The victim of Sebastian Vettel’s decision to ignore his team’s instructions, Mark Webber predicted on Sunday that Red Bull would “protect” its triple world champion “as usual”.
But that might not be the case this time. Publicly at least, Red Bull is angry the 25-year-old German ignored the team and attacked the sister car to win Sunday’s Malaysian grand prix.
Afterwards, Vettel was contrite but he also claimed it was a “mistake”, not done “deliberately”.
“I didn’t mean to ignore the call,” he claimed.
Many couldn’t understand what Vettel meant, and team boss Christian Horner isn’t buying it.
“He made it quite clear what his intention was by making the move on Mark,” he said.
Horner said it is wrong if Vettel’s comments create the impression that he might not have heard the radio call.
“He knew what the communication was,” Horner insisted. “He chose to ignore it.
“He’s obviously chosen to hear what he wants to hear.”
Horner said there was no point even asking Vettel – who had earlier screamed ‘Get him (Webber) out of the way!’ on the radio – to give back the position he had taken.
“Do you honestly think if we’d told him to slow down and give the place back, he’d given it back?” he insisted.
Nonetheless, there are those who believe that – no matter Red Bull’s public position – Vettel is the obvious ‘number 1′ at Red Bull who only began to apologise late on Sunday because he realised his actions had not been well received.
The reaction of the press, for example, is near universal. “The ego is number 1,” said Der Spiegel’s Ralf Bach.
“While Rosberg obeyed (Mercedes), the defiant Vettel overtook ruthlessly — probably because he has nothing to fear.”
Agreed Bild newspaper’s Frank Schneider: “Vettel looked as though he was surprised by his own brutality.
“More and more, he reminds of his idol Michael Schumacher, who was loved and hated, and Vettel is on the way there.”
The pundits also agreed.
“In the end he has made his unofficial status as number 1 clear,” said former driver Alex Wurz. “So this changes nothing.”
Indeed, when Horner was asked if Vettel will be punished or penalised in any way, he said only that further discussions “behind closed doors” will take place.
“It appears a mild slap on the wrist is all an impotent team boss will be able to deliver to his star turn,” said Mirror correspondent Byron Young.
Former F1 driver Patrick Tambay told France’s RMC Sport: “I think the true character of Sebastian Vettel has been revealed.
“Outside the car, he is smiling and has the reputation for being very friendly. But when he puts on his helmet, he becomes a warrior, an ogre.
“He wants to win at all costs. It was roughly the same scenario between Mercedes’ Hamilton and Rosberg, but the latter – a very well mannered boy – followed the instructions of his boss.”
Added Niki Lauda: “Vettel won with all his might against the logic of the team. It was a serious mistake.”
Former F1 engineer Joan Villadelprat told El Pais newspaper: “Having two roosters in the henhouse is never easy.”
According to Germany’s Auto Motor und Sport, Sauber team manager Beat Zehnder admitted: “He (Vettel) has done himself no favours. This has not gone down well in the paddock generally.”
Outside the paddock, however, German tennis legend Boris Becker said Vettel “did what a three time champ is supposed to do … take matters in your own hands!”
Speed Week correspondent Mathias Bruner commented: “He did the right thing as a winner, but not as a sportsman.”
The most serious ramification of the Sepang saga could be Mark Webber’s career. Having shown Vettel the middle finger after the manoeuvre, the 36-year-old hinted to reporters that he could quit Red Bull or even formula one.
Horner played that down.
“Both of them have just sat in a debrief, talked very constructively about the car and focused on where we need to improve and where we need to be better for the next race.
“The team didn’t manipulate any situation, there was no conspiracy, so why he needs to be thinking about his future or anything like that is just pure emotion,” he added.
One thing is for certain. Martin Brundle wittily observed during his Sky commentary on Sunday that the “relationship that never was” between Vettel and Webber is now definitely over.
“They are probably not going out for dinner together,” agreed Dr Helmut Marko.
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