Analysis of the Red Bull accident

Formula One Turkish Grand Prix

The incident involving the Red Bull drivers was clearly the hottest topic from the Turkish Grand Prix. The first rule in F1 is not to take your team-mate out, it is the worst sin in the sport that is seen as a team game despite the individual ego’s of the drivers. By having what is perceived as the fastest car in F1 at the moment, the chances that the two Red Bull drivers fighting it out on the track are greatly increased. We have seen in previous years how destructive it can be when team-mates go head to head on the track. Some of the sports most famous incidents over the past 30 years has come as team-mates take strips off each other.

Senna & Prost in 1989 is perhaps the most famous on track incident between team mates. However I feel the incident at Istanbul Park is slightly different. We are yet half way through the championship, and despite the pressure being on the drivers, now is not a time for at all costs driving.

The scene is set in Turkey as Vettel saw he early season performances overshadowed in recent races by Mark Webber, who was now leading the championship and was coming off the back of two wins and a comprehensive display in Monaco. In summary, the balance of power in the Red Bull team was shifting away from Vettel in the course of the last month. Vettel wanted to put a stop to this in Istanbul and a problem for Vettel in Qualifying meant that the German was further behind his now nemesis (Webber) for the start of the race.

Vettel got the jump on Hamilton away from the starting grid, but was convincingly past by the Briton by turn 3. Vettel however got lucky during the pit-stop window. Having pit earlier than Hamilton he was able to jump up to second and get on the tail of Mark Webber. Vettel however, unlike Hamilton didn’t seem to be able to press Webber so aggressively. Perhaps because the cars were so closely matched Vettel never really looked like making a move stick on Webber. However on lap 38 Vettel was able to take advantage of a ‘fuel saving’ phase that Webber was asked to enter for a couple of laps to ensure that he could make the end of the race. Webber having less horse power was vulnerable down the straight and Vettel decided to put himself on the inside line for the left handed hairpin at turn 12.

The gap left by Webber wasn’t large, it was just enough space to put a car, and initially when Vettel made the move to the left hand side Vettel was almost over the white line and on to the dirt. Mark Webber kept a straight and true line to the hairpin as Vettel pulled along side and marginally in front and if both drivers kept their trajectory to turn 12 then the change in position would have happened and both drivers would still have finished 1-2 for Red Bull, but in a dangerous move Vettel tried to edge Webber out to the right to give Vettel the much easier line for the hairpin and also to robustly elbow Webber out of the way.

The move slightly to the right in to Mark’s path is what in my opinion caused the accident and why I would put most of the blame on Vettel. What was Webber expected to do? He was leading the race, leading the championship and had given just enough space for his team-mate to decide if he wanted to take the risky move. Vettel under the duress his previous form in recent races acted like it was all or nothing, not from a driver that understood that there were still many laps to go and to look at the wider picture of the championship as a whole. Let’s not forget that Vettel had already lost some key points in earlier rounds of the season and could have been on top of the championship. His driving indicated that he did not appreciate his situation and had a very narrow perspective on his racing. It was win at all costs, and the need to stop Webber here in Turkey. Where in reality a more mature outlook would have realised the long game would be better. If he had listened to any words of wisdom from any world championship winner that most would have told him championships are won at the end of the season not at round 7. Sports News - May 30, 2010

I remember Jackie Stewart saying that Nigel Mansell struggled to win Championships in the late 1980’s because he was too aggressive all the time. He drove like he was always out to prove everyone wrong, and this move by Vettel reminded me that perhaps the German could do with a sit down with the 3 times world champion about his approach.

The case against Webber in my opinion is small, but let’s have a look at what he could have done.

Firstly we know he had less power and would have expected a move from Vettel on the back straight. Webber could have closed the door completely through turn 11 making sure that Vettel had to switch over the the right hand side for the left handed turn 12. This would have made Vettel’s task almost impossible.

Webber could have also have just let Vettel through. Applying the logic or commonsense I mentioned in the previous paragraphs, Webber might have been better off just letting his team-mate through, after all he would have only lost a hand full of points. This, however, would have set an astonishing precedent. It would have sent a message out the Red Bull team, Sebastian Vettel and Webber’s rivals that in a straight out dog fight he would just succumb.

David Coulthard I feel had this tag, Riccardo Patrese, Rubens Barrichello and Damon Hill to a certain extent had their careers blighted by seemingly being happy to make things easy for their team-mates. All drivers are very fast, but once you get pigeon holed with that reputation, it becomes a constant up-hill battle to convince the F1 public that you are the real deal. Mark Webber being Australian by nature doesn’t have know what capitulate means. The fighting spirit of the Australian sportsman is famous and I don’t think for one minute it should have been expected for a driver who wants to win the championship to easily give away his position not just in the race, but in the team. Webber isn’t a spring chicken and this could be his one and only chance to win the championship, Vettel underestimated his older team-mate and got his hands burnt in return for his aggressiveness towards Webber.

The Red Bull team were instantly in the public eye and the reaction from some of the senior management was telling. There seemed to be sympathy for Vettel and condemnation of Webber for not giving him room. This is just  Bull-Shit in my opinion.

Christian Horner had proclaimed to want to give each driver the best chance to win the championship, but seemed to be insinuating in his subtext that Mark had to give way to Vettel in a head to head. Helmut Marko another senior member of the Red Bull management also criticised Mark Webber post race. This lead widespread rumours that Vettel was the unofficial number 1 in the team and the team should have criticised Vettel for the incident in the same way most of the F1 paddock saw the incident.

Days after the accident Red Bull seemed to have changed their corporate tone to a more balanced view, but it seems reluctantly and that the dynamics in the senior management still blame Webber and his race engineer for not managing the situation better. Before Turkey, both Red Bull and Webber looked set to resign a new contract, but now that seems to be an impossibility. Ok so they might get a grip on the tension on the track between the two drivers, but Vettel who is clearly the darling of the Red Bull young driver programme and also foreseen as a driver that could win many championships over the next 10 years, is likely to demand that Webber be replaced for next year otherwise he would look to go elsewhere.

Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel Meet At Team Factory

The one winner though on Sunday – Formula One. The sport is at its best when the ingredients are hot and spicy between two championship contenders in the same team and it will become a unmissable spectacle throughout the summer.

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