Wing gate saga very costly for Red Bull

NORTHAMPTON, UNITED KINGDOM - JULY 11:  Mark Webber (L) of Australia and Red Bull Racing and team mate Sebastian Vettel (R) of Germany and Red Bull Racing drive side by side towards the first corner at the start of the British Formula One Grand Prix at Silverstone on June 11, 2010, in Northampton, England.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Red Bull team mates Mark Webber and Srbastian Vettel have been the drivers to beat in 2010

Jul.17 (Daniel Chalmers) Red Bull may have won the British GP, but cracks have formed beneath the surface again thanks to the team’s controversial decision to give Sebastien Vettel his team mate’s new front wing. This left Mark Webber with the old front wing.

NORTHAMPTON, UNITED KINGDOM - JULY 11:  Mark Webber of Australia and Red Bull Racing celebrates on the podium after winning the British Formula One Grand Prix at Silverstone on June 11, 2010, in Northampton, England.  (Photo by Malcolm Griffiths/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Mark Webber

Mark Webber triumphed at Silverstone

The fact that Mark Webber won the race will have papered over a few of those cracks, but it’s clear that he is far from happy with what happened. The rivalry between the two Red Bull drivers looks set to intensify, along with the two sides of the garage.

Speaking after the race Webber said: “Yesterday was really a unique situation, and it was the first time we had one bit. I would never have signed a contract for next year if I believed that was the way going forward.”

Imagine how Webber would have reacted had Vettel kept his position off the line and gone on to win the race? War would surely have broken out. The situation is bad enough as it is already.

As we have seen numerous times already this season this is very much a case of Red Bull shooting themselves in the foot.

The crazy thing about this saga is that it was completely unnecessary and avoidable.

This new front wing which Webber lost to Vettel was estimated to be only worth one tenth of a second.

Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber after Silverstone qualifying

Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber after Silverstone qualifying

In the final part of qualifying Vettel was 0.811 seconds quicker than the fastest non-Red Bull car. Therefore not having this new front wing on the car wouldn’t have made any difference to Red Bull’s weekend.

As we saw with Webber in the race (without the new front wing) he was comfortably ahead of Lewis Hamilton’s McLaren.

Surely the better option bearing this in mind would have been to not bother using the new front wing until there were more available for the next race in Hockenheim.

Sebastian’s lead in the championship was given as the reason why he got the new front wing

It’s easy to see why this has upset the Australian. Vettel and Webber have been evenly matched throughout the season.

Webber's RB6 after his Valencia aerobatics

Webber's RB6 is retreived after his Valencia aerobatics

Had it not been for Webber’s spectacular crash in Valencia chances are he would still have been leading his team mate in the title race coming into Silverstone.

It’s perfectly understandable for a team to give one driver preferential treatment if there is a large gulf in points between them, and there are only two or three races left in the season. That makes perfect common sense. The same applies if there is a gulf in talent between the two drivers, such as there is at Renault.

However it makes no sense when we are only halfway through the season, and it’s so close between your drivers.

The fact that Vettel’s front wing broke should just have been tough luck for him, given the situation. When Christian Horner took the decision to transfer the front wing over he effectively declared Vettel as team number one.

Webber and Vettel during the 2010 team launch at Jerez

Webber and Vettel during the 2010 team launch at Jerez

The other aspect is the element of surprise of Red Bull’s decision. Maybe if Red Bull had made it clear pre-season that the driver with most points got priority over a new part this mess wouldn’t have happened. This new policy appeared suddenly out of nowhere, almost conveniently.

Heikki Kovalainen told Autosport: “If it surprises the driver, if he doesn’t know until the race weekend for example – ‘by the way your car is not up to spec’ – then that can hurt a lot and it is really difficult to regain that confidence again.”

When you do a cost/benefit type analysis of the situation you have to wonder whether that extra tenth on one car was really worth it.

Further tensions in the team could potentially be catastrophic for Red Bull’s season. F1 history shows us that this sort of divide can destroy championships.

Alain Prost (FRA) McLaren MP4/5 walks from his car following a collision with team mate Ayrton Senna (BRA) at the entrance to the chicane. Meanwhile Senna pleads with the marshals to push start him. They did, he recovered to win, but was disqualified.  Formula One World Championship, Japanese Grand Prix, Suzuka, Japan. 22 October 1989. Catalogue Ref.: 10-182 Sutton Motorsport Images Catalogue

Alain Prost versus Ayrton Senna turned into civil war at McLaren

We saw this with Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet at Williams, Aryton Senna and Alain Prost  and more recently with Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso.

Out of losing 0.1 seconds per lap for one race or losing harmony within the team, it doesn’t take rocket science to work out what the biggest loss is.

Martin Whitmarsh said: “I think the cohesiveness of the team is such that you don’t need to set up those sorts of tensions. You can’t really do that. And if you’re in a very strong position then I think you have to make sure you hold it together.”

When you look at the evidence it becomes clear why the team may favour him on the crunch decisions.

Red Bull investment in Sebastian Vettel has paid off as he is seen here at Monza in 2008 winning

Red Bull investment in Sebastian Vettel has paid off as he is seen here at Monza in 2008 winning his first GP

Vettel was part of Red Bull’s young driver development programme. Over the years Red Bull have poured millions into this programme. Red Bull bought the Minardi team back in 2006 so that they had somewhere to give their junior drivers a chance in F1. Despite all this investment it hasn’t been that fruitful.

Drivers in this programme have included the likes of Enrique Bernoldi, Patrick Friesacher, Christian Klien, Scott Speed and Robert Doornbos. None of these drivers were particularly successful in F1 and the list continues.

Vettel is really the only good thing to come out of the team’s young driver scheme. Therefore it could be suggested that the team is desperate for Vettel to win the title to justify the millions of Red Bull’s money that have been spent over the years.

You could even go as far as saying it would be slightly embarrassing for Red Bull, if their first championship was won by an elder statesman, rather than one of their hot young guns.

(L to R): Christian Horner (GBR) Red Bull Racing Team Principal with Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing and Dr Helmut Marko (AUT) Red Bull Motorsport Consultant. Formula One World Championship, Rd 16, Brazilian Grand Prix, Practice Day, Interlagos, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Friday 16 October 2009.

Vettel is the long term future for Red Bull

Furthermore Vettel is more part of the team’s long term strategy. As Webber is now in his thirties it would be right to assume that he is probably in the latter stages of his career. Vettel is more part of the team’s future than Webber is.

Red Bull really want to compete against the best in F1 and beat them. However you can’t escape from the fact that they also want to sell Red Bull energy drinks.

Formula 1 with it’s massive worldwide appeal is the ideal platform to achieve that. For an organisation with such a young image Vettel is the better marketing tool when it comes to selling drinks.

In fairness to Red Bull their favouritism isn’t anywhere near as blatant as Michael Schumacher’s number 1 status at Ferrari. If it was, the team would have told Webber to move over in Spain and Monaco but they didn’t.

Webber and Vettel are both contenders for the 2010 F1 World Championship

Webber and Vettel are both contenders for the 2010 F1 World Championship

Red Bull would clearly be happy with either driver taking the championship, but when push comes to shove it’s feasible they would prefer Vettel for the reasons stated above. Therefore sub-consciously their mind maybe tells them to favour Vettel in certain situations.

A further example is last season when stats showed that Vettel thrashed Webber in qualifying over the season. When you take fuel loads into account Sebastien was very often given the lighter load therefore Webber went into Q3 with one hand tied behind his back.

Webber may have questioned his decision to extend his time with the team. Realistically though would sharing a team with Alonso or Hamilton really be any better than the current situation with Vettel?

Red Bull team princiapl Christian Horner has a major management task ahead of him

Red Bull team princiapl Christian Horner has a major management task ahead of him

All in all Red Bull have managed to make a mountain out of a mole hill with this front wing saga. It’s going to take all of Christian Horner’s managerial skills to manage this situation. The best thing he can do right now is just come out and admit he made the wrong decision.

If Red Bull doesn’t handle this right they could come out of it extremely badly in terms of their reputation and their final championship position.

He may have been very sceptical about Hamilton and Button’s relationship at McLaren, but you can be sure he would pay very good money to have that at Red Bull now.

Out of the highly anticipated four big inter team battles at the front not many were expecting the closest fight to come at Red Bull. Perhaps part of Red Bull’s problem is that neither did they.

  • marcus

    So you are Australian? What a pro Webber article. Vettel is helped along because he needs it becaue RBR want to promote their soft drink? Have you even been watching F1? Did you see Monza 08? Did you see the whole season? Do you know he single handedly beat the Sister Red Bull team when driving for Toro Rosso. That’s right, more points than DC and Webber combined. Last year, his first in a good car he was 2nd WDC – of the then top drivers. Are you suggesting that Red Bull overfilled Ruben’s tank with gas too as he trundled into Q3, so that Vettel would beat him too? What a moronic Article. The kid is great – the paddock, despite all the hoopla has him as a favorite with Lewis to win the title – this week – despite the fact that he is in 4th. Do us a favor and look up the term “bias” then try writing with out it. It is really a step toward good journalism. What you should check out is why Horner is making all these strange statements to the press – just before Mark comes forth to lay his golden eggs. They are business partners and friends after all…

  • Daniel Chalmers YallaF1

    I am not pro-Mark Webber at all. Both Vettel and Webber are great drivers and great guys.

    I haven’t said Red Bull definitely favour Vettel. I have just explored some of possible reasons why they “may” favour him. Also like I said in the article I don’t think there is any blatant favouritism. If there is any it is sub-concious.

    I am sure Vettel will win three or four titles in his career. His time will surely come. At the moment though I don’t hide the fact that I feel Webber is the more complete package.

    I think Vettel is a great talent but I have always kept my hype about him under control. He still has alot learn and some maturing to do, but that is normal for any driver at this stage of their career.

    Lewis has had to go through the same proccess and he is a much better driver now than he was when he won the championship in 2008. Same will apply to Vettel in a couple of years.

    Vettel’s reputation has suffered a bit recently but none of it is his fault. It wasn’t his decision to receive the new front wing and its not his fault if the team are supposedly favouring him. He has probably been the biggest victim out of all of this.

    For the record I think Vettel will probably beat Webber by a few points in the end but I don’t think either Red Bull driver will win the title. I think the tension in the team now is there to stay and it will ultimately cost them.

    Earlier in the week I tipped Alonso to fight back and snatch the championship. If that prediction doesn’t happen then Lewis will probably do it.