Formula One world champion Sebastian Vettel met a barrage of questions about his failure to obey team orders on Thursday with an unrepentant smile and cold contempt for Red Bull team mate Mark Webber.
Facing a scrum of reporters crammed into his team’s hospitality centre at the Chinese Grand Prix, Vettel showed little apparent remorse for his failure to obey instructions by snatching victory from Webber in Malaysia last month.
There was no ‘war’ between the team mates, he said, but no real trust either.
The Australian, added the German in a 20-minute long explanation, had not deserved to win.
Vettel said he had not understood the order to hold station, issued in coded form as ‘multi-21’, but would probably have ignored it even if he had fully comprehended.
“Had I understood the message, then I think I would have thought about it, reflected on what it means, what the team wants me to do, to leave Mark in first place and me finishing second. And I think I would have thought about it and probably done the same thing because Mark doesn’t deserve that.”
Pressed by Reuters on why he felt Webber, who had obeyed instructions to turn down the engine and look after the tyres, had not deserved to win, Vettel replied bluntly: “I don’t like to talk ill of other people. It’s not my style. I think I said enough. The bottom line is that I was racing, I was faster, I passed him, I won.”
The tone of the encounter was set from the first question enquiring of Vettel how he felt to be the ‘bad guy’ after previously being the ‘good guy’.
“I don’t consider myself the bad guy,” replied the 25-year-old, who said on Wednesday that he had apologised to the team after the race for his act of disobedience but not for winning.
“I don’t think I did something that was particularly bad.”
Asked whether he could still count on Webber’s support later in the season, Vettel smiled: “Being completely honest, I never have support from his side. I’ve got a lot of support from the team and I think the team is supporting both of us the same way.
“I respect him a lot as a racing driver but I think there were more than one occasions in the past where he could have helped the team and he didn’t.
“I wouldn’t call it trust to be honest,” he said of their pairing. “I think we have a professional relationship.”
Webber and Vettel have been team mates since 2009 and their time together has been punctuated by flare-ups, with the 36-year-old Australian accusing Austrian-owned Red Bull of favouring the German.
Vettel in turn can point to last year’s season-ending Brazilian Grand Prix, which brought the German a third title after he battled from last to sixth despite Webber – who finished fourth – making life difficult for him on the track when he most needed assistance.
At Silverstone in 2011, Webber was told to stay behind Vettel but continued to attack and in the notorious 2010 Turkish Grand Prix the two collided and lost out on a one-two finish.
So was Malaysia the payback for Brazil?
“You could say indirectly so,” conceded Vettel. “But… I was racing and as a racing driver I was solely focused on winning the race. I got a call on the radio which I heard but I didn’t understand at the time.
“I should have understood and that’s why I apologised to the team because with my action, I put myself above the team. But that wasn’t the intention.”
Vettel denied principal Christian Horner’s authority had been seriously undermined and laughed off a question about whether the team had punished the driver.
“There’s a lot of marks on my back,” he grinned, to laughter, before the steel broke through the velvet glove as the questions continued.
“I did apologise and I meant it. Sanction as in punishment? Maybe it’s a little bit of dreamland that you all live in,” said the man who has chalked up three titles in a row as the youngest ever triple champion. “What do you expect to happen?”