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.