Please welcome Vee Eight to the Sett and enjoy his fine guest piece on the after-effects of the incident in Turkey and more importantly, how it could effect Red Bull
The collision between Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel at the Turkish Grand Prix is the sort of incident that defines a season. It frames the Championship battle for the rest of the year, and will probably inform our views of the relationship between the two drivers going forward.
When the two drivers of any team collide, the reaction of the team tells us a lot about the way they operate. It’s important for the team to get the balance right between keeping both of its drivers happy, while simultaneously spinning a line to the media.
It looks as though the reaction of the Red Bull Racing team to events in Turkey has fallen short of achieving this balance. Red Bull now face the possibility of losing a lot of support.
With widespread agreement among most F1 observers that the larger portion of the blame for the accident should be put on Vettel for turning into the path of Webber too early, the reaction of the team was to apportion the majority of the blame on Mark Webber. Journalists were shocked as they rushed to tell the world that Christian Horner had surprisingly implicated Webber, against received wisdom.
There has long been a suspicion that the Red Bull team favoured Sebastian Vettel over his team mate. But up until this point it has always been just that – a suspicion. Now that the suspicions have been confirmed, it has opened the team up to a potential public relations disaster that could be worse than anything any team has faced in years.
Even some of the sport’s biggest scandals have had relatively little long-term impact on teams. No scandal could deter the fanatical Tifosi who follow Ferrari through thick and thin. McLaren’s “spygate” scandal only implicated a handful of employees, allowing the team to largely escape being tarred with the affair as a whole. Indeed, the over-the-top punishment handed out by the FIA probably served to garner sympathy for McLaren. Even Renault have escaped long-term association with “crashgate” by quickly ridding itself of the poisonous protagonists, and smartly reinventing itself over the winter.
The other thing about those other, larger teams is that you expect them to take a corporate approach towards the sport. It would be no surprise if, say, McLaren implemented team orders. No matter how unpopular it would be, no-one supports a clinical and ruthless team like McLaren without expecting it to be clinical and ruthless.
Red Bull is a different matter though. It has always built its brand on being a different kind of Formula 1 team – a team that puts the fun first, racing a close second, and the corporate mumbo-jumbo is given a bye. Well, that’s what they would like you to think anyway.
But of course, Red Bull is not in F1 to lose, as its aggressive approach towards reaching the top demonstrates. No-one hires Adrian Newey to design their car if they are in F1 for any reason other than to win. As part of its quest to reach the top, Red Bull has had to adopt some of the more undesirable traits of the traditional front-runners.
The reaction of the team to events in Turkey has blown the door on this charade wide open. This team that has carefully crafted an image of the team that races hard and plays hard will now find it hard to ever shake off accusations that it favours one of its drivers over the other, just like those square established teams.
The suspicion that , for instance, Ferrari went all out to ensure Michael Schumacher had special conditions to help him win was not too damaging. It comes with the territory of being a team like that hiring a driver like that. But if people begin to believe that everyone in Red Bull – from Dietrich Mateschitz to Helmut Marko to Christian Horner to the lollipop man to the wheel nut polisher – will always take Vettel’s side over Webber’s, the funky team becomes considerably less funky.
You only needed to take a glance at Red Bull Racing’s own website, where countless numbers of fans were posting angry messages on the open forums. Many of Red Bull’s fans are dismayed that the team they have come to love would behave like this.
Christian Horner has changed his story more times than I have changed my underwear, and everyone smells a rat. It should come as no surprise that fans of the edgy, alternative F1 team would dislike this sort of political game-playing.
Dietrich Mateschitz and Helmut Marko are desperate for Sebastian Vettel to do well. He needs to in order to legitimise the team’s presence in F1. He is the one sign of race-winning (never mind Championship-winning) material that has been produced by the Red Bull driver development programme that the company has poured so much money into over the years.
Red Bull didn’t take this strategy to find out that they would have been better off just buying two drivers off the shelf rather than spending masses of money investing in several over many years. Vettel needs to succeed in order to vindicate the Red Bull way.
What they didn’t gamble on, though, was the idea that so blatantly favouring one of its drivers – in the face of overwhelming opinion against him – would cause enormous damage to their brand. Only time will tell what the long term effects are, but the initial signs aren’t good.
Many people are now finding it more difficult to support Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel for the Championship. I know I certainly am. It is disappointing to learn that the team that wanted to show how you could do it differently, turned out to be the same as all the rest of them after all.
Vee Eight is Duncan Stephen a guest writer for Badger