Friday 24 November 2017

F1: Mark Webber's future not decided, say Red Bull as controversy rumbles on

Red Bull Racing's Mark Webber
Red Bull Racing's Mark Webber

Alan Baldwin

RED BULLl have rejected suggestions that Mark Webber's days with the team are numbered as a result of the controversy that erupted at Sunday's Malaysian Grand Prix.

Webber was the innocent party as team-mate Sebastian Vettel ignored team orders to win in Sepang, a move which has since brought the German widespread criticism.

Flavio Briatore, a member of Webber's management team and former F1 team principal, reacted by claiming Webber and Vettel's relationship was beyond repair and that he expected the two "enemies" to be parted at the end of the season.

Webber is out of contract at the end of the year and many observers predict the 36-year-old Australian will be the man to move aside ahead of the 2014 campaign.

But Red Bull today insisted it was too soon to speculate on the team's likely line-up for next season.

"It's pure speculation that Mark will not drive with the team in 2014," Red Bull said.

"Mark's contract has been renewed for the last few years on an annual basis - he has continually chosen to drive for the team each year and the team has similarly wanted to continue working with him as he is an excellent driver and a competitive racer.

"We are two races into the current season and it's far too early to be talking about 2014."

The team added: "Mark and Seb have driven together since 2009 and the pairing has achieved 35 wins, 80 podiums, 13 one-two finishes and six Formula One world championships.

"This successful period includes some spells of intense on-track rivalry between the two drivers, which began in Turkey 2010 [when the two collided on track] and has seen both drivers ignoring team orders at different times.

"The team has managed the situation each time in its own way behind closed doors."

Webber led for much of Sunday's race and emerged from his final pit stop still ahead of his team-mate, with both men then informed to turn down their engines and manage their cars home for a one-two finish.

Vettel ignored the order, however, and aggressively attacked Webber despite being warned by Red Bull team principal Christian Horner that his actions were "silly".

Vettel's attempt at an apology in the aftermath of the race did little to defuse the tension in the team, with Webber understandably furious.

Horner himself has come in for criticism for the incident, with Briatore suggesting he should have shown stronger leadership when faced with Vettel's rebellion.

Red Bull responded by mounting stern defence of Horner, saying: "A 'weak' team principal would be unable to steer a team to three consecutive world championships and oversee and manage the extensive team work that goes into this achievement - while managing two talented racers.

"This feat has only ever been achieved by four teams in the entire history of the sport."

Horner admitted Vettel's actions had "pushed the limits" of the team' tolerance, but the German found some support amid the vitriol today as F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone offered something approaching a defence.

"If I was Sebastian Vettel and had won three world championships for the team, and somebody came on the radio to me and giving me instructions, I'd probably do exactly the same as Kimi Raikkonen did when they gave him some instructions [last season] - and say I know what I'm doing," Ecclestone told Sky Sports.

"I don't think he's undermined Christian Horner's authority because Christian knows exactly what should have happened and didn't happen."

Asked if he would suspend Vettel for a race were he in charge at Red Bull, Ecclestone replied: "I don't think I would give that any consideration.

"I'd say to Sebastian, in future don't make me look an idiot."

Questioned whether Vettel and Webber could remain as team-mates for the rest of the season, the 82-year-old said: "Yes, of course they will. Obviously they will."

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