McLaren team boss Martin Whitmarsh is no stranger to intra-team squabbles. Having helmed the team in 2007 when double-champion Fernando Alonso met the rookie phenom Lewis Hamilton was a tumultuous time for the team. The fireworks, words and on-track actions were press fodder for the world media.
Having sailed the unsettled seas of inner-strife, Whitmarsh is perhaps best placed to comment from afar on Red Bull’s current intra-team rift between veteran Mark Webber and his German teammate Sebastian Vettel. He said:
“2007 was a tough year for all sorts of reasons,” he said. “We had a competitive car, we were trying to win the world championship but ultimately we lost it by one point. Certainly the histrionics that went around, cost us that world championship, so we had to understand and respect that.
“I think if your drivers aren’t working together then it is one more distraction you could do without.”
The Hamilton/Alonso battle was a distraction that most likely, as Whitmarsh spells out, cost them the title that year and one can offer a similar scenario for Red Bull if things keep moving the direction they are. The battle and lack of harmony between teammates is crucial to the succinct nature of a team but they will always be independent people and difficult to manage–especially if one feels put upon. Whitmarsh said:
“Drivers are immensely competitive individuals – they wouldn’t be doing that job otherwise, so if they perceive something that is not even-handed or fair, then you are going to have some trouble.
“There is always a potential tension with two drivers in the same team fighting for a championship. We’ve experienced that a few times, it’s difficult, but I have to say that so far I think we are in reasonable shape in that regard.
“A lot of people speculated on the relationship between our two drivers, and the fact that it hasn’t been a news story yet meant people tried to make it one.”
As much as Red Bull present a united front publicly, nothing will change until the two drivers reach an accord with each other. The forceful, unyielding nature of both drivers has cost both a win and more this season and that’s 50 drivers point scuttled over ego and perception.
A driver is not obligated to give way to his teammate but then a driver can also see that sometimes finishing second is not as bad as being beat by your teammate and stranded on the circuit with a flat tire or worse. Vettel’s poor start cost him the race at Silverstone just as it did for Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso. He was beaten to the corner and no amount of muscling is going to throw Webber of the scent of the lead.
Misfortune with a competitor is something that can be a welcome event and Whitmarsh is not above hoping the Red Bull intra-team rivalry will weaken their position…but he’s not counting on it:
“We have got to concentrate on our situation” he said. “I hope there are cracks and divisions in all our competitors and they all fall apart, but I am not going to rely on it. We have got to make our car quicker and try and win the championships that way.”
In the end game, Red Bull could miss the title by a single point and that is a bitter spoon of medicine to swallow for a team that has all but dominated the qualifying session thus far in 2010. It is a difficult situation to be sure but Red Bull have got to face their own demons now before worrying about McLaren or Ferrari. Red Bull has seen the enemy and the enemy is Red Bull.