Vettel Ignores Team Orders And The F1 World Goes Crazy…
Team orders, do they suck? Yes. Are they going away? No. To give you an idea of the emotion that Vettel’s action stirred up, on JamesallenonF1.com (one of my favorite sites) there were over 1100 comments by the time the sounding off was done. Wow.
I am a long-time F1 fan and I can’t remember a time when something has caused such uproar. I don’t even think there was this much hoopla in 2006 when Michael Schumacher parked his Ferrari at La Rascasse during qualifying to prevent Fernando Alonso from taking pole for the Grand Prix of Monaco.
It is not as if this is the first time a driver has decided he was more important than the team that is paying his salary. But the press acts as if Wonderboy’s true colors have suddenly been revealed and (shocker!), in addition to his easy gong persona, he is also a cunning, calculating cut-throat. Please. I was never under any other illusion as to what kind of a driver Sebastian Vettel is ever since he caused a crash while trying to pass Mark Webber in 2010 at the Grand Prix of Turkey and then arrogantly made the international sign for “Cuckoo!” as in “Why would you get in my way, don’t you know I’m the chosen one at this team and I get what I want. Always.”
Clearly the overriding feeling is that Vettel should not have disobeyed the radio transmission, and should have held his position. So he has proven his detractors correct, when things don’t go his way he throws a tantrum. And maybe he has disappointed some F1 fans that thought he was the prince of this generation of drivers. By and large most fans want their heroes to have some sort of concept of right and wrong. This has long been a complaint against Schumacher, by the end of his career you either loved him or hated him. As fans we can put up with quite a bit of nastiness, but in the end what really counts is did your guy play fair or not? And this time Vettel did not play fair.
But then again, maybe playing fair doesn’t make a great racecar driver. We watch F1 because we like to see great racing. And drivers that race hard and win at all costs have always found a way into our hearts and minds — despite some heartless moves or mindless actions. Look at Michael Schumacher, the most popular driver of the last decade, despite numerous ‘unfair’ actions that didn’t sit well with fans. Who would you rather be, Michael Schumacher or a gentlemanly driver without seven world titles?
Or lets look at my favorite driver, Fernando Alonso. I remember Fernando acting like a petulant child sitting in the pit box to destroy Lewis Hamilton’s chances of completing his last qualifying run in Hungary in 2007. It was in response to Hamilton’s action on the previous lap, purposefully trailing Alonso (not playing fair) so he could have the last lap. They were both ignoring team orders. At which point all hell broke loose between them and the team with both drivers fighting for #1 status. Does that mean I like Alonso less? Absolutely not, in my eyes it makes him look like a true fighter.
So this issue of team orders and following them or not following them is a messy affair. The fans that revered Vettel probably like him more now and the ones that didn’t have another reason not to.
Ron Denis once famously said that drivers are like political animals. I will add to that a little, the top drivers are the ultimate political animals. Aryton Senna, Alain Prost, Nigel Mansel, Nelson Piquet, Schumacher, Hamilton, Alonso, (these being the drivers that come to mind since i have been watching F1 as an adult, im sure there are many more) and now let me introduce to you the club’s newest member, Sebastian Vettel. These drivers do more than just drive very fast and win. They, like all great leaders, from the time of the Roman Empire to the present, possess one additional quality and that is the ability to understand that you don’t win just by being fast, or a great orator, or a courageous fighter. You must anticipate all the factors and variables around you. You must know when to strike even if it is your friends and comrades that you will hurt. Most importantly you must never let the act of doing the right thing get in the way of what is right for you.
Echoing my point, an article in YallaF1 today quotes Gerhard Berger saying, “There are drivers like Senna or Schumacher or Vettel who develop an extra selfishness on the track.” Note he mentions all drivers with multiple world championships, a good club to be in no matter the context. He also says, “Guys like Schumacher, Senna and Vettel” will always ignore team orders “unless it is to their advantage.” And therein lies the rub for people like Mark Webber. When you’re as good as Vettel you can just plain get away with it.
All of the great drivers I’ve mentioned have this extra ‘selfishness’, if you call it that. Or maybe they’re just following the old adage, “It is often easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.” Did Fernando ask permission to overtake Felipe Massa when he made that great pass on him coming into the pits at the GP of China back in 2010? No. Did Schumacher care about Rubens Barichello when he pushed him into the concrete at the end of the start/finish line straight at the Hungarian GP also back in 2010? No. And yet again in 2010, did Schumacher ask about the safety car rules or care about Fernando in Monaco with that pass on the last lap? The answer again is definitely no. Clearly Vettel really didn’t care about the pre-race arrangement, or “his word” which we assume he gave to the team and to Webber with ten laps to go at the Malaysian GP, driving around in 2nd place. Will he regret the seven points he ‘stole’ if he wins the world championship by as slim a margin as it has been won the last two out of three years? Most definitely, no.
One last thought before I check out. F1 drivers are some of the most scrutinized and criticized people in the world of sports (unless you’re Tiger Woods, or Lance Armstrong) so this kind of microscopic treatment is nothing new to either Vettel or Webber. It was the same for Lewis and Fernando back in the acrimonious year they spent as teammates at McLaren. This will pass, things will calm down, if Vettel wins a fourth Driver’s Championship no one will really care aside from this just being the way all great drivers are, have been, will be: win at all costs. For me, aside from the copy that this conversation has created, (which I shamelessly love) at the end of the day, I think this is really nothing more than a racing incident.
F1 will get over it, if we have a different winner in China that will be the big story, if Webber gets the measure of Vettel that will be a bigger story, if Mercedes wins in China that will be a bigger story yet. Personally, for me, I am still smarting about Alonso who is usually error-free running into the back of Vettel, breaking his front wing and being kept out on the track by Ferrari. Huh? Stefano, explain to me again why Fernando was allowed to drive down one of the longest straights on the F1 calendar with a broken front wing? It’s not like there’s a ton of downforce wanting to rip the thing right off is there?
PS By the way I have read now almost everything there is to read on the Vettel-Webber Multi21 debacle (I have multi21 of the brain by now) and if you only read one story, article, or blog (besides mine, ha ha) in regards to Vettel and the greater issue of team orders it should be Joe Saward’s post by the title, A Little Background On Team Orders. I encourage everyone to give it a read. Mr. Saward eloquently gives some history, touches on the moral aspect of, and adds his perspective to this long-standing aspect of F1. It really is a jumping off point for this issue of team orders that will clearly become a hot topic this season.