“Bad Blood Floods Sepang”, by Massimo Burbi

Updated: March 29, 2013


Rain was expected to have a leading role during the Malaysian Grand Prix,
but it was the bad blood between the Red Bull guys that really flooded the
Sepang track in the closing stages of the second round of the season.
Team orders, some might say, is what spoiled true motorsport in recent
years, good to see someone really going for it, with his right foot firmly
planted to the floor, without paying too much attention to what was going on
on the radio. Like in the “good old days”, when they weren’t having any of
this. Really? Think again.

Team orders have been in the picture for a long time. In the very early days
of the DFV Ford engine team Lotus arranged Jim Clark and Graham Hill to toss
a coin to decide who was going to win the US Grand Prix. Ford wanted a
strong showing in its home race and wasn’t ready to let the drivers  take
“unnecessary risks” by racing each other. Hill won the toss and Clark, twice
World Champion, Indy500 winner and probably the fastest man who ever set
foot in a racing car, being true to his word, accepted to race for second
place which eventually turned into a win when Hill had clutch problems.

Of course not all team orders are the same, nobody liked to see a driver who
was dominating the race needlessly being asked to move aside in Zeltweg
2002, but to be true to the spirit of romantic, old fashion Formula 1 it’s
more about having the ethic to keep your word than getting rid of team
orders altogether.
Gilles Villeneuve was probably the most romantic driver the world has ever
seen but he dutifully followed his team mate home in Monza ’79, even if that
cost him the highest price a driver can pay: the title crown. Later that day
he was smiling on the podium, not a sign of regret on his face.
He was expecting the same loyalty from Pironi three years later in Imola and
felt betrayed, literally to death, when Pironi thought otherwise.

After the race in Sepang Vettel was clearly well aware he had done a wrong
move, he apologised, he said he didn’t do it on porpoise (which was awkward)
but he has his 7 extra points in the bag, and maybe that’s all he cared
Red Bull shares responsability for the fiasco. If Webber was meant to win
the race he should have been given the chance to make his last stop early,
which would have been straightforward, being the aussie the man in the lead.
It went the other way around instead and in that single lap on new tyres
Vettel made up enough ground to put himself in a position to go for the lead
later on.
Chris Horner job won’t be an easy one now. The level of ego involved is
probably lower than it was with Villeneuve and Pironi in 1982 and Prost and
Senna in 1989, but the outcome could be equally disastrous for the team.

Mercedes really gave Red Bull boys a run for their money. This could be the
year for Rosberg to really establish himself as a recognised top driver. To
beat fair and square the Silver-Edition Michael Schumacher for 36 straight
months hasn’t been enough, today he was consistently faster than Hamilton
from start to finish. He was penalised by a not so strong qualifying and by
a team strategy that granted Hamilton the chance to pit, hence to benefit
from the new tyres performance, one lap earlier than his team mate all the
four times. Asking for service at the McLaren pit wasn’t probably the best
way for Lewis to repay his crew.
Still in the closing stages of the race the two silver arrows were nose to
tail and only team orders (again) prevented Nico from taking a deserved
third place.

Ferrari had a very different Malaysian GP from last year. The decision to
keep Alonso on the track with a damaged front wing was a massive gamble. It
was a bad call. But of course had the wing held together for a 2-3 more laps
they would have saved Alonso a pit stop, resuming still in contention for a
point finish and being probably praised as the smartest guys of the pitlane
at the end of the day. Difference between being a genius and make a fool of
yourself is often very thin when you walk on the knife edge. It went all
wrong so it’s now time for the men in red to take the heat.
In 2012 at the wheel of a troublesome car, Alonso was never more than 10
points away from the top of the championship table (a part from the opening
race). Today they’re 22. Food for thought.
Performance-wise the weekend was not straightforward for the Scuderia:
Alonso believes he could have fought for the win had he stayed in the race.
All Massa had to say about that it was “not with my car”.

For Team Lotus it was 2012 all over again: bad qualifying (made worse by a
penalty), not a brilliant start and a lot of potential all wasted in traffic
in the end.

McLaren showed some progress and Button could have put good points under his
belt which was all he needed right now to buy his team some time. Having
scored a “zero” means a 38 points gap from Vettel, hence the time to put the
car back on track is already running out. The team championship bid could be
over even before the first European outing in Spain.

Force India could have rocked the world, it went otherwise.

At the end of the day Red Bull scored the first 1-2 of the season. Vettel
got 25 points, Webber got 18 points and an apology. Little doubt that those
7 extra points will do for Vettel more than the apology will help Webber.
And that’s probably all that will count when the last flag will drop in
Interlagos, in six months time.
Photo Credit: © P-H CAHIER/The Cahier Archive

One Comment

  1. Massimo Burbi

    March 29, 2013 at 12:43 pm

    Of course even at the speed of Formula 1 cars it will take 8 months, not 6, to get us to that final flag in Interlagos :)

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