The pass heard round the world

Sebastian Vettel passed Mark Webber. That’s what happened. It wasn’t supposed to happen but it is what, in fact, happened at the Malaysian Grand Prix on Sunday. The chorus of Vettel-bashing has been nothing short of profuse and even hate-filled tweets are assaulting timelines the world over. To be honest, I’m quite surprised.

The history of these two drivers is not one based upon admiration, friendship and collegial attitudes. It’s been a mutual respect or at the very least, Détente. After the Turkish Grand Prix of 2010, the feelings these two drivers have for each other has been at arms length and Sunday’s controversy would have been pedestrian had Mark WEbber managed to pass Vettel in the British Grand Prix when he said he ignored team orders or even the final race in Brazil when he raced Vettel tooth and nail even though he was asked not to.

Mark didn’t manage to pass Sebastian in those races so Sunday’s move is the one by which all opinion will be measured. It will be forever known as the pass heard round the world or the moment Vettel drew first blood. It will be the action that will now be the Testors glue that binds Vettel to the more dubious actions of his mentor, seven-time champion Michael Schumacher. It will be the career-defining moment that Vettel detractors use to show his unworthiness and Vettel fans will recall as a black mark on his CV even though Webber’s chop across Vettel’s nose was more Schumacher-esque than passing under team orders.

Don’t get me wrong, the race was Webber’s and Vettel took that victory from his team-orchestrated hands. There was an equal event that happened at the same time in which to juxtapose Vettel’s action in that Mercedes was politely orchestrating their own race finish by demanding that driver Nico Rosberg stand down and allow teammate Lewis Hamilton to finish on the podium when the young German was clearly quicker. This obedience only exacerbates the Vettel move.

What I find most intriguing is that the outrage and demand for a race ban for Vettel for ignoring team orders is coming from a group of Formula One fans that castigated Ferrari for issuing team orders in the past. they were apoplectic over the issue of “Fernando is faster than you” when Ferrari orchestrated the finish order of a race. In between Vettel-hate tweets, they are now asking that team orders be banned from F1. Are you serious? The legalism is astounding.

Sebastian Vettel, unlike Nico Rosberg, chose to win the race and improve his standings against Fernando Alonso. He spared the suffering F1 fan base from yet another processional race where even their beloved DRS and KERS couldn’t help spice up “the show”. You asked for non-processional racing and answered surveys saying you wanted nothing more from F1 than passing. When you were exposed to Ferrari’s team orders, you recoiled with vitriol and derision for such madness and now claim that vettel should be punished for spicing up “the show”? Pick a lane! Do you want team orders and processional racing or DRS, KERS, HD tires and spicy shows?

What Vettel did was nothing more than create tension within his own team about who is calling the race strategy and what his relationship will be like with Webber and the team. Nothing more. The rest of it doesn’t really require the endorsement or veto of the F1 fan. We can have opinions certainly but as for castigating Vettel as dangerous or unworthy is simply nonsensical and calling for a race ban is just plain stupid.

Sebastian apologized and that’s cold comfort to Webber and the team but he’s here to win, not putter around a teammate like Rosberg did. Even team boss Christian Horner admitted:

“Let’s be honest here,” he said. “There has never been a great deal of trust between the two of them since Istanbul in 2010.

“But there is a respect and a real respect between the two of them. If you think of Brazil at the last race, Mark was told to hold position and started racing him. Now, these things happen.

“They are race drivers and they will push to the limit. That is part of what their DNA is.

“That is why we sign them to do the job that they do, and why they have performed as well as a pairing for the last five years.”

As a Ferrari fan, I have supported their team orders from the day they started racing. It is about the team and they have a right to orchestrate the best possible finish they can. Seb’s move would have seriously enraged me if I were Horner. I understand the frustration but like Alonso’s pass on Massa in 2010 at China in the pitlane, drivers are there to protect their position in the team, establish the alpha driver and win titles.

Whether a driver listens to the team or not is a team issue but Webber has been nipping at Vettel’s heels for several seasons and as much as I love Mark Webber, Vettel is clearly putting his foot down as to who the number one driver at Red Bull is. Webber is an awesome driver in every sense of the word but he is not Sebastian Vettel… few are. Earlier in the race, Vettel did tell the team he was much faster and asked them to get Webber out of the way if this was the pace they were going to run Mark at. Vettel clearly felt he could be quicker and should be allowed to pass and take the race into his own hands. The team chose not to do that but Vettel decided he would.

Continue the anti-Vettel drama if you feel compelled to do so but I would consider his actions on Sunday as giving those fickle, must-have-passing F1 fans (who, by the way, abhor team orders and processional racing) more bang for their buck. You want DRS, KERS, HD tires, non-processional racing and yet you are the first to cry foul when Vettel ignores the call for boring, processional orchestrated racing and takes matters into his own hands to provide a real race… even between teammates? Whatever makes you happy I guess.

For the record, I really like Mark Webber a lot and wanted him to win the race. I was disappointed that Vettel ignored team orders and chose to take matters in his own hands but I understand why he did it and I appreciate his fierce determination to win and not play wet nurse to his teammate. Lewis Hamilton chose not to play that role as well and few F1 fans had any issues with his ignoring team orders and putting Fernando Alonso in his place while they were teammates at McLaren. Ayrton Senna certainly chose to call his own race from the cockpit at the detriment of the team as well. Is this much different? I consider Vettel’s move more Senna than Schumacher but in the end, we all love to belittle the 7-time champ and smear Vettel with the stench we created for Schumacher.



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