Monday morning in a sports company like ours is always a fascinating thing. The Americans call it Monday morning quarterbacking, we call it the water cooler conversation. I can tell you the hot topic this morning has been yesterday’s Malaysian F1 Grand Prix and what a fascinating race it was.
I’ve never seen three podium place winners so angry or upset in all my time watching Formula 1. Seb Vettel’s 27th grand prix victory was no celebration for him; Mark Webber was (understandably) madder than a midget with a yoyo and Lewis Hamilton was visibly upset at being on the podium at the expense of his teammate.
At root of the problem is the age-old debate of team orders vs an individual’s innate desire to win. As a brand that champions the true spirit of competition, it’s easy to request, nay demand, that teams let the drivers loose to chase the wins to their hearts’ content. Should two teammates come together in the closing laps, especially when in the top two places, the consequences are enormous. At stake here are 43 world championship points. Whatever order the two finish does not impact the team’s success but if they come together and DNF the consequences are potentially, and more than likely, in the tens of millions of dollars.
What is obvious is that there was a pre-agreed deal within Red Bull that whoever was leading the race at the last tyre change would not be challenged by his teammate. With that in mind, instructions from the pit wall ringing in Webber’s ears and the desire to nurse the cars to the finish line, Mark Webber turned his engine down with the expectation that Vettel would too. Seb chose to ignore the deal he had committed to and attacked. His claim that it wasn’t intentional and that it was all a mistake, are complete bollocks. Pull the other one Seb, it has bells on.
How Red Bull deal with this will be telling. You don’t need to be Albert Einstein to see that Vettel has had favourable treatment over the years (again, understandable) but this is one step too far. He has now shattered trust within the team and in any sport (or life/business for that matter) that can quickly lead to a corrosive and toxic environment. Team principal Christian Horner needs to quickly stamp his authority here or he risks losing the season.
Behind the Red Bull cars we had a similar set up within the Mercedes team. Lewis Hamilton had fuel issues (interesting that we didn’t hear team radio messages to Nico saying the same thing) and as such he had to reduce the performance of his car to compensate. His teammate Nico Rosberg wanted to pass Lewis to attack the Red Bulls but he was prevented from doing so by team orders.
Unlike Vettel, Rosberg chose to heed team principal Ross Brawn’s instructions and came in a very creditable fourth, spending the last 15 laps or so idling behind Hamilton. Lewis obviously knew what was going on and as an avid competitor he didn’t like being handed a podium position on a platter by Nico; this much was obvious from his comments and his demeanor after the race.
I’m not a huge Hamilton fan, what with the diamond earrings, the massive tattoos (What is with these guys and their tattoos?) plus the lame facial hair sculpting, he’s not the sort of role model that I’d like my kids to aspire to (Jensen Button, now that’s a very different story). Having said that, he showed great humility and grace after the race. He not only wants to win badly but he wants to win the right way. Kudos to him. Sport is a metaphor for life; how you play your sport reflects how you live your life.
Christian Horner could do a lot worse than look at how Ross Brawn managed the issue within Mercedes. Whilst Nico was pushing hard to let him race, Ross took the trouble to explain the situation during the race to Nico that Lewis could also go a lot faster. The only comment that Horner made to Vettel (“Don’t be silly Seb”) was made after Vettel had taken the lead. Gate. Horse. Bolted.
Such a fascinating race from both an F1 purist’s as well as a sports business perspective. The atmosphere in the winners’ room before going on the podium was something never before seen; you could have cut the tension with a knife. Three winners and everyone upset or pissed off. This is not what sport should be.