Red Bull Racing: Trouble in paradise?

Red Bull Racing - Turkish GP crash

Before the events of the Turkish Grand Prix you could be excused for thinking life at Red Bull Racing was akin to a motoring paradise. The RB6 has granted the team pole position in all of the seven races to date. In all of those races, for the most part, the team has had a winning opportunity. Either reliability or pit wall strategy has cost them the ultimate prize in fifty per cent of the results achieved. Until now.

As you can see from this image captured during yesterday’s Turkish Grand Prix the two Red Bull Racing drivers collided. And for Vettel, on the right, that meant instant retirement from the race. Webber quickly went to the pits for a new nose cone and some new tyres and was able to continue to racing. He finished third behind the McLarens of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button. The 15 points earned by Webber takes him to a total of 93 and gives him an outright lead in the title race.

So what went wrong? Were there any issues in the build up to this unnecessary accident, or was it simply a “racing incident”?

First, a quick summary of the race. Webber got away well from pole and in the first couple of laps had the luxury of watching Hamilton and Vettel dice for position behind him. Once the race had settled into a rhythm Hamilton, in second place, was able to slowly close the gap on Webber. But not enough to take the lead.

McLaren figured their best chance was to pit early and send Lewis out for some clean lap time. However, Red Bull reacted brilliantly by quickly sending Webber in to the pits at the same time. A faultless stop ensured Webber could resume in front of Hamilton. As it turned out Hamilton re-entered the race behind Sebastian Vettel, who came in one lap earlier. The race looked headed for another one-two Red Bull finish.

It is now we need to look back to Saturday and the post-qualifying press-conference performance from Sebastian Vettel. A display of petulance which seems to have escaped media scrutiny. During the press conference, while Webber was talking about his pole position, Vettel could be seen mumbling to himself and rolling his eyes. He was aggrieved at team strategy and felt he had the pace to claim pole after being the fastest driver in the first two qualifying sessions.

Now, back to the race. A race that Vettel believes he should have started from pole position and, all else being equal, a race Vettel believes he would have been leading, rather than chasing his teamamtes’s tail.

Post-race reports have shown that Mark Webber was asked to switch to a fuel saving mode around one lap before the accident happened. Vettel was under pressure from Hamilton in third place and had to continue pushing to maintain his advantage over the McLaren star.

Christian Horner: “The large mistake was that not enough room was given.”

On lap 41, with a top speed advantage, Vettel took the opportunity to dive up the inside of Webber at Istanbul Park’s best overtaking point, the entry into Turn 12. There was room for Vettel to move up the inside and throughout Webber held his line. He did not swerve to protect his advantage prior to Vettel’s move and nor did he turn in on Vettel during the run in to the left hand turn fast approaching.

Although the Red Bull duo were racing wheel-to-wheel Vettel was sufficiently past Webber to expect he was now in the lead of the race. But, just as Vettel was reaching the entry of Turn 12 he made a slight right turn, as he explained later, to reach his braking point. Trouble is, Vettel wasn’t sufficiently past Webber for that decision to mean anything other than contact between the two cars.

Television replays clearly show that Webber continued in a straight line and that there was still the same room for Vettel on the inside at the point of contact as there was at the point Vettel started the move. Should Webber have expected Vettel to turn right to get to the optimum braking point?

According to team boss Christian Horner it would seem so. “The large mistake was that not enough room was given,” said Horner after the race.

“We always ask drivers to give each other room, but we handed 43 points on a plate to McLaren. We had two guys racing hard, but you ask that they give each other space.

“Mark has put Seb on the dirty side, he gave him just enough room and Seb cut across aggressively. He was a long way down the side but neither yielded and the net result is everybody loses.”

Webber didn’t put Vettel on the dirty side at all. Vettel chose to take the dirty line in order to complete the pass on Webber. As already stated, once Vettel started his move Webber’s line did not deviate. The answer lies in Horner’s own comment when he said, “Seb cut across aggressively.”

History shows Vettel was unable to complete the pass without having to move right to get to his braking point. As a result perhaps Horner needs to be asking if Vettel should have initiated the overtaking move at all.

Remember, Vettel was upset at not claiming pole and would likely believe the race and championship lead should have been his. A theory supported by more childish hand gestures from Vettel after the crash indicating he thought Webber was crazy. The pressure from Hamilton and Webber’s fuel-saving needs simply gave Vettel the ammunition to pull the trigger on what proved to be a fateful overtaking move.

It is worth noting that earlier in the race Hamilton tried to overtake Vettel at the same corner. This time, though, Vettel held a defensive inside line, that is, he was slightly more to the left than the optimum approach to Turn 12. Hamilton tried to go round the outside of the Red Bull, but Vettel was able to defend the challenge. McLaren team radio transcripts show Hamilton said, “That was a dangerous move!” At the time there didn’t seem much in it, but closer inspection reveals Vettel moved slightly to the right before entry into Turn 12.

Did Webber really need to save fuel?

It’s also worth noting that Webber, on fresh tyres, had enough fuel to post a couple of fastest laps as the race drew to a close. At the time he held a comfortable lead over the fourth placed Mercedes GP of Michael Schumacher and had no need to push so hard. Some fuel was probably saved by Webber in the immediate moments following the contact with Vettel. Although, the pace shown by Webber towards the end of the race is enough to at least question the earlier instruction for him to move to a less demanding fuel map. Was this a form of team orders in disguise, or a perfectly legitimate request? Did Red Bull want Vettel to win the race?

Ultimately a race win and maximum constructor points were happily taken by a McLaren pair who had shown improved pace over recent Grands Prix. And in the wash up we have a Red Bull driver pairing unable to agree on what went wrong. “We’ll probably have a difference of opinion until we go to our graves,” said Webber.

We have a Red Bull team advisor, Helmut Marko, laying blame at the foot of Webber’s race engineer, “Unfortunately, Mark was not told about the situation accurately by his race engineer.”

Finally, we have an otherwise dominant Red Bull Racing team that continues to find new ways to squander race winning leads.

In one corner we have the experienced and increasingly-composed Mark Webber facing off against the precocious and undeniable talent of Sebastian Vettel. The former finally relishing the chance to mix it with the sport’s best after years of inferior equipment. The latter on a seemingly unquestionable route to World Championship glory at some stage in his career.

Ironically, Vettel should be seeking career guidance from Webber himself. Vettel certainly has the ability and outright speed to expect to World Championship success. But has he yet developed the patience and maturity required?

Can the troubles at Red Bull heal in time for the Canadian Grand Prix in two weeks time. Or are we now seeing the beginning of the end of the Webber-Vettel relationship?

As always Formula One is delivering just as much off-track intrigue as on-track action.

(A photo gallery of the Turkish Grand Prix will be added shortly.)

[via BBC & The Motor Report]

UPDATE: A full transcript of the post-race press conference with third placed Webber can be read at Formula1.com. It makes for interesting reading.

UPDATE #2: James Allen takes an interesting look back at Webber’s maiden Grand Prix win, the 2009 German Grand Prix. Under the circumstances, this makes compelling reading.