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Tough At The Top

By Mav | 26 Mar 2013 | 5 Comments | 8,489 views

Much has been written about the Malaysian Grand Prix but really, one man’s unchivalrous pass is simply other man’s ruthless desire to win. In many ways what bothered me more about Sebastian Vettel’s weekend was his performance after the race – Oscar winning it was not. However, it was events on the pitwall that most fascinated me – all-in-all, it was not a great week to be a team principal.

The week started with Martin Whitmarsh underfire for McLaren’s poor start to the season, allied to a general sense of underachievement since he took over the reigns. However, as Red Bull threatened to go into melt down, the focus quickly shifted elsewhere.
Red Bull Racing/Vladimir Rys
Despite Red Bull’s undoubted success, Christian Horner has often looked weak when push-comes-to-shove. Vettel and Webber’s tangle in Turkey in 2010 was embarrassing enough for the team but what stood out most from that weekend was how badly Horner handled it – initially blaming the Australian, later apportioning equal(ish) blame but never pointing the finger at Vettel for doing exactly what Horner was anxious to avoid in Malaysia.

However, this time, Horner completely lost control. Not only did Vettel ignore his orders to hold station – and telling the three-time champion not to be silly was a pitiful enforcement of his power – but Horner then opted not to order the German to give the position back because, as Horner said: “do you honestly think that if we had told him ’slow down and give the place back’, he would have given it back?” So who is in charge of the team? Horner or Vettel?

Contrast Horner with Ross Brawn. After Lewis Hamilton suggested to the Mercedes team boss that he should have let team mate Nico Rosberg past, Brawn reportedly said “absolutely not. When I tell you this is what I want you to do, you have to stick by it.” Of course, that all sounds a little too much like a carefully crafted dig at their Red Bull rivals. It’s also probable that Vettel would have not held position if he’d been in Rosberg’s seat but, and this is the main difference, Brawn’s reaction could be expected to have been tougher. On Sunday, Brawn made it abundantly clear that he is charge and what he says, goes.

Except the saga didn’t end there. Other parts of the Mercedes management didn’t agree with Brawn – Niki Lauda, ever the combative racer, told German television channel RTL that “they should have let him (Rosberg) go. We need to talk to Ross, if this is the strategy to be used from now on.” Yes Niki, you should talk to Ross if that’s the way you feel, only don’t do it via the press. Toto Wolff was also critical although he at least had the good grace to backtrack on his public comments.

Really, Mercedes and Red Bull find themselves in a similar situation. Horner and Brawn are the team principals in name but with Wolff, Lauda and Helmut Marko constantly hovering around the fringes, the reality is not so clear cut. Ron Dennis’ unique mark remains on McLaren but Martin Whitmarsh is clearly his own man. At Williams, the buck stops firmly with Sir Frank. Red Bull, meanwhile, have constantly fallen foul of Marko’s pronouncements. Mercedes are already showing signs, as feared, of following suit…

Credit: Red Bull Racing/Vladimir Rys

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  • saltire

    Do you think that either team principal could be under pressure to quit? Brawn commands respect, perhaps it’s because Horner has not been at the helm for so long that he doesn’t – to me at least – seem to have the same clout.

    The problem with Red Bull is that they are unlikely censure their prize driver for fear that he moves elsewhere. I’m not saying that Vettel is irreplaceable but he has delivered for the team. What’s sad is that his legacy is now in doubt. Did he win so much because his team-mate had to frequently cede places to him?

    Yes, F1 is a team “sport” but I as a fan feel cheated. It appears that team orders are rife across the teams and the final result is manufactured both by the teams themselves and by artificial aids like DRS.

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  • reboot


    Sir Frank has never left any doubt. What he says goes and he has readily ditched world champions. Any it makes the position of the manager strong as the driver knows it is a case of backing down or leaving.

    Horners position is weak, you could say so is Brawns be he seems to have more cojones than Horner.

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  • Mav (author)


    Horner is on a winning team, so probably not for the moment.

    Brawn is a complicated matter. I think Mercedes are happy to keep him. He was central to getting Hamilton and they’ve got a decent platform to work with this year – none of that is to do with the new people. However, whether he actually continues to enjoy working with Mercedes, Lauda in particular, is another matter.

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  • Mav (author)

    The problem with Red Bull is that they are unlikely censure their prize driver for fear that he moves elsewhere.

    The football analogy would be Chelsea

    Mmmmhhh… maybe Horner’s position isn’t that safe after all. :-)

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  • ShoneVKG

    Of course Lauda would say that to German papers. What he really saying to Germans is that the German driver should get past his slower teammate. Wander if it would be the same if the order was reversed. The biggest worry for AMG Mercedes F1 in this situation could be German driver seemingly playing back-up role in German team. That is bad publicity for them in their home land.

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