When you’re a driver on the way out, you probably won't expect very good treatment from the team you’re driving for. Such was the case when Red Bull ostensibly had Mark Webber come in late for tires, the strategy taking him out of the lead and out of contention for victory. In turn, their four-time champion in waiting, Sebastian Vettel, was handed the lead which he took onto victory. Life is good for Vettel, not so good for Webber.
As for the pole-sitting Webber’s second place finish at Suzuka, Japan, the race was strictly a battle between Webber, Lotus’ French driver Romain Grosjean from Switzerland and the eventual winner Vettel. For once, Vettel, who had led every lap of the previous two events, was in a fight all day and had to work hard for the win.
At the start, Grosjean had squeezed his Lotus’s nose ahead of the front-runners going into turn one and went on to lead 26 of the first 28 laps of the race (it was a 53 lap event). Vettel had a slow start to the race and ended up taking out Lewis Hamilton who was tagged by Vettel. Webber, on the other hand, was pressing Grosjean most of the day but Red Bull’s tire strategy forced Webber into taking on an extra set of tires with 11 laps remaining. Webber was leading handily and could have easily stayed out while taking care of his tires to the end.
However, Red Bull Racing had other ideas and much to Webber's chagrin, he was required to give up the lead with the extra pit stop, giving Vettel the win with Grosjean struggling on older tires finishing third. The question is: Could Webber have stayed out on the older tires and withstood any charge by Grosjean or Vettel? Webber wonders himself and also felt the change in strategy was odd saying afterwards,
"I was a little bit surprised by the switch to three. I asked was it the right thing to do?"
To be clear, Vettel has always been the lead driver at Red Bull since he first moved into the seat in 2009, previously occupied by the retiring David Coulthard, even though Webber had been there for two years. Webber is retiring at the end of this year and has yet to win in 2013 after having been on the top spot of the podium each of the past four seasons. Webber sits fifth in the standings and still has a chance at a top three overall.
Changing and differing strategies
Of note, Vettel is very popular in Japan and whether or not that had anything to do with the differing strategies, Red Bull Racing wasn’t about to have a confrontation between their two drivers in the land of the rising sun. By the way, the Suzuka win was the fifth in-a-row for Vettel who has all but wrapped up the Formula One title with four races still remaining.
So once again, Webber draws the short straw and Vettel is ever closer to another championship. The strategies for Webber and Vettel were different and stealthy. Questionable tactics notwithstanding, no one will know for sure if the inner-workings at Red Bull were to favor Vettel and ensure the two cars wouldn’t meet up on the track.
Did Red Bull intentionally control Mark Webber’s Suzuka race to guarantee that Vettel would win? What do you think?
Additional source: YouTube (Sky Sports F1)