Understanding Vettel’s dog act
Against team orders, Red Bull F1 driver Sebastian Vettel snatched the lead in the final laps of the Malaysian GP, despite his teammate, Mark Webber, who was leading after the final pit stop, being told by the team to turn his engine down and coast it home.
Those not completely familiar with 2013 F1 racing, perhaps, and rightly so, lament that it’s not about the fastest driver anymore.
Should Mark Webber or Sebastian Vettel have won the Malaysian GP?
Long story short, welcome to Europe.
But there are some reasons for the madness that went on last Sunday, not that I’ll try and convince you they’re legit.
The story: Mark had the race in the bag, and yet against team orders, and after Mark had been instructed by the team to turn his engine down, the German Vettel made a dangerous overtake, took the lead, won, and for which he later apologised.
Seasoned F1 fan or not, that last paragraph just reads so wrong doesn’t it?
The average punter would expect that drivers in race cars drive, er, like race car drivers.
But that isn’t “possible” in F1 anymore.
The main factors: Tyres, fuel, engines, gearboxes, money.
Essentially, they’re rubbish. That’s ironic, considering the best tyre manufacturer, Pirelli, is producing them. Here’s the kicker. They’re rubbish on purpose. Pirelli could easily produce an awesome tyre that could perform perfectly for three races, but they’ve been contracted to produce chewing gum. This is because F1 ceased refueling some years back, but the sport decided some pit stop excitement and uncertainty was important for the fans. And teams only receive a limited number of tyres for the weekend. End result? Drivers have to nurse their cars more than they can race them, especially in the latter stages of a GP.
Fill that gas guzzling fucker up! No refueling stops. Obvious reasoning was safety in the pit lane… and people have been badly burned by invisible F1 high octane fuel in the past, so it was difficult to mount a decent counter argument. The trade off? Cars are now much harder on the tyres thanks to all the extra weight, the tyres suck even more on top of that, and the number of tyres you can use per weekend is limited. Again, we’re looking at nurses as much as we’re looking at drivers. This means it’s all so much more up to the team to strategise and tell a driver that he has to cool it.
F1 was at the point whereby teams like Ferrari were able to pour essentially unlimited amounts of money into their car, and other teams simply could not compete. This was the time of Michael Schumacher’s five in a row world championships. Even Michael was getting bored and the FIA governing body saw a need to shake it up. Hence teams are allowed a mere eight engines a year, less than one for every two races. This means cars have to be managed very carefully throughout the year. You can’t drive it like you stole it anymore. A general rule of thumb has evolved whereby after the last pit stop, it’s not about racing, but rather about preservation. This is why Mark Webber was “slow” in the latter stages. It had nothing to do with his driving ability, and everything to do with nursing that car home… under strict team orders no less.
Gearboxes: As with the engines, teams are severely limited. Nurse!
Money: Rightly or wrongly, the money-pit teams were getting to dominate to a point whereby there was no point for anyone else. According to F1, something had to be done. So they capped team budgets, limited the numbers of engines and gearboxes, scrapped the fuel thing which ended up burning the less resourceful teams, and made sure the tyres would have to be changed around three times per race… all in an effort to even things out a bit, give a leg up to the struggling teams.
Plus, on top of that, it’s the constructor’s championship where all the money is made, not the driver’s championship. So whilst us fans will cheer for our favourite driver, the fact of the matter is the team has to concentrate on… the team. And a huge part of that is maintaining a car that will last the entire season.
So what does that all translate, too?
It means drivers cannot drive flat out, anymore.
Races are so much more based on strategy by the team rather that the vroom of the driver.
It’s about managing the car rather than driving it, particularly when you get to the final stages of a race and massive points – for the team – are up for grabs.
And though Vettel is indeed a dog, considering the parameters he’s working within, there are factors… not least driver instinct which is so severely curtailed in modern F1.
Not least that Mark was told to turn down his engine… because of fuel, tyres and all that crap, and then got dogged by a bloke….
When querying the teams decision to turn his engine down, Mark was assured twice that he’d be safe from an attack from his teammate.
Had Mark not trusted his team, he would have kept his engine on high and raced to a victory.
But he he trusted his team, and he trusted his teammate… He did what was right for the team, and what is right for the car over such a long season.
But his teammate is a young arrogant punk from Germany…
Who shows no respect.