Blog: Team orders causing rifts in top F1 teams

SBS World News Sports reporter Nick Vindin examines how a decision to ignore a team order during the Malaysian Grand Prix could splinter a Champion F1 Team.


Red Bull screeched across the line taking out first and second spot on the podium at the Malaysian Grand Prix. You would think euphoria would follow after success on the Sepang circuit – instead a hollow radio message filtered to the winner Sebastian Vettel, “You looked like you wanted it bad enough but still – there will be some explaining to do.”

As the three time world champion walked into parc ferme he was all but ignored by his fellow Red Bull driver and second-place getter Mark Webber. The Australian driver was seething and only reminded the German champion of team-protocol, “Multi 21 Seb, Multi 21.” The team-code that means hold stations and don’t pass – an instruction Webber followed and Vettel recklessly ignored.

Webber led the Grand Prix from lap six, and as he dived out of the pits for the final time he was still in front. It was then the Australian received a team message to ease up and nurse the car to the finish, “After the last stop obviously the team told me the race was over, we turned the engines down.” Webber adhered to that order and with his teammate behind him and daylight for third there was no reason to push the car unnecessarily.

The 36-year old was about to feel betrayed. After being told to ease the car home an attack came from his fellow Red Bull. Vettel protested that Webber was too slow and began trying to pass him. A remark crackled into Vettel’s cockpit “Seb, this is silly.”

Silly and dangerous as the two almost collided – the team reportedly reminded Vettel to maintain a gap to Webber. He didn’t. With ten laps to go the German sped past his teammate to take the victory.

Webber spent the remainder of the race contemplating what had just happened. Why had he loyally adhered to the call of “Multi 21” in the past, when he hadn’t received the same support? His emotions hadn’t cooled when it was time for the podium presentations, his body language and cool words said it all – “In the end Seb made his own decisions today and will have protection and that’s the way it goes.”

It’s not the first time Webber has felt Vettel has had favoritism, after winning the British Grand Prix in 2010 the Australian ribbed his team principal after crossing the line, “Not bad for a number two driver,” comments broadcast to the entire watching audience.

Webber could feel further aggrieved now knowing what was unfolding for third and fourth place behind him in Malaysia.

In third was Mercedes recruit Lewis Hamilton who, like Webber was told to ease his car in the closing stages. Behind him was teammate Nico Rosberg who felt he had the pace to get over Hamilton. Rosberg was told not to pass, and unlike Vettel he followed his team instruction.

On crossing the finish line Rosberg reminded his team that he had shackled his individual desire for the glory of the team, “Remember this,” he buzzed through the team radio. And it seems his team did. Lewis Hamilton was thankful and gracious for his support, “Nico should be standing here [on the podium]. Generally he had better pace than me throughout the race. He’s a great teammate and did a fantastic job today.”

Vettel conceded what he did was wrong, “I think we should have stayed in the positions that we were. I didn’t ignore it on purpose but I messed up in that situation and obviously took the lead which, I can see now he’s [Webber] upset.”

Both Mercedes pilots adhered to team instructions and while there is no doubt there will be tension between the silver-arrow drivers – at the core the team came first. While in the Red Bull garage the question of favoritism and inequality will again be omnipresent with seventeen races remaining this season.

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