If the commentators would be believed, there is a storm brewing at Red Bull of the type that generated so much controversy circa 2010. Of course this fermented some of the best TV of the season. Who can forget Sebastian Vettel spinning out in Turkey and his crazy gesture after getting out of the car and my personal favorite, “not bad for a number two driver” (see video above).
2010 was an amazing year. Red Bull had not quite gotten that whole reliability thing down proper and so while their car was arguably the most dominant of any season, it also tended to fail in spectacular fashion. Recall Vettel who lost power in Bahrain due to “spark plug failure” and had to settle for fourth and his catastrophic engine failure at Korea. Webber managed to avoid the reliability issue but proved that Red Bull really does give you wings, provided that there is the back end of a Caterham (then in its confused name phase) to launch off of.
2010 was also a time of very serious growth for the team and specifically for Vettel. This was the season that makes everyone question Vettel’s ability to get through a field should he not start at the front. He was clumsy and hesitant highlighted by his boneheaded move against Button at Spa. For the team, this was the year that Christian Horner learned how to manage two very competitive drivers neither of whom will give in. This is especially true of Mark Webber whose only real demand is equal treatment, something he was not getting in 2010.
Yet it was Webber who was chasing Alonso come Abu Dhabi and it was Webber who Ferrari decided to cover in what is now known as one of the worst tactical blunders in Ferrari history. And it was Vettel who took the title after winning three of the last four races. It would have been four of four if not for the engine failure in Korea.
But never mind, Red Bull are there once again. Christian Horner calls it a “good headache to have” which is exactly what he said last time. But I do not think this season will turn into 2010. For one thing, Vettel is clearly established as the number one, having so throughly beat up on Webber in 2011. Yes, Webber was right there after the season was half done, but it was Vettel who broke the qualifying record and Vettel who won the championship in such astonishing style.
Webber’s presence at the front is not a threat to Vettel’s leadership of the team as it was in 2011. As a result, the team will not go out of their way to give Vettel the only new front wing as they did at Silverstone in 2010 (Webber won that one “not bad for a number two driver”).
Because Vettel is established, Horner will not be under pressure from Helmut Marko to put Vettel at the front, as he was in 2010. In 2010, Red Bull realized the potential of the German wunderkind as a marketing and branding tool. Combine the fact that Vettel is the anti – Kimi Raikkonen and and was very young to boot, Red Bull saw him as a long term brand that would propel them to the front of the field and into the well established teams of Formula 1. Mark Webber is none of these things. Before Red Bull, he was a journeyman with speed but unproven as a championship contender. The fact that he was significantly older than Vettel and Australian (not Austrian) was also a problem. Vettel is the point of Red Bull Racing branding.
But there is a problem. For Vettel to fit into the spot that Red Bull foresaw, he had to be the best. He had to win the championship. If Alonso won, it would not be that bad, provided Vettel beat Webber, but if Webber won and beat Vettel, it would throw the whole branding scheme out the window. In steps Helmut Marko to push thins order down Christian Horner’s throat.
Thankfully, Vettel does win 2010 and he makes 2011 his bitch (sorry for the language but he did, 15 poles, 11 wins, jeez, what else do you call it). Marketing scheme in place.
So now we are back at 2012 and Webber is ahead of Vettel with a long season yet to run. But this time, there is much less on the line for Red Bull. In some ways, it behooves them to give advantage to Webber. I am sure Australia would go Red Bull crazy should he win the championship this year and Vettel’s image and standings in the team goes unchanged. Either way, there is no reason for Helmut Marko to step in, no reason for Vettel to get unfair advantage, as he did at Silverstone in 2010.
Vettel is also a much more mature driver now and his relationship with Mark, while not friendly, is cordial and more importantly, respectful. Put it this way, I do not see any Turkey 2010s happening again.
Whatever happens, Horner’s headaches will probably be far less severe than they were in 2010. May the best man win.