RBR: If we lose, we lose...but we won't manipulate
9 November 2010
In an extraordinary proclamation as F1 braces itself for one of the most thrilling and unpredictable showdowns of all time in Abu Dhabi this coming weekend, Red Bull boss Dietrich Mateschitz has asserted that his team will not 'manipulate things like Ferrari do' – and that if the result is that they end up missing out on the 2010 drivers' crown because of that approach, then so be it.
There have been conflicting noises coming from inside Red Bull Racing since the energy drinks-backed outfit secured the constructors' laurels courtesy of a one-two finish for Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber in Sunday's Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos – with the upshot being that nobody really knows quite what the team will do in Abu Dhabi in five days' time.
The basic situation is as follows. Ferrari's Fernando Alonso continues to lead the drivers' standings heading into the eagerly-awaited season finale, but by a reduced margin since São Paulo of eight points over Webber and 15 over Vettel. Should the Spaniard take the chequered flag second or better in Abu Dhabi – regardless of what happens to his two RBR rivals – then he will be world champion for a third time. The interest arises from scenarios that place the Oviedo native third or lower.
If Alonso – who knows that he has the full assistance of his own team-mate Felipe Massa – ascends the bottom step of the rostrum at Yas Marina, then the only way for Red Bull to ensure one of its drivers pips him to the title is for Webber to win. So what happens if, like at Interlagos, the order reads Vettel-Webber-Alonso going into the closing stages..? Here's team principal Christian Horner on the dilemma.
“Both drivers drive for the team, they've received tremendous support this year and it would have been wrong to switch [their positions at Interlagos],” urged the Englishman, a former racer himself. “We've backed them equally all year and it would have been wrong to take one of them out of the championship. Had there been a situation in Brazil, if Fernando had been ahead, then Sebastian would have done what was right for the team – I just know that from the character of the guy.
“We will [continue to] back both drivers equally. I am sure they will do whatever is right for the team – I have zero doubt about that. There will be no team orders, and I don't think there are any difficult decisions to be made. If they find themselves in a situation where one, because he can't win, needs to help the other then I can only imagine that they will do that. It will have to be a driver decision.
“Both of them are great team players. There have been pressures and stresses this year, but that is because the biggest reward in motorsport is up for grabs. When your nearest rival is your team-mate, it is perhaps the most uncomfortable rivalry you can have in the pit-lane, but ultimately they drive for a great team, a fantastic company, and I have no doubt both of them will do their best, not only for themselves, but for the team.
“Nobody has a crystal ball, and nobody can foresee what will happen next weekend, but you only have to look at the characters of the individuals who drive for us to recognise they will do their best to ensure the best team results.”
It is a bold tactical strategy indeed, with the clear inference behind it being that should Webber be the only one of the two in a position to defeat Alonso in Abu Dhabi but require Vettel's help in order to do so, then the Australian will need to rely upon the German's good nature and willingness to support him – on the basis of the pair's distinctly prickly relationship this year, exchanged insults and the events that have passed between them, arguably not something that can be taken for granted.
What's more, had Horner elected to ask Vettel to cede to Webber last weekend, then the New South Wales native would now be just a single marker adrift of Alonso – and mentally and psychologically far more secure, with the destiny of the trophy very much in his own hands. As it is, should Vettel replicate his Brazilian dominance in Abu Dhabi, Alonso would be able to finish as low as fourth and still clinch the crown – meaning that Webber will need to aim for victory at all costs, unless Vettel yields. Post-Interlagos, neither of RBR's drivers were giving anything away.
“It would be a help, but it's not the team's philosophy,” Webber mused, when asked if he felt the positions should have been reversed in São Paulo. “It was a good drive by Seb for the win, and that is how it is. The team is going for the position it has always done on the sporting side, and that is how it is.”
When pressed as to whether he expects his team-mate to move aside for him if needed in Abu Dhabi, the 34-year-old conceded only that it 'depends how it is on the last lap' – whilst Vettel, for his part, dodged the question regarding whether he will help Webber if that is what is required, albeit saying enough in his answer to suggest that he will do the right thing.
“I am not sure if I got your question,” the nine-time grand prix-winner evasively replied. “In less than a week's time we unpack the cars and prepare for Abu Dhabi. We have to see if we are competitive. We will try to get everything out of the car and then see where we are in qualifying.
“Obviously in my case it is pretty straightforward. I can try to optimise my result, get everything out of myself and repeat this result and then it depends on where those guys are. For sure you will have to judge according to the situation. One thing is clear – I think both of us know how to act. There have been some moments which we probably don't want to repeat.
“There was a lot of talk before this race, but in the end, the way the race unfolded it was all unnecessary. For me it is straightforward – I go to Abu Dhabi to try to do my best.”
However, just to throw one extra twist into what is turning out to be an enthralling 'will they, won't they' style saga, Mateschitz – at the end of the day, the man who calls all the shots at Red Bull, way above Horner and his controversial right-hand man and unabashed Vettel supporter Helmut Marko – has given his own take on the subject. It does not make for encouraging reading for Webber.
“Let the two drivers race and what will be, will be,” the maverick billionaire businessman told Austrian newspaper Kleine Zeitung. “If Alonso wins we will have been unlucky. I predict a Hollywood ending. Worst case scenario we don't become champion? We'll do it next year – but our philosophy stays the same, because this is sport and it must remain sport. We don't manipulate things like Ferrari do.”
In a return broadside in response to Mateschitz's allusion to the Hockenheim team orders row, meanwhile, Alonso bluntly told Spanish newspaper El Pais that 'Red Bull has spent three months preaching about equality, so now they should continue with the same philosophy' – whilst reflecting that the Milton Keynes-based squad did Ferrari 'a big favour' in Brazil by allowing Vettel to triumph, the Scuderia's chief track engineer Chris Dyer admits he is 'sure they will not be so generous in Abu Dhabi'.
Perhaps the last word, though, should go to German newspaper Der Spiegel, which aptly summarises that the double F1 World Champion is 'benefitting from a policy of fair play that his own team abandoned months ago'.
Whatever else you do, don't miss Abu Dhabi.