The great Ayrton Senna once uttered the now immortal words of “We are competing to win. And if you no longer go for a gap that exists, you are no longer a racing driver.” And those words seem to have resonated with no one more so than Sebastian Vettel. His defying of team order “Multi 21” (to bring the cars home in formation) behind team-mate Mark Webber showed that there is a difference between simply driving a Formula 1 car and racing one. Quite a few incredibly fit athletes can drive a car in formation and happily amble around a track to the finish, but I could probably count on one hand from the archive of past drivers that would actively disobey their employers to go and get the result for themselves. Not that I’m condoning what Vettel did at all, the 25-year-old shouldn’t have won that race. Like a naughty child, when he was told not to do something, the first thing he does is to go out and do it.
Thanks to the coverage that is available to us, the humble fans of racing, we were able to hear most of the communication in the pit lane surrounding the fracas that was the Malaysian Grand Prix. “This is silly, Seb, come on.” Was the call from Christian Horner on the pit wall, after he passed his team-mate for the lead. This was instead of the more obvious “Give the place back, you were told to stay behind and that’s what we expect you to do.” Way to assert your authority, there. Vettel had the front after the race to plead miscommunication, but we all heard it from Francis ‘Rocky’ Rocquelin (Vettel’s race engineer) “Okay, Sebastian… three-second gap, save your tyres”. The response slightly later on: “Mark is too slow, get him out of the way.” sheer ignorance if nothing else. It’s not as though he could have misheard all of the transmissions, for example “Careful, Sebastian, careful” (when the two cars were close together). Also, to preserve tyre life the drivers are often asked to stick to target lap times, Vettel was asked for a 1:42.0, he went out and set a 1:40.446 on the lap before he passed Webber.
To rub salt in the already gaping wound, Vettel then took to the radio to attempt to justify his taking of the lead “I was really scared, all of a sudden he was swooping and I had to lead the line”. No wonder he got the one-finger salute from the Australian across the garage. But this was going to happen. Sebastian sensed an opportunity. Fernando Alonso (whom he would consider one of the biggest rivals to the title) was out of the race with a spectacular front wing failure at the start of the second lap, and Vettel wasn’t going to let anyone get in his way of another seven points, even his own team-mate. The general consensus of this has been ‘He shouldn’t have done it, but that’s the mark of a champion’.
While his championship qualities were shining through, as ‘Rocky’ told him immediately after the race “You wanted it bad enough, but now you’ve got some explaining to do”. Mark Webber had just as much right as Seb to go out and win that race. And seeing as team orders are currently allowed in F1, that’s what the team wanted as well. Even though Seb broke the in-house rule, Mark could have just as easily have gone ‘You want a war? You’ve got one…”, turned up his engine again and fought him to the finish. But he didn’t take the chance. Fuel saving may have had something to do with it, but while Vettel wasn’t wanting to cast himself as the Number Two, Webber seemed almost content with second place, among the seething that would’ve undoubtedly been happening under the helmet.
I’m going to be honest with you here, I don’t like Sebastian Vettel. While he has a chirpy, affable exterior, his will to win (while admirable) borders on Schumacher levels. And that’s dangerous. His target has always been known: he wants to become a legend. His mentor and friend the Seven-Time World Champion himself is a legend. But whenever you talk about the career of Michael Schumacher in retrospect, amid all the brilliance there’s always going to be a ‘But’. Surely, Vettel doesn’t want that for himself? His almost enthroned position within Red Bull and the eyes of Helmut Marko have led him to have these outbursts of Spoilt Child Syndrome moments. I’m sure that, at the age of 25, he has many victorious years ahead of him. But if he continues in this vein, he’s not going to be a legend with many friends left.