Tough At The Top
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.
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