Dietrich Mateschitz has warned Sebastian Vettel that the F1 World Champion tag does not automatically qualify him to be Red Bull Racing's number one driver in 2011 – and that the young German will have to earn that standing for himself out on the racetrack.
Vettel only clinched the crown in the top flight this season thanks to Red Bull's policy of preserving both of its drivers' chances of glory right the way down to the Abu Dhabi finale – for had the Milton Keynes-based outfit done what many observers believed at the time that it should have done and switched the order around in the preceding Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos to orchestrate a Mark Webber victory, then in all likelihood it would have been Ferrari's Fernando Alonso toasting a famous success in the Middle East.
Indeed, RBR's persistent refusal to put all of its eggs into Webber's basket even when the Australian appeared to have a far stronger possibility of lifting the laurels than did his team-mate, was interpreted in some quarters as a mark of favouritism towards Vettel, with incidents such as the well-documented fall-outs in Istanbul and at Silverstone only serving to add fuel to the conspiracy theorists' fire.
Adamant that both drivers will begin the 2011 campaign as absolute equals, Red Bull magnate Mateschitz insists that if Vettel wants the upper hand, then he will need to do his talking on the track.
“There is often much made out of situations,” the Austrian billionaire told Welt am Sonntag
. “At Silverstone, we had just one [new] wing, from which we wanted to get information, and the choice fell on Sebastian. It was not faster or better than the old wing, just different. In retrospect, one can see clearly that we maintained the [world championship] chances of both Mark and Sebastian.
“Mark and he will be equal in the future. Sebastian has to prove his strength again next year – the status of world champion alone is not enough to do so – and Mark will try to push him very hard.”
Having assured that should Red Bull cease to produce a competitive car – whilst technical genius Adrian Newey is still within the fold, which will be for the near future at least, an unlikely prospect – then he would let Vettel go, Mateschitz is nonetheless confident that his team will prove sufficiently up to the task of satisfying the driver around whom Christian Horner has confessed it will henceforth be built, and in so doing successfully rebuff the advances of covetous rivals. The energy drinks company's founder admits he hopes that Vettel and Red Bull may go on to repeat the kind of dominance that Michael Schumacher and Ferrari enjoyed ten years ago.
“As long as we give him a car with which he can win, he will drive for Red Bull Racing,” he stated. “From the upper levels, each [member of the team] has received at least one offer, but I've heard of no-one who would consider a departure – and certainly not now. The 'dream team' as we could call it will remain together.
“Sebastian is an exceptional personality, and since he has been with us I have said that he will be the next F1 superstar. Many young racers can drive fast laps, but only a few can reflect the impressions from the cockpit to the engineers. We soon knew that a car was really bad when he hit hard times – we can rely on him. He has no trouble admitting his own mistakes, and if the team makes a mistake, he is not afraid to address it. This openness takes the team forward.