As we’re now half way through the 2013 Formula One season, and with all in the sport finally getting to enjoy a summer break, it seems like the perfect time to reflect on and analyse some of the big talking points of the year so far.
Where better to start than with perhaps the most controversial moment of all, and Multi-21? Setting the tone for a season that has been full of arguments and controversy so far, the now infamous Red Bull meltdown happened at the second round of the season, in Malaysia.
It is well documented what happened on that very dramatic Sunday. Following the last round of pit stops, reigning champion Sebastian Vettel exited the pit lane with team mate Mark Webber in the lead, with the victory seemingly looking in the bag for the Australian. But Vettel had other ideas.
Despite being told not to race Webber, Vettel caught and passed him with only a few laps of the race to run. It was an anxious time for Red Bull, as they saw their two drivers go wheel-to-wheel more than once, and it was clear that Istanbul 2010 was still fresh in the memory of Christian Horner.
Fortunately, this time, the two drivers did not make contact, and Vettel ended up taking what was a rather hollow victory.
Fans were divided in their opinion following the immediate aftermath of the race. While some were delighted in Vettel’s racing instinct, many others were dismayed by what they felt was clear disrespect to Webber and the Red Bull team.
On the face of it, it seemed unnecessary that there were team orders at all. After all, surely the chequered flag ends the race, not the team? Plus, let’s not forget that Webber too has ignored team orders in the past – most notably at Silverstone in 2011. The only difference was that unlike Vettel, Webber failed to find a way past.
The whole incident once again raised questions about Mark Webber’s long term future at the team, with speculation having linked him to a move to Porsche’s new LMP1 campaign. Sure enough, on the Thursday before the British Grand Prix, Mark announced that is where he was heading, and reportedly only gave Red Bull ten minutes’ warning before he made the announcement.
So was Multi-21 the final nail in the coffin for the Webber-Red Bull relationship? It seems too convenient to make that connection, given that Webber himself said that he knew this year’s Australian Grand Prix would be his last. That suggests he had made his decision before Sepang.
It may have rubbed salt in the wounds though, and make no mistake, it didn’t do the already fractious relationship between Vettel and Webber any good at all.
Vettel himself didn’t emerge from the incident completely unscathed, and it was very interesting to see how he responded to the barrage of criticism he faced afterwards. He apologised and said he’d “messed up” after the Malaysian Grand Prix, but there was a very different tone to his words before the Chinese Grand Prix. He announced that he wasn’t sorry for winning the race, and criticised Webber, saying Mark hadn’t helped him in the past.
The upshot of the situation as we go into the summer break is this: by 2014, there will be a new face in the Red Bull garage.
Speculation continues as to that will be. It seems like it will either be Kimi Raikkonen, or Daniel Ricciardo, with one seemingly the favourite one day, and the other the next. But interestingly, a third name has suddenly entered the fray. That is Fernando Alonso, whose manager was spotted talking to Christian Horner at the weekend…
I’ll reflect on that, and Ferrari’s underperformance so far this year, another time.