The “Ice Man” may not have repeated his season opening win in Melbourne by standing on the podium in Malaysia on Sunday after the 2013 Formula One Grand Prix, but it couldn’t have been much chillier in atmosphere on those steps, even given the tropical high heat. In an odd finish that put Sebastian Vettel first, his teammate at Infiniti Red Bull Racing, Mark Webber, second, and Lewis Hamilton newly of Mercedes third with his teammate, Nico Rosberg fourth, the top four positions were almost entirely set by team orders. The only racer of the four not to follow the orders was triple World Champion driver, Vettel, who later apologized for not following his team’s commands to dial down and allow Webber the win. Who is really the winner and who the loser in this debate?
In the post-race press conference, Sebastian Vettel apologized to his teammate and team for not following the command to engine down in order to save on tires and better ensure that both cars would make it to the end of the last lap. Tire degradation had been a major factor in the Malaysian Grand Prix. When Mark Webber dialed down, Vettel who was running second and who had been complaining earlier in the race that Webber was “too slow,” passed him to take the win. Earlier in the race, he had followed the team order not to pass his teammate.
Third and fourth places were also controversial due to team orders. Unlike Vettel, Nico Rosberg of Mercedes followed his team’s orders to stay in fourth and not pass third place racer, Lewis Hamilton, even though it was clear he could have done so. Their issue was fuel — wanting to conserve it. In their situation, however, Hamilton apologized from the podium and said that Rosberg should be up there and not him.
Stories of continuing bad blood on the Red Bull team continued on the Monday after the race as news of Webber’s plans mentioned in the news conference that he would to return to Australia, go surfing, and not answer the phone for awhile circulated throughout the F1 motor racing world.
In the meantime, fans of Formula 1 are discussing the issues raised by champion racers taking the win at all costs vs. team orders that were at one time, at least, set to be against the rules in Formula 1 but which have been worked around by teams using various “code language.” Does a racer follow team orders and be a good team player, or does he shoot for the win, no matter what that may mean in terms of risk to his or his teammate’s car, the team’s chances of winning or losing to someone else, or constructors’ championship points?
Formula 1 appears to deal with such troubles through glaring looks, curt remarks, possible retributions on the track, apologies — fake or real — and other such “sophisticated” displays of conflict and behind-the-scenes resolutions that attempt to uphold — at least on the surface — a sense of respect for both racers and teams. NASCAR fans, on the other hand, are more used to seeing a direct approach to such disagreements — more rough and tumble displays like the one put on the very same weekend as the Malaysian Grand Prix in the slug fest side show put on by Tony Stewart and Joey Logano at the Sprint Cup race in Fontana, CA.
Whether the slug fest is real or figurative, one can be certain that the high profiles of the Red Bull and Mercedes teams in Formula 1 will only fuel this racer vs. team debate over the next three weeks before the Chinese Grand Prix on April 14.
COMMENT BELOW: What do you think of Sebastian Vettel’s choice to pass Mark Webber for the win in Malaysia? What do you think of that move contrasted with Nico Rosberg’s choice to follow his team’s orders and stay behind Lewis Hamilton, thus costing him a podium spot. Let us know your thoughts in the comments section!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dr. Connie Ann Kirk is the author of several books and holds a Ph.D. in English. She is working on a book about racers and racing with a historic racer from upstate New York.