Is anyone out there shocked, like really shocked, that Sebastian Vettel did what he did yesterday? And then tried, and failed spectacularly, to cover it up? The inevitable lines about Germans not following orders aside, should any of us be truly surprised? We know we're not.
We’ve never really bought the ‘lovely young man, that Vettel’ thing. Number one, he is a triple world champion at the age of 25. You can’t do that without what we’ll charitably call ‘a certain focus’. Number two, there are two Sebs; ‘Smiley Seb’ when he’s winning, ‘Sulky Seb’ when he’s not.
Maybe there’s a third now; ‘Shifty Seb’, the one who couldn’t hold Mark Webber’s gaze when Webber called him on his wilful disobedience. As things have played out, maybe he should have just come back with a “Yeah? Wanna make something of it?” The apology and the even more ludicrous ‘accidental overtake’ line have hardly done him any less damage. He’s a gifted racing driver, one of the very few greats. Of course he’s ruthless. So was Michael Schumacher and frankly, though we have largely forgotten it, so was Ayrton Senna. Both would have done exactly the same thing.
There’s a lot of chat out there this morning around drivers versus teams, that only by nailing your colours to one mast or the other can you decide where you sit on this. We're not so sure. Ask us to decide whether in the public’s eyes it’s about drivers or manufacturers and we’ll absolutely tell you: it’s about drivers. Winning the manufacturer’s title might allow Ferrari and McLaren to stick a little badge on the dashboards of their road cars but it means very little else to the watching audience. Especially, to these eyes at least, when Red Bull win it. It’s a brand of over-priced drink, not a car.
However if it’s teams we are talking about, then we have a different view. Vettel needs to have a little more regard for Christian Horner and Adrian Newey. What they’ve done is remarkable. While never short of cash, remember this team was the very ordinary Stewart and frankly hopeless Jaguar before it was Red Bull.
And cash alone does not secure success. Horner and Newey have achieved dominance from a very ordinary little shed in Milton Keynes, not a crystal palace in Woking or a whole campus in Maranello. Their design, engineering and management genius is what really drives that team.
Vettel owes his current success, his fame, and his wealth to these two. There are three or maybe four drivers out there who could have done what he did in an RB6, RB7 or RB8. Necessarily, you can’t include Mark Webber on that list. Indeed this weekend Bernie claimed that one of those on that list asked for help in getting a move into an RBR chassis (a claim that was denied today). Still, it seems pretty obvious who would want to VET-o that one.
So whether you feel ambivalent about Red Bull as manufacturer, you may not feel that way about Horner and Newey. That especially applies to those of you reading this in the UK.
Do those two have any right to tell their drivers in which order to finish a race? Of course they do. It gets more tricky when you ask yourself: is that right a good thing?
Imagine none of this had happened. No orders had been made public, or no radio intercepted, or Mark Webber had saved it all for the debrief. We would have been contemplating a fantastic race, complete with a moment of madness from Fernando Alonso, a moment of misty-eyed nostalgia from Lewis Hamilton and a mind-boggling battle between two identical examples of the some of the most evolved engineering on this planet.
Ignorance would have been bliss, and the best racer would have won. The fact that in many people’s eyes he’s less of man isn’t really our problem. Vettel made his choices, and he has to live with them now, off the track and (where we suspect he cares more) on it.