Politics at 200mph

Mark Webber and Red Bull

Clouds gather over Mark Webber and Red Bull at Silverstone. (pic Infiniti)

So the British Grand Prix was a soaring success. Packed stands, a giant new pit building, decent racing, a welcome first win for Ferrari in 2011 and intriguing weather conditions that looked like Bernie got his way with sprinklers as half the track appeared bone-dry while the rest of the track was awash. But somehow F1 still managed to bring plenty of controversy to an otherwise lovely day out.

First up was the flip-flopping over the charmingly-titled exhaust blowing saga. I am nowhere near technical enough to get my head around the rules themselves although you don’t need to be a Newey-esque genius to work out that changing the rules (or at least the way they are applied) in the middle of a meeting is not a good idea. For anybody. Despite what Adam Parr told Maurice Hamilton in this revealing interview, I doubt a row that even team principals struggled to elaborate on could possibly be good publicity.

I’ve been raised on a diet of burning rubber since I was no taller than a GT40, so if I was left wondering what the hell was going on then the hypothetical man-in-the-pub must have been asking the notional landlord to reach for his imaginary remote-control.

If all the technical trouble wasn’t enough to leave a bad taste in the mouth then the thorny issue of team orders was sure to leave the casual viewer enraged. It was inevitable that the now legal practice of telling your drivers how to race would rear its ugly head at some point in 2011. Politics is distasteful enough in the paddock, let alone when it spills onto the race track.

So was Christian Horner telling Mark Webber to “maintain the gap” to Vettel really so terrible? Of course we all want to see a race, but isn’t it simply sensible to tell your drivers to mind their Ps and Qs? Nobody had to give away a win here after all. Personally I wasn’t anywhere near as offended by Red Bull Racing’s communications as I was last year by Ferrari, at least my intelligence was not insulted this time around. As Eddie Jordan was so very keen to point out, the Webber and Vettel situation was similar to Ralf Schumacher being told not to challenge Damon Hill at Spa in 1998, something that garnered very little complaint at the time. The mad Irishman was only half right about the similarities between the two scenarios; the big difference is that a team like Red Bull with a crushing lead in both championships can afford to take more risks than a small team such as Jordan that had a one-two finish in its grasp for the very first time on that rainy day 13 years ago.

Holding back your drivers seems to go against the Red Bull spirit that prizes extreme endeavours above anything as they eschew conventional advertising in favour of backing the world’s most demanding and dangerous pursuits. But the simple fact is that F1 is a team game and now team orders are allowed. You could argue that this is a mistake on the sport’s part, it is rare that team orders have a nice outcome. From the Pironi and Villeneuve controversy that indirectly led to the loss of an F1 legend to less serious incidents such as Mika Hakkinen’s phantom pitstop gaff in Melbourne and on to Ferrari’s seemingly routine shafting of likeable Brazilians, team orders are bad PR however necessary they may seem when you are responsible for 500 employees and big-brand sponsors. Still, at least it took our minds off exhausts, for that I’m grateful.

Where does all this leave Mark Webber? Exactly where he was 12 months before it seems – at loggerheads with some factions within his own team. With Danny Ricciardo finishing a minute or so down on his nearest rival in his debut Grand Prix the heat isn’t on quite yet for Mark from his fellow Aussie. It seems Mark’s much-rumoured switch to Ferrari is in more danger as Sergio Perez has been penciled in for a test with Maranello before the season is out. Webber may want to focus all his mental energy on getting one over Vettel, but it seems he’ll need to get stuck into some big career decisions a little sooner than he may have liked to.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Politics at 200mph

  1. Darren

    I disagree.
    Firstly, Red Bull are light-years (I use this term correctly) in both Drivers & Constructors Championships.

    Christian Horner made a totally ridiculous claim ‘that both drivers could have gone into the wall’ (para-phrase but on those lines) if authorized to race each other for the 2nd Place..!!

    Webber & Vettel are great drivers which meant this wouldn’t have occurred.

    If other teams we’re closer to Red Bull in terms of points, I would have supported Horner’s decision but this isn’t the case.
    Horner lost me when he used the justification of Red Bull’s Sponsors as to why he made that decision. If anything it’s backfired & created negative publicity.

    Let them race for 2nd Place & if Webber had overtaken Vettel then it falls into the British Sporting Ethic of Fairplay. Adding to Red Bull’s ‘to the edge’ philosophy.

    If they did then ‘go into the wall’ then Horner still wins but his drivers accept Team Orders forever & ever, simples.

    The British Grand Prix 2011 will be remembered as the day Red Bull showed that rather than being mavericks they are instead corporate.

    Yet, what do you expect it’s a global company… even I was fooled.

    • Quite right. The Red Bull’s could and should race, but like you say it is a global company. Maybe a company that backs some exciting things, but large companies like to limit risks in whatever they do. If they only sponsored the squad rather than owned it I suspect they would leave them to it.

  2. Darren

    Ohhh…. Eddie Jordan.

    He goes on all the time about how Michael Schumacher needs to
    quit as he’s making an embarrassment of his legacy.

    Well, Mr. Jordan from last weeks Television; Murray Walker made
    you look absolutely amateur. This from a retired Senior Citizen.

    I felt sorry for Tony Jardine doing The Goodwood Festival of Speed whilst he commentated on the F1 Car’s. He’s miles better than Eddie due to not being about him but the Sport.

    Eddie’s loves being centre of attention & at times am thinking are the opinions delivered for sensationalism, perhaps?

    Louise Goodman was another good performer.

    If the Beeb want personality I’d give Jacques Villeneuve, an opportunity. He’d have an opinion but he’s an actual World Champion.

    Then the Beeb could have Eddie for certain races that match his attitude… Monaco, Brazil, Belgium, Britain, Singapore, Australia & next year, America.

    He get’s his Special Guest… hype grand entrance style he’d like & for the majority we’d have focus on just the racing.

    Other opinions are available.

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