Former F1 racer John Watson believes that Red Bull Racing has little option but to discipline Sebastian Vettel for his refusal to obey orders in the Malaysian Grand Prix, or else accept that the German is bigger than the team.
Having had numerous requests to be able to pass the lead Red Bull denied, Vettel subsequently ignored the instruction to hold station behind team-mate Mark Webber, passing the Australian with eleven laps remaining despite concerns that Red Bull was having trouble making its tyres last on long runs. The atmosphere during the post-race celebrations was decidedly tense, and Red Bull representatives, including both Christian Horner and Helmut Marko admitted that Vettel had done wrong.
Webber, however, alluded to the fact that, despite the German's actions, there was no way of turning back the clock and, in his opinion, there would be no serious repercussions for Vettel, claiming that the triple world champion would 'be protected as usual'. The Australian has a point for, much as Vettel will be cast as the villain of the piece, he has seven extra championship points in the bank, has established another psychological edge over his team-mate and is likely only to suffer the adverse reaction of race fans, as he remains a potent part of Red Bull's line-up.
Watson, however, reckons that the team should
be prepared to hurt its own ambitions, if only to demonstrate to Vettel where the power really lies. In the Irishman's opinion, Vettel's actions undermined Horner's role as team principal, casting doubts over the Briton's position as well as almost certainly breaking the already tenuous relationship with Webber beyond repair.
"If Christian Horner doesn't reassert his authority in the team - because he has been totally subjugated by Sebastian Vettel yesterday - then his position in the team is not exactly the role it is designed to be," Watson told BBC Radio 4
, "The only conclusion I can reach is that Vettel should be suspended for the next grand prix.
"You can't take the points away from him and give them to Mark Webber - that's now history and Sebastian has the benefit of those seven additional points. You can't really fine him, [because] it is almost irrelevant to fine him, so the only purposeful way to bring him to book is to say 'you will stand out one race'."
Contending that 'if other drivers in other teams disobeyed a team order, they would be suspended or even fired', driver-turned- pundit Watson said that he expected the Red Bull line-up to remain unchanged to the end of 2013, but could not see the same pairing in place beyond that.
"I think once the blood has cooled down and the team get the two drivers together, Webber will see the season out, but it will be a very fractious relationship," he noted, “And I don't know what favours Mark can be asked to provide to Vettel if that should ever arise in the future…."
Red Bull's official reserve driver is currently Sebastian Buemi, although the company obviously has other talents it can call on – including Toro Rosso duo Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne - should it take the, admittedly unlikely, decision to follow Watson's prescribed course of action.