Our Aussie cousins like nothing more than giving the Brits a friendly dig and labelling us as whinging Poms. However, they might want to take a moment to look in the mirror. I am of course, referring to perennial F1 nearly man, Mark Webber.
At 9.30 am on Sunday, as the drama unfolded in the Malaysian Grand Prix, I received the first of numerous text messages from racing mates down under. How dare that smiley blond, bratwurst muncher, do the dirty on good ol’ Maaark Wibah? The next day, ex world champ and fellow whinging Aussie, John Watson, waded in with his opinion that Sebastian Vettel should face suspension. For what? For having the brass neck and balls to go wheel to wheel with his countryman, and beat him?
Racing drivers tend to fall into two categories. Let’s forget the pay-to-drive playboys and the one’s whose dads are best mates with Russian Oligarchs or Columbian cartels; the two significant types are the Good and Gifted. Mark Webber has always been in the same grouping as David Coulthard, Damon Hill, Jenson Button, Eddie Irvine, Felipe Massa, et al. Quick and talented, quite capable of winning races, but just (very) Good drivers. Vettel, Hamilton, Kimi, Alonso, (maybe Perez in a couple of seasons) are drivers who, although not yet in the pantheon of the all time greats, certainly exude a talent that extends beyond Good and puts them firmly in the category of Gifted. Mark Webber has never been in that group of drivers, and he never will be.
For sure; Sebastian Vettel should certainly expect a dressing down from Messer’s Newey and Horner. Playing the post race interviews like a German Father Dougal McGuire isn’t an excuse for ignoring a clear team order. No amount of goofy and confused back pedalling is going to convince anyone that Vettel didn’t know what was going on. However, any disciplinary action should be based on breaking a protocol, and not on showing the skill to beat your team mate.
Let’s be frank here; when Sebastian Vettel decided to go for broke and go for the win, Webber fought him through every corner and every inch of track. The team order (to hold station) was to avoid what happened a couple of seasons back in Turkey, when they took each other off. If Mark Webber had backed off, and let Vettel past him, then you could argue that he had scarified the victory to avoid a collision, and maintain maximum points for Red Bull. However, he didn’t. He stuck in there, refused to back out of it, and fought for the win. Fair play to him, but regardless of team orders, he was beaten on the track in a fair fight, by a driver who is gifted, as opposed to just being very good.
Sebastian Vettel shares the same traits as all gifted drivers. He can be head strong, and reckless, and prone to fucking it up when he pushes the boundaries, but that is exactly why he is so good, and exactly why Red Bull employ him. Webber is a consummate wing man. He is reliable, he will usually score valuable points, but he is an F1 bride’s maid. He might get the occasional knee trembler in the rose garden, but he has long since been out of the running to catch the bouquet.
Mark Webber cannot expect to be gifted a win, just because he happened to be in the lead. If that had been Lewis Hamilton or Kimi Raikonnen in his mirrors, he would have had to fight just as hard. Would he have been bleating then? He lost the race because his competitor kept his foot in that bit longer, and read the brinkmanship that little bit better. It doesn’t alter the fact that Sebastian Vettel ignored his team orders, but he didn’t win by cheating or cutting a corner. It is akin to Alex Ferguson telling a player to stay in the mid field and defend, but then he breaks formation and scores. Does Fergie hug him or punch him?
In the last few years, F1 has started to become like a spin off of The Matrix. Lewis signed for McLaren when he was 11. Sebbe has been part of Red Bull’s young driver's programme since his early teens. The cars and the teams are now being designed around the talents of the driver. Ferrari led the way in the 90’s with Michael Schumacher. You build the car to suit the talents of the driver. Ron Dennis and Adrian Newey took it a step further, by essentially deciding to hot-house those saplings that looked like they might grow well.
As much as I like Maaark Wibah, and have a huge respect for his skill, he is the tail end of a dying breed. Lewis, Vettel, Grosjean are the vanguard of the drivers who have been grown to race cars. It is quite a scary thought. Mark Webber lost that race, not because of team orders being ignored, but because he couldn’t beat his team mate to the chequered flag.
The irony in this situation is that, despite all the speculation about what sanctions may befall Vettel, the most likely result is that Mark Webber will lose his seat at Red Bull. Vettel is the hottest property of the current generation of drivers. He has won three consecutive world titles in only five seasons in the sport. If Vettel’s actions are likely to remain a serious friction issue in the RB team, there is no question about which driver is more likely to be heading for the door. Mark Webber needs to stop whinging and face up to the fact that he just couldn’t beat his team mate.