F1 Report: Smells Like Team Spirit

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth
f1 report smells like team spirit

Rubens Barrichello’s daughter once asked him why he looked so sad on the podium; to make his children as well as the tifosi feel better about Ferrari’s relentless approach to team orders, he decided to make sure he always smiled from then on. The contrast between the crinkled mouth and unsmiling eyes he displayed in the podiums after that makes for an interesting study in human dynamics. How can a man feel so conflicted about standing on the most important podium in the racing world, week in and week out?

At the end of the Malaysian Grand Prix yesterday, however, there were no smiling faces at all.

It was a day of team decisions and team orders. Fernando Alonso bashed his front wing in at the start and should have headed directly in for another, but with a drying track and the unlovable prospect of two pitstops within a few laps, he decided to stay out. Or perhaps the team decided. Ferrari’s pit crew were reportedly out and ready with a new nose when Alonso went by. Was that simple insurance? Or did the man himself decide to chance another lap? Ferrari’s official statement assigns responsibility for the decision to the team, but they would say that, wouldn’t they? Surely Alonso will miss these points later on in the season.

With Fernando off-track and Massa looking unlikely to challenge for the podium, it became a tale of two teams. First, the Mercedes team of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. Few people have been paid as much to accomplish as little as Mr. Rosberg has in Formula One; during his years with Michael Schumacher he usually outqualified the old man but he could also be counted on to fall back during the start while the seven-time world champion pushed forward. He also frequently yielded to his brasher, braver former GP2 competitor Lewis Hamilton on-track in a fashion that can best be described as “wince-inducing”.

With Hamilton as his teammate, however, Rosberg appears to be slightly less meek about the whole thing. Near the end of the race, he and Hamilton raced for position and when Ross Brawn, the team principal, ordered them into line to finish the race, Rosberg complained over the radio in a manner that was clearly meant to be heard around the world — and was. “I could go so much faster,” he whined, “if he would get out of the way.”

“Lewis is also under control,” Brawn replied. In other words: Stop kidding yourself. Hamilton’s conserving fuel and in a straight fight he’d pull your panties off the same way he’s been doing it for over half a decade now. Mr. Hamilton, meanwhile, provided a moment of amusement when he inadvertently pitted at the McLaren garage for tires. The Woking crew, perhaps still feeling a little bitter about the way Hamilton has left the team for more money after being basically a charity project for Ron Dennis in his youth, waved him out and over to his new home. Still, Lewis looked sad on the podium, and in the after-race press statement indicated that Rosberg deserved the position. Gracious, but unnecessary. Only a blind man without access to Braille reports of the past five seasons could possibly think Rosberg will seriously contend against his teammate in 2013 for anything other than endorsement contracts. As much as I despise Lewis Hamilton as a human being, his talent exceeds Nico’s by an order of magnitude.

Two steps up the podium from Hamilton stood the triple world champion himself, young Sebastian Vettel. Your humble author had the pleasure of watching Vettel’s F1 debut at the USGP years ago and was impressed then and now. Yes, Sebastian has usually had the best car; no, it hasn’t been easy to put that best car on top three years running. At an age where most young men are incapable of completing college homework assignments on time or getting their Civics cleaned up in time for an import-drag-race event, Sebastian has driven at the highest level possible with astounding consistency. And if you think the car wins races by itself, an examination of Mark Webber’s record shows that it doesn’t.

That was surely on Vettel’s mind as the team orders came through to him at the final round of pitstops. Dial back the engines, conserve fuel, “multi21” (which apparently means that the #2 driver may stay in front of the #1 driver). Your humble author does not pretend to have a sliver of Vettel’s talent, but as someone who possesses a hotter-than-average racing temperament I would be more than happy to suggest the German’s interior monologue:

Seven points. Seven points. They want me to hold station and give this idiot seven points. The championship is often won and lost on less, and they want me to circle around behind this half-ass, this indifferent starter, this whiner, this never-was. Oh, fuck that twice.

DRIVE’s Leo Parente, no stranger to competing at the sharp end of an open-wheel series himself, has said, “If you hate Seb for this, you hate a real racer.” I’m inclined to agree. Nominally speaking, it would have been the reasonable, team-oriented, responsible thing to do to follow Webber home. As a racer myself, I have to agree with Vettel. Mr. Webber will never win the world championship. He’s incapable of driving at the level required on a consistent basis. His starts are pathetic. He is difficult to pass, but he’s not a great passer. Most importantly, he fails again and again at the fundamental F1 skill of driving to plan with metronomic perfection for an entire stint. I’d love to ride some mountain bikes with Mark Webber, I admire him as an individual, I think that of the entire grid he’s probably one of the so-called best blokes out there, but he cannot and will not get the job done and in that situation TAKE THE SEVEN POINTS AWAY FROM HIM NOW.

The failing wasn’t Sebastian’s, it was Christian Horner’s for not moving the guy who cannot win the championship out of the way of the guy who can. That’s the bottom line. Teamwork wins championships, and there was a deficiency of teamwork at the Red Bull garage. Ross Brawn kept Rosberg behind Hamilton because Rosberg isn’t a winner and Hamilton is. Mr. Horner should learn from his elders in this case. Luckily for him and for the possibilities of a fourth world championship, Sebastian Vettel did what was necessary.

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  • Dabradler Dabradler on Mar 26, 2013

    I very much doubt Webber didn't have a chance to turn his engine back up to race mode before the close fighting happened with Vettel. I think it's more along the lines of Webber feels that if he had been pushing hard the whole time, he could have maintained a gap and held Vettel off. Where Vettel feels that he was going to pass him no matter what because he was on faster tires. Webber wanted to cruise to a win and the team got the same amount of points either way. Where as Vettel wants the championship so he is going to fight for whatever points he can get. I think the legitimate animosity is people feel if Webber was in Vettels position he wouldn't have disobeyed the team orders.

    • See 5 previous
    • NMGOM NMGOM on Mar 27, 2013

      @NMGOM ExPatBrit - - - Please see my interlinear remarks below: I don't know how to address your comments otherwise, even though it looks like I am just "parsing" them. "They could get a couple of laps later after Seb, Fernando and Lewis have gone home." ------- NM: This won't work, IMO. A team manager evaluates 2nd-string drivers by two primary criteria for each race, summed over the season: 1) Grid position obtained during the Qualifier; 2) Position improvement over Grid at the end of the race. The former shows car-handling skills; the latter shows combat adeptness in the heat of battle. The latter requires many other cars to see how the driver in question can deal with attempted overtaking of top tier drivers from other teams, or even his own. -------- "How long have you been watching F1 (?)" -------- NM: Since 1968. I am 70 years old. -------- "do you remember when Irvine came close to winning the WDC because Ferrari had to switch allegiances because Schumacher broke his leg at Silverstone?" -------- NM: I am sorry, but no. My only memory of Eddie Irvine was that he was something of playboy and mediocre driver who capitalized on mistakes of others in the 1999 Aussie GP. Please see link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eddie_Irvine -------- "The best manager wants a chance for both his drivers to win races and the WDC at this point." -------- NM: No, the best manager gets his team to win. The 2nd-string driver always has plenty of opportunity anyway as described above. But it's the top tier driver who must have priority especially during the closing laps of race (otherwise he wouldn't be "top tier"....). This is not an egalitarian exercise. -------- "Seb is a faster driver but he also does bone headed things occasionally." -------- NM: That's true. But he's young yet. Give him a chance, and we may see another Michael Schumacher in the making... -------- =================

  • ExPatBrit ExPatBrit on Mar 27, 2013

    Well at least our discussion proves that TTAC should feature more about racing in general including additional F1 coverage. It's nice that we can have a civilized discussion devoid of politics. F1 is politics of a different stripe though. It interesting that we agree on Fernando, probably the most complete driver for a long time. Calculating like Prost or Stewart with "larger attachments" as David Hobbs would say. The complete racing driver who can do the PR as well. The front page of Sniff Petrol says it all! Thanks for the discussion! http://sniffpetrol.com/

  • Namesakeone Actually, per the IIHS ratings, "Acceptable" is second best, not second worst. The ratings are "Good," "Acceptable," "Marginal" and "Poor."
  • Inside Looking Out "And safety was enhanced generally via new reversing lamps and turn signals fitted as standard equipment."Did not get it, turn signals were optional in 1954?
  • Lorenzo As long as Grenadier is just a name, and it doesn't actually grenade like Chrysler UltraDrive transmissions. Still, how big is the market for grossly overpriced vehicles? A name like INEOS doesn't have the snobbobile cachet yet. The bulk of the auto market is people who need a reliable, economical car to get to work, and they're not going to pay these prices.
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