Ah, Red Bull are at it again. Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel are at each other’s throats once more, and a wheel is yet to be turned in anger at Interlagos.
This is, of course, the latest war of words that has erupted between the pair. No one should really be surprised – they are competing for the greatest prize in motorsport, and it will presumably also come to blows on track.
It all started yesterday when Webber was engaged in a press conference with assembled hacks. Pressed on the issue of favouritism within the team, Webber hinted strongly that Vettel’s youth meant the ’emotion’ lay with him.
“Of course when young, new chargers come onto the block, that’s where the emotion is. That’s the way it is,” he is quoted as saying by Autosport.
The suggestion that the team prefer Vettel, and particularly the German’s closeness to the team’s hierarchy, clearly rankles with Webber, although he did go on to say that he did not blame anyone for this state of affairs.
“Which is absolutely fine, because I’ve had a great opportunity and a great car to go and do some great things this year, and I have done that. I’ve got favourites in life. I’ve got people I like to be with. That’s how it is. It’s human nature.”
It was then Vettel’s turn to reply, using the same affected, somewhat weary tone he has employed occasionally this year to describe Webber’s outbursts. It is an effective tactic to use from Vettel, as it implies paranoia on his team-mate’s part.
“Obviously there have been a lot of things being said already. I don’t know what he’s said now,” said Vettel. “Everyone has his own opinion, but for me we both have the same chance every weekend to do well.
“The team supplies us with a very good car and that’s ultimately the situation that you want to be in – having a car where you can win races and fight for podiums.”
Vettel’s trailing his team mate in the standings is perhaps due to mechanical fallibility, and his loss of power during the Italian Grand Prix was viewed suspiciously by some of the German’s fans. Vettel made sure to add that despite his mechanical problems, he did not believe there was any kind of underhand behaviour in the team.
“I think I had lots of ups and downs this year. If something broke, then it tended to break on my car,” he said. “But do I think there is any conspiracy in the air? No, it’s the last thing I think about.”
Meanwhile, embattled team principal Christian Horner must be sick of pouring oil on troubled waters. He was visibly unimpressed by the latest round of hostilities.
“I think the members of the team would be greatly hurt to see that Mark has said that, if he has said that, and I can only think it’s been taken out of context because he has a great deal of support within the team, within Austria and with Dietrich Mateschitz, who has ultimately provided the opportunity that is there now,” said Horner.
“The team have provided a great car and we’re determined to finish the season on a high.”
Horner went on to reiterate, for the umpteenth time, his personal and professional commitment to the policy of driver equality.
“We’ve got two great drivers, we’re in a unique situation where we’ve got two drivers competing for the championship. It would’ve been wrong from the team’s point of view to back one driver over the other.”
The question is ultimately whose side fans and outsiders choose to believe. The evidence in front of our eyes was that Vettel was preferred at Silverstone, with the new front wing, although the defence was that he was leading Webber in the standings at the time.
Stretching belief further, though, is Horner and Helmut Marko’s response to the Turkish Grand Prix incident, where the two drivers came together on track. As has been documented before, their somewhat blinkered approach seemed to be to defend Vettel where practically no defence could credibly be proposed. Marko’s embrace of Vettel after his retirement in Korea also pointed to the depth of relationship the young German has with the powers-that-be within the team.
So if we believe our eyes, and Mark Webber, where does that leave his championship challenge and the future? His title aspirations will probably not be affected – it is unlikely that Red Bull management would make a call which lost him the world championship, for example, or that they would give him inferior machinery. Besides that, there are myriad other factors at work which might decide the outcome.
But the future is a different kettle of fish. Whatever the truth of the whole matter, Webber is palpably unhappy in the team, and you get the distinct impression that the other main players are starting to tire of having to defend themselves. Although the Australian is contracted for at least another year at the team, it is somehow difficult to envisage him staying after all that has happened. Were he not to win the title this year, what’s more, the general sentiment would be that he had missed his best chance.
So where does Mark Webber turn? The answer to his predicament is deceptively simple. He straps himself into that RB6 that he (and he alone) has made the best of this season. He forgets about the politics and the future. And he goes for it. If he wins, what glory awaits. The triumphant underdog, fighting not only the other drivers, but age and his own team. Folk would be reminded of Nigel Mansell’s beating Nelson Piquet in 1987, despite suspicions that Piquet had been preferred.
And last but not least, his bargaining power with Red Bull would be greatly increased. He could go to Dietrich Mateschitz’s door and say, ‘Mr Mateschitz, I’ve just won you the world title. If you want me to stay you have to cast-iron guarantee me parity at the very least!’ And who’s to bet that the Red Bull magnate wouldn’t agree…