Talking Turkey and other Bull
4 June, 2010
Jun.04 (Aaron Noah) In the press conference immediately following the Turkish GP, the television commentator prodded Mark Webber for details on the now infamous Lap 41 crash, which erased a one-two lead for Red Bull and gifted McLaren 43 points. The Australian didn’t need to say much; the anguished grimace on his face disclosed the true story. War has been declared inside team Red Bull.
If not for the collision with teammate Sebastian Vettel, was Webber confident he was on course to finish the race with a victory? The commentator posed the question and Mark glared in silence, taking a few seconds to calm the fury within. Then he barely managed a response, “Yeah. Yeah, I was, yes.”
The tension was contagious. Even Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton looked anxious while proceeding to the podium with Webber. Maybe their euphoria was tempered by the realization that McLaren themselves had narrowly escaped the same fate of the RB6s when Button and Hamilton tangled for the lead in the final laps at Istanbul Park. For now, the two Britons can continue to smile and hug each other on camera.
Not so for Red Bull. The finger pointing began immediately. After Vettel and Webber made contact, the German’s beloved Randy Mandy was torn apart and cast aside into the circuit runoff, while the Australian managed to limp his car back to the pits to replace a damaged nosecone. Vettel climbed out of the wreck in disgust, pointing to his head and twirling his finger in circles, indicating that he thought his teammate’s actions were crazy.
Red Bull team bosses Christian Horner and Helmut Marko initially seemed to agree with the German. They both cited that Vettel had the speed advantage over Webber on that lap and that Hamilton was threatening to pass from behind. Sebastian needed to pass but Mark squeezed him to the inside.
“Vettel was so much faster that he had to pass. If Webber and he had braked together, then Hamilton would have passed Vettel,” said Marko.
Horner added, “It looks as though he didn’t leave Sebastian enough space. It was very clear he (Vettel) was by his side and in front.”
Vettel was confident, “If you watch it on the TV, you can see what happened. I’m not in the happiest of moods. I was on the inside going into the corner. I was there, I was ahead and focusing on the braking point and then we touched. Mark’s car hit my rear right wheel and I went off – there’s not much more to say.”
But watching the TV footage seems to vindicate Webber, not Vettel. The cockpit views show Mark drifting over slightly to pen Vettel to the dirty side of the track, but then he maintains a straight line, allowing space for his teammate to pass. Switch to the circuit camera views and this becomes even more apparent. Vettel has room on the inside to overtake, and in fact he does just that, but before his car is fully clear, he cuts back to the right and makes contact with the other RB6. The video plainly shows Vettel coming off line too soon and initiating the collision. Webber’s actions were cheeky but not the direct cause of contact.
Christian Horner shifted to a neutral stance with the official race report, “They were too far over on the left, Sebastian got a run on the inside of Mark, but then came across too early. They didn’t give each other room; it’s as simple as that.”
Yet no controversy is complete without a good conspiracy theory. It is now known that Red Bull had instructed Mark Webber to switch his engine to a fuel-saving mode on lap 41. Sebastian Vettel remained at optimum engine mode, which enabled him to gain significant top speed advantage over his teammate. When reporters asked Webber about his thoughts on this, he hinted, “Hmm, maybe. You guys need to dig more, somewhere else.”
The paddock was buzzing. Did Red Bull deliberately reel Mark in to conduct rear guard defensive action against the McLarens to let Sebastian coast in for the victory? Horner defended the team’s calls.
He stated that “He (Vettel) had managed to save an extra kilo of fuel – as both cars started the race with the same amount of fuel. Effectively he had one more lap of the optimum engine mode, but we couldn’t back him off because he was under pressure from Lewis Hamilton behind.”
Sebastian was clearly the team darling for Red Bull at the start of this season, but Mark Webber has clawed his way into the limelight with an impressive three poles and two wins in the last three races. Paddock whispers have indicated that there has been friction between the two Red Bull drivers for quite some time, although cleverly disguised by a series of smiling, hugging photo ops. Lap 41 might have gouged a huge hole in the energy drink’s spin machine.
Red Bull is now desperately trying to put out the fires and move on. In an interview with Autosport.com, Christian Horner concluded, “This will be dealt with before we go to Canada. I’ve spoken to both drivers. They are both grown ups, they are both big boys, they are both competitors, and the most important thing is that we have given away a load of points today. It must not happen again. They must learn from it.”
To make sure of it Red Bull just recently orchestrated a pow-wow at their factory in Milton Keynes. Mark Webber, Sebastian Vettel, Christian Horner, Adrian Newey and Helmut Marko all got together for a group hug and photo op. Red Bull released a photo of Mark and Sebastian with their hands in the air, raised eyebrows, smiles, and the supplied caption, “shit happens.” Very clever, and that’s exactly what RBR is hoping will finally shut our collective fat mouths in the world press. Take another look at the photo though. Who has the bigger bulls on his shirt? Ah, the conspiracy continues…
Alonso versus Massa? Rosberg versus Schumi? Those rivalries are old news, gone with the fading championship hopes of both Ferarri and Mercedes GP. Right now everything is heating up for McLaren and Red Bull. Button and Hamilton have maintained a delicate harmony. As for Webber and Vettel…peace has been officially declared but the gauntlets have already been dropped. Watch this space?