Monday 23 October 2017

Vettel defies team orders to leave Red Bull at war

Oliver Brown in Kuala Lumpur

In an explosive and quite extraordinary Malaysian Grand Prix, Sebastian Vettel brazenly disobeyed team orders to claim his 27th victory from an incandescent Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber.

At least one could not fault the triple world champion's reaction for succinctness. "I f**ked up," he admitted. "I would love to come up with a nice story but I can't. That's the truth."

Webber's ice-cold body language told its own story. The Australian had led after the final round of pit stops and the drivers were instructed to hold position until the end of the race, but Vettel acted of his own volition and passed Webber after the tensest of tussles with 13 laps remaining.

Within Red Bull, the fallout was immediate and rancorous.

Team principal Christian Horner, asked if disciplinary action would be taken against Vettel, said: "We will do our talking behind closed doors. We will take the emotion out of this and have a discussion."

As the triple world champion waited in the podium green room, technical director Adrian Newey appeared to be admonishing him.

candid

In the hostile press conference that followed, the German was candid in his contrition: "I can completely understand Mark's frustration and the team not being happy."

Chastened, Vettel also described himself as the "black sheep" of his team, but Webber was so enraged that he disclosed he was considering his future in Formula 1. "I have a lot of things to think about," said the 36-year-old, who said he would spend the next week surfing back home in Australia for some "medicine". But he added: "Whether the medicine is enough we shall see."

Lewis Hamilton mounted his first podium for Mercedes in third as stable-mate Nico Rosberg was also compelled to obey an order to stay behind. Seldom has the internecine warfare of two teams been played out so vividly or absorbingly.

The battle between the Red Bull drivers was drawn in a decisive scrap as Webber rejoined from his final pit stop.

Vettel was warned by Horner to stop being "stupid", but the two proceeded to fight one another wheel-to-wheel around Turns One and Two and finally, on Turn Four, Webber seemed to yield to the 25-year-old despite having the inside line.

Webber, with much chagrin, acknowledged it had been a clear case of team orders. "After the last stop the team told me that the race was over and we turned the engines down and go to the end," he said. "The team made their decision. Seb made his own decision and he will have protection as usual."

Vettel, who kept poker-faced on the podium, had already been given a dusty dressing-down via the in-car radio link: "Good job, Seb. Looks like you wanted it bad enough. Still you've got some explaining to do."

One struggles to see where the relationship between this pair can possibly go from here. The dynamic became strained as long ago as the Turkish Grand Prix in 2010, when Vettel again sought to overhaul his Red Bull partner for the lead, and Webber proceeded to mark his triumph at Silverstone that summer with the words: "Not bad for a No 2 driver."

Here, Webber had moved into the lead before the drivers came in to fit dry-weather tyres following a wet start. He had led for much of the race as the two Red Bulls employed the two available tyre compounds in different sequences. Vettel ended his race on the softer 'medium', with Webber on the hard.

Helmut Marko, Red Bull's head of motorsport and typically a strident advocate of Vettel's, conceded that the battle had "got out of control".

All this drama was detonated on the first lap, as Fernando Alonso suffered a broken first wing and unwisely opted to drive on rather than take a pit stop.

It was a decision that came back to bite him as the wing gave way and lodged itself underneath his car, disabling his steering and causing him to plough straight through Turn One into the gravel.

The Spaniard was not the only driver failing to think straight on a manic afternoon. Hamilton miscued his first stop by turning into the box of his former team McLaren rather than that of Mercedes.

Belatedly a semblance of order emerged as Webber made his initial stop and emerged clearly in the lead from Vettel. But Hamilton found similarly remarkable pace, closing on Webber at the rate of one second per lap and dragging Rosberg with him.

Hamilton turned in his fastest lap on Lap 23 while Vettel swarmed all over the back of Webber's car in the tussle for the lead. Vettel's race engineer instructed him to conserve his tyres as he was drifting too close to Webber and becoming affected by the dirty air.

But the German plainly detested being caught behind his stable-mate, shouting over the radio: "Mark is too slow, get him out of the way!" His advisers on the pit wall counselled that there was still half of the race left to run but Vettel's irritation could not have been plainer.

Vettel's first attack on Webber came on Lap 44, as they jostled hard into Turn Two, only for the Australian to stay ahead and then repeat the same defensive trick at Turn Three to force his team-mate wide.

The breakthrough arrived on lap 46, after Webber had defended, only for Vettel to try his luck on the inside on Turn One. Webber led into Turn Two but his rival would not relent, and when he could not get on to the power fast enough Vettel drove around on the inside. Horner labelled the move "silly" as Newey sunk his head into his hands.

The race was not even over and yet the inquest had already begun. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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