Red Bull Racing has been accused of betraying 'a curious mix of naivety and cynicism' in its handling of the now infamous Turkish Grand Prix collision between team-mates Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber in Istanbul just under a fortnight ago – and the Milton Keynes-based squad's subsequent stage-managed attempt to patch over the cracks has been branded 'spectacularly unconvincing'.
The drama erupted when, under increasing pressure from the hounding and seemingly faster McLaren-Mercedes' of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button directly behind him, Vettel went for a move on Webber heading towards Turn Twelve shortly beyond two-thirds distance of the 58-lap race.
Having pulled half-alongside the sister RB6 and holding the inside line for the upcoming left-hander, the young German then inexplicably jinked to the right and into the Australian's car, sending himself into a spin and pitching his team-mate off the track. The upshot was retirement for Vettel and an extra pit-stop and consequently delayed third place for Webber – and vital points cast carelessly aside.
However, of more interest in the immediate aftermath of the grand prix was the reaction of team principal Christian Horner and the energy drinks-backed outfit's motorsport advisor Dr. Helmut Marko, a close and trusted confidant of Red Bull boss Dietrich Mateschitz. Whilst the vast majority of paddock observers blamed Vettel for his impetuosity in the manoeuvre, these two took a different view, and publicly expressed their opinion that Webber could – and should – have given the Heppenheim native more room.
For a team to condemn the actions of either of its drivers in public is a sin, but to do so and blame the wrong one whilst appearing to comfort the guilty party is cardinal. Though RBR has since back-tracked, issuing a statement to the effect that Vettel and Webber have now 'cleared the air' and a cringingly-staged photo to accompany it [see separate story – click here
] – and Horner has conceded that Red Bull 'was wrong' to take sides [see separate story – click here
] – ex-grand prix ace David Kennedy likens the PR stunt to trying to lock the stable door after the horse has bolted. The damage, he opines, has already been done.
“One of the entertaining aspects of F1 racing is watching internecine squabbling between team-mates,” the 57-year-old wrote in the Irish Independent
. “It's a testament to the perverse nature of humanity that we are often at our happiest watching strangers bicker and scuffle. The halcyon days of F1 coincided with unseemly rows among the likes of Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet at Williams, Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna at McLaren and, more recently, Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso – another McLaren pair that were at loggerheads.
“Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber are both very personable, hard-working young men at the very top of their game, who are tigerishly competitive and totally co-operative with each other. To place the blame for what happened on lap 40 of the Turkish Grand Prix at the door of either Vettel or Webber is to miss the point. The situation should never have been allowed to develop between the drivers, and having done so, Red Bull management showed a curious mix of naivety and cynicism in how they dealt with the problem in the media.
“Red Bull is a racing team dedicated to the promotion of a fizzy energy drink. By contrast, Williams and McLaren are examples of race teams dedicated to winning motor races and which have marketing departments dedicated to finding them the money to do just that. There's a subtle difference there, which might explain the slightly unusual comments from some of the Red Bull personnel following the contretemps
“Webber – as befits a tough Aussie who is also a leading member of the Grand Prix Drivers' Association and, as such, a prominent campaigner for safe racing – gave Vettel the absolute minimum amount of room and no more. He was tough but entirely fair. The trouble for Vettel was that he was hard on the left-hand side of the circuit, off the 'grippy' racing line and fast approaching the corner. He simply couldn't wait to get over to where Webber was on the part of the track where the cars had been laying rubber throughout the weekend.