There are few sports in which the concept of forgoing personal success in favour of team victory is a familiar one, to be sucked up, shrugged off and taken with a pinch of salt. But the notion that the accomplishments of the team come first has long been entrenched in the rule book of Formula One. It is one of the most firmly established principles of the race, in fact, that team orders are paramount, to be followed dutifully by the driver as the employee.
It seems, however, that the superiority of the team is valued to a greater degree by certain teams than others. While some, most notably the Italians, believe this principle stands as strong today as it did some 100 years ago, others are of the belief that the notion is outdated, inappropriate in practice and, ultimately, that it dilutes the energy and unpredictable nature of the race. For us, as viewers, the supremacy of the team over that of the individual is something which, at times, leaves us feeling somewhat cheated. It is with a certain sense of resentment that we are made to celebrate a result manufactured from the sidelines, one which the pair on track agreed to but we as Formula One fans did not.
An insertion into the rulebook driven in large part by Max Mosley, which prohibited team orders that interfered with a race result, was notoriously lost in translation and later removed from regulations at the tail end of 2010. Its existence during the Malaysian GP may well have led to a different outcome for the Red Bull pairing.
As with the English judicial system, whereby a judge’s interpretation of the law creates a malleable precedent of case law, so too do the decisions made by Formula One teams today. It seems money speaks volumes and drivers, for the most part, continue to feel bound by the purse strings of the teams for which they operate.
But while the results of the Malaysian GP demonstrated that ‘taking one for the team’ is a notion that sits far more comfortably when your childhood friend is the one set to benefit, it is, it seems, a concept lost of Sebastian Vettel.
In this game, you don’t become three times World Champion through grace, generosity and humility.
Vettel has shown time and again that a win-at-any-cost mentality coupled with the ability to express regret only in hindsight is an irresistible recipe for success (and one which makes for a deliciously compelling combination for viewers). For Mark Webber, however, it is the bitter taste that lasts and lasts.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that Red Bull’s 13th one-two finish and a nail-biting battle to the finish line would be enough to warrant them kicking back to relax and enjoy an ice-cold can of energy. Alas, while 43 points might position them where they want to be, it is the means by which those points were obtained that Christian Horner and team were less than impressed with.
For Red Bull, the constructors’ title is the thing that holds financial promise and generates column inches. But Jonathan Mcevoy was on the money when he said that it is the drivers and the cars that compel viewers to watch Formula One; we could care less about the financial consequences for a team.
That being said, with a friendship as acrimonious as that of Webber and Vettel’s’, Red Bull will continue to make headlines.
The two possible outcomes following the dramatic finish in Malaysia? Vettel desists from trampling on Mark Webber and opts dutifully to respect team orders, resulting in a high profile, much talked about one-two victory come the end of the season for Red Bull. Hooray! Alternatively, Vettel and Webber continue to lock horns, Vettel refuses to bow down to Horner and co, and his lack of team spirit is, once again, front page news.
For Red Bull, it’s pretty much win-win.
Words by Sarah Taylor