Time for Team Orders at Red Bull Racing

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Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber on the podium at the 2010 Malaysian Grand Prix

Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber on the podium at the 2010 Malaysian Grand Prix

Red Bull Racing is only in its sixth year of competition, yet they managed to slay the Ferrari and McLaren teams in Formula 1 this year, earning the coveted constructors’ championship with a round remaining in 19 contests.  The way they’ve gone about it is what intrigues me, because, in a series where team orders are a way of life (no matter whether it’s legal or not), Red Bull Racing is working without team orders, doing what NASCAR says it wants to do, which is have at it, boys.

The boys involved, German Sebastian Vettel and Australian Mark Webber, have had their run-ins over the 2010 season.  They’ve had their ups and their downs and what’s come out of it is one of the most competitive seasons F1 has ever seen.  With the ascendancy of Fernando Alonso in the last quarter of the season, the competition has gotten to the point where this trio are the sole competitors for season-long driving honors, even though 2008 champion Lewis Hamilton is still mathematically eligible. 

They’ll duke it out in Abu Dhabi this weekend and one of them will come out on top.  Red Bull Racing team manager Christian Horner remains committed to the lack of team orders for his drivers, even as everyone around them scoffs at his foolishness.  After all, if Horner’s two drivers “have at it”, they could gift Alonso with his third title and first with Ferrari.  No doubt Stefano Domenicali is just waiting for that scenario.

Horner is trusting his drivers to do the right thing, but he seems to forget the axiom that states racecar drivers are not the smartest guys on the planet.  They’re great at driving racecars; that’s why they get paid to do what they do!  But even the great sportscar driver Allan McNish explained, “We racecar drivers, we have very tiny brains.”  So Horner’s trust could be misguided. 

What’s driving Red Bull Racing is its technical department, headed by Adrian Newey, late of McLaren.  When Newey arrived, he took over the technology reins of a team that had no poles, no wins and few points.  It all started coming to fruition in 2008, when Red Bull earned its first podium.  In 2009 they managed a lot better, gaining five pole positions, six wins and 10 added podium spots.

This year, with one race remaining, Red Bull have 14 poles, eight victories between these two drivers and 11 additional podium slots.  Some of their competition would kill for those types of results – like Renault, Williams, Sauber – and more.

I, for one, think Horner is wrong not to enforce team orders.  When drivers have good direction from their management, they do good things.  This is not good direction and that’s what a team manager is intended to do.  Horner should set rules and regulations for his squad, not leave them to duke it out on the racetrack and see who gets punted off in the first corner. 

Unfortunately, Christian Horner isn’t listening to me or to anyone in the Formula 1 paddock where this final race is concerned.  Or at least he’s not stating there will be any team orders or directives for his two drivers.  So it’s up to Vettel and Webber, together with Alonso, to do the right thing and fight fairly to the close of the final race at Abu Dhabi. 

Webber believes the Red Bull team’s “emotional” support is behind Vettel and he could be right about this.  Horner countered by stating that Webber “has great support within the team.”  At the same time, when there have been mechanical failures for Red Bull this year, they’ve fallen, for the most part, to Vettel, not Webber.  “If something broke, then it tended to break on my car,” he said. 

As the teams jet from Interlagos outside Sao Paulo in Brazil to Abu Dhabi, Alonso holds the top slot with 246 points and Webber is second with 238.  Vettel lies in third place at 231 and Hamilton languishes fourth with 222.  F1 pays 25 points for a victory, which means Hamilton must win and everyone else needs to fall on their sword in order for him to take a second championship.  These facts leave it up to Ferrari’s lead driver and the duo from Red Bull.  Now would be a good time to enforce team orders, Mr Horner.  Just do it.

© 2010 Anne Proffit

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