2013 Malaysian Grand Prix – Comment
For the first the first time since I can remember, the three men on the podium all didn’t want to be there. The rivalry within the Red Bull team was clearly displayed on track, on team radio and in post-race body language. As if it were written in a script, Mercedes had the exact same issues, but the result could not have been more in contrast to the way things went at Red Bull.
Team orders are almost as old as racing itself: in the early days of Formula 1, the team leader was in favour when two cars of the same team met on track. Without team radio, things like this were discussed before the race. Since the introduction of team radio, team orders were also transmitted during the race itself, which gives us a fascinating view into team hierarchy. Ignoring team orders is also not uncommon: Carlos Reutemann ignored team orders from Williams to let Alan Jones pass at the 1981 Brazil Grand Prix. The two already had some issues in previous races and this incident led to a remarkable rivalry between teammates. A similar incident between Didier Pironi and Gilles Villeneuve at Imola in 1982 transformed their friendship into enmity – the issue would never be resolved, as Gilles Villeneuve died a few weeks later.
Team orders were banned after Ferrari asked Rubens Barrichello to let Michael Schumacher pass at the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix, which led to enraged reaction by the Austrian crowd. Team orders were banned, but as off 2011 this rule was dropped from the regulations. Whether team orders are wrong is a matter of opinion, but for this article it is beside the point: this is a matter of respect for your team and your teammate.
In a way, Mercedes showed how it should be done: Nico Rosberg reported he wanted to pass Lewis Hamilton in the closing stages of today’s Malaysian Grand Prix, but Ross Brawn forbid him. These two drivers have known each other for a long time: they were teammates in karting and GP2, they are practically neighbours in Monaco and have been on holidays together. The two drivers respect each other, just like Stirling Moss and Juan Manuel Fangio respected each other when they were teammates at Mercedes in 1954 and 1955. Juan Manuel Fangio was the Mercedes’s superstar, so if Fangio was in the lead, Moss would come second. To show his appreciation and respect, Fangio let Moss win when the pair were leading the 1955 British Grand Prix – at least in Moss’s opinion, as Fangio never admitted he let him win.
In the Red Bull team, a total lack of respect saw Sebastian Vettel overtake his teammate, despite alleged team orders that prevented him from doing so. Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel have quite a history: they collided at the 2010 Turkish Grand Prix when Vettel tried to overtake Webber, who was asked to slow down to save fuel. At that year’s British Grand Prix, Webber’s new front wing was given to Vettel after he had broken his in free practice. Webber won the race and said on team radio “Not bad for a number two driver.” Today showed once again that there still exists some friction between the two.
The podium scene might have been the most interesting in history: the body language from the two Red Bull drivers probably showed us more than any Christian Horner or Helmut Marko could say. How different was Lewis Hamilton’s reaction: in a fair fight, Rosberg would have ended on the podium and the Briton was honest about it. Hamilton wanted to show his appreciation for Nico Rosberg and what better way to do that than saying so on the podium? They don’t need to be best friends, but Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber must respect each other and therefore they must respect the team. Respect is what turns good drivers into great drivers and arguably great drivers into legends. In my opinion, Mercedes showed they have the best driver line-up of 2013 and, dare I see, perhaps the best we have seen since Mercedes’s line-up before their long absence from Formula 1.