The Final Verdict: Webber/Vettel incident

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Sunday’s incident between Red Bull teammates Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel has certainly created a PR challenge for the team as well as galvanized fans support and journalist ire. Webber fans say he is not at fault while Vettel fans believe he had the line and some quarter should have been given by his Australian teammate.

Team management didn’t help matters by labeling the incident in a manner that spoke to Webber’s unyielding nature and the insinuation was that the veteran may have been wrong to not give way to his faster teammate. Journalists in the F1 paddock have claimed both sides of the story as well. This gambit of pro, con or rise-above-it neutral is typical usually prompting the age-old quest for a “creative angle” on the situation where one is obliged to crack open the history books, find a similar incident and render judgment via historic precedent—it is de rigueur amongst the wordsmith’s of F1.

As for we fans at F1B? We have spoken on the issue on Podcast #161 at length and we feel a final verdict has been reached at F1B. We believe we have taken the prudent view and attempted to combine competitive spirit, emotion of the moment, the speed at which the incident occurred and the philosophical or human element present with the pressures of F1 and the current situation each driver, as well as the team, finds itself.

Vettel is clearly the future of Red Bull Racing and he is impressively quick in the car. He was quicker at the moment of the pass (that can be argued as to why given they were on the same strategies) and made a move that was risky. He was being pressured by the terrific drive of McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton and felt he needed to make the move. We feel that he was justified in trying to make a move but also admit that any move, such as the one made, is risky given the location of the pass and the person (his teammate) he was attempting to pass. He made a choice and should know the risk.

As for Webber, this is his best chance to win the championship. The man has been in F1 a long time and paid his dues to the development gods. He may never get this chance again and was co-leading the championship on Sunday morning. He is under no obligation to cede the position just because Vettel got along side of him. It is incumbent upon Vettel to make the pass stick. Webber is there to win and no one at Red Bull should be surprised at Mark’s tenacity and ability to make passing him a difficult chore that only the most diligent can pull off.

Webber’s defensive driving is no mystery to anyone. It should come as no shock to Vettel as well. Could Webber have given more room to Vettel? Sure. Should the teammates have been more like the McLaren drivers in their tussle? Absolutely, but Webber is not a man who lies down easily and while many accuse Vettel of being desperate, one could argue that Webber’s potential last hope for a title bid has created its own sense of desperation. Jenson Button faced no less pressure last year as he saw McLaren progress from floundering team to serious competitor.

If they had it all to do over, I might suggest that Vettel may have taken a different line and that Webber may have braked a little earlier to give Vettel more room but the heat of the moment is best tempered with a clear and calm resolve after a disaster. I have argued for years that how a man reacts to a crisis is often times more important than the crisis itself and the team would do well to remember that in this difficult time.

Were team boss Christian Horner and team consultant Helmut Marko upset with Webber? Most likely. If a teammate is faster, clearly, and is making a pass you would like to think that the slower teammate might give him more room. The comments made immediately after the incident were emotional reactions and like the drivers themselves, things get heated in the war of emotions. Vettel made “crazy” gestures about Webber and Horner suggested that Webber could have given more room to the young phenom of Red Bull. While not justifying preferential treatment, you have to keep in mind that a young 23-year-old driver, who is amazingly talented, is the future of the team if you are looking to build a dynasty. They have recently confirmed Adrian Newey’s long-term tenure at Red Bull and they would like to build a team that is in F1 to stay. Webber’s personal title run is important but so is the teams long-term aspirations and Vettel is that man.

There is every chance that Red Bull hired Mark Webber for development and mentoring, not necessarily to win the world championship. There is every reason to believe that Webber doesn’t give a damn about that now as he is leading the points and the team must now look at an alternate future that could very well see Webber as less the mentor and more the champion. I doubt the team will fail at that notion. For Vettel, it is a learning opportunity much like the Alonso/Hamilton affair of 2007.

This is not to suggest that Webber isn’t important to the team but Vettel is the long-term future. They would like to get both cars home instead of seeing points thrown away and they are all very familiar with Webber’s personal aspirations now that he is leading the title bid. In the end, both drivers are guilty of some stubbornness but Vettel took the risk of a pass on the inside with a man who is known for his tenacity in making a pass damn near impossible. Webber could have given more room and ceded the position but that, in the end, is not racing and Webber is under no obligation to do so although the team would argue he needs to think of the team and not his personal racing quest.

I will say that in the end, Mark Webber has been the mature, professional man out of the whole incident. He has garnered the admiration of many through this event while Vettel and Red Bull have received a bloody nose. The team is young and learning and this will most likely not be the only PR challenge they face in their F1 career. Is Webber to blame? Not really, if you think of all the factors. Is Vettel to blame? He took a risky move and to be honest, the move was one of those that require the other driver to help you make it happen. Webber chose not to help and that is his right. Was it in the best interest to the team? No, but then Webber has a title to win and Vettel has more to learn about expecting people to help you make moves that are on the edge. Sometimes even a teammate thinks of himself, and not you, in the heat of battle.

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