cause debate long after eras have passed. But Vettel’s actions and words go beyond the sparring of Senna & Prost, Jones & Reutemann; this is now a public display of one young man with a personal agenda.

Of course, you could argue this is just another case of history repeating itself; Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso being examples of drivers employed by Ferrari to win, and delivering success with ruthless determination. Yet despite the obvious role of their team mates, all have been careful to publicly respect the contributions of others.

And this is the dilemma that Vettel has now created: Drivers championships are important to drivers, to their fans and to the media, but the constructor’s title is what counts to the team and contributes cash to develop the car.

“The bottom line is that I was racing, I was faster, I passed him, I won.”

To win here, you need not one but two cars, with drivers, performing at their best, and to a common goal.

By effectively taking-back the apologies for his actions in Sepang, and by making it clear that he will do whatever is required to win, Vettel has now closed the door firmly in his team mate’s face.

Put simply, if Webber wants to race, he can no longer be satisfied with playing a professional, supporting role, bringing-home points and podiums, he’ll have to go rubber-to-rubber with the young German at every lap of every race for the remainder of the season.

The likely outcome and loss of team points could not be any clearer.

And so I watched Christian Horner this morning, bravely fending-off the barrage, trying to restore faith in a team teetering against Vettel’s chasm.

RedBullRacing-MalaysianGPThanks to Vettel’s latest comments, everyone’s asking who’s ‘really’ in charge at Red Bull Racing.

Yet for all his effort, all the acts of appeasement, all the considered responses, Red Bull Racing are damaged goods, and he, and all those around him know it; his remarks that Dietrich Mateschitz is a purist, a man who supports competition, only serving to support his champion’s leverage.

Vettel, by making his position so very public, both on the track and in the media room, has not only set light to the touch-paper, he’s taken inches off the fuse.

With little change in the 2013 regulations, this Formula 1 season was always going to be remembered for its rivalries; Vettel against Webber, Hamilton’s lining up against Rosberg, Massa regaining his pace against Alonso, Button commanding at McLaren, the return of Sutil… but two moments of madness, whether deliberate or by instinct, now look like casting their shadow well beyond this year and next.

They say that actions speak louder than words; I fear that in this case, the words will win through.

Images: Infiniti GP