A host of current and former F1 figures believe that the time is nigh – if not overdue – for Red Bull to throw its collective effort behind Mark Webber in a bid to clinch its maiden Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championship crowns.
But despite this, team-mate Sebastian Vettel – like Jenson Button – is unlikely to cede while he still has a mathematical chance of take the title for himself. Vettel sits 25 points behind the championship leader Fernando Alonso, while Webber lost his 14-point advantage with a DNF at Korea and now trails Alonso by 11 points.
The current situation sees Alonso as a favourite to take a (previously) unlikely championship crown, with Webber his most likely challenger.
Germany’s Bild newspaper has said it’s unlikely Vettel will give up just yet, quoting the German as saying: “Nothing is going to change in my approach to the final two rounds … it is still possible. I am going to fight until the end.”
Having found itself with undoubtedly the quickest car on the grid, Red Bull has at times made a veritable hatched job of its advantage, and many have argued that the team’s inability to implement a hierarchy when it might have been sensible to do so (for example, at the contentious Turkish Grand Prix when the pair collided), or to effectively manage assurances of driver equality (when it claimed to be doing so) have contributed to their rival teams being on-par with them in the championship.
Former F1 driver Jean Alesi told CNR Media: “It’s doubtful they will have the same advantage next year, so you have to say they have mismanaged this season,” he said, adding that the team had “missed a great opportunity” to secure both titles earlier on.
Epsilon Euskadi boss Joan Villadelprat – the veteran F1 team manager whose attempts to get his Le Mans team onto the F1 grid next season were rejected in the FIA selection process – argues a similar line of thought.
“There has been a lack of solidarity at Red Bull, who have not been able to manage their superiority and are now giving the title away to Ferrari,” he wrote in his El Pais newspaper column.
Villadelprat also argued that his compatriot, Alonso, would surely take the championship.
“When a double world champion like Alonso takes the kind of advantage he has now, he does not fail,” he added.
Former Renault boss Flavio Briatore also believes that Red Bull has “the best car but it seems like they’re trying to lose the championship,” he told Sky Sport 24, although it should be added that Briatore has certainly biased as Webber’s driver manager.
Others to come out in support of Red Bull implementing team orders – and it certainly be argued that they’re in the best position to do so – are the Schumacher brothers, who have urged the outfit to back Webber for the title, even at the expense of their compatriot Vettel.
Former Grand Prix driver Ralf – visiting Korea to comment for German television – told Bild: “Red Bull need to play a single card; Mark Webber. Sebastian needs to get as many points as he can, but Red Bull must see to it that Webber gets the title.”
Similarly Michael Schumacher – who was the beneficiary of a team orders structure during much of his stints at Benetton and Ferrari – believes Red Bull needs to assume a one-driver approach for the last two rounds of the season.
“I’m sorry for Sebastian,” he told German television Sky. “I have to recall almost a decade ago, when everyone thought we at Ferrari were crazy to be thinking about the championship so early,” no doubt referring to the 2002 season, where Rubens Barrichello was ordered to cede a win in favour of Schumacher at the Austrian Grand Prix, which led to the total ban on team orders (although many still argue that the rules are broken today).
“But if Red Bull had done the same, their worry lines would be much smaller now,” the seven-time World Champion added.
However, former race winner Gerhard Berger – who himself ran Red Bull’s sister team, Toro Rosso, between 2006-8 – believes that it is a question of “morality” as to whether the senior squad implements team orders.
“Some of the teams, like Williams or McLaren, operate as a business. In this way it makes sense for them to have a team strategy in order to maximise their championship position,” he told Austria’s Servus TV.
“But Red Bull has a very different approach, using formula one as a sporting platform to boost its product. And from the sporting approach, the best man wins,” he added.
Berger himself – having spent several seasons playing second fiddle to team-mates Nigel Mansell (at Ferrari) and Ayrton Senna (at McLaren) – acknowledged that there was still “a grey area” of team orders in Formula 1, such as Ferrari’s slap-on-the-wrist punishment for its implementation of team orders at the German Grand Prix.
“Forget grey areas, we’re thinking of morality,” Berger continued. “
If I know Dietrich Mateschitz, there is no question about the approach. And I think the fans will be grateful. It’s sport.
“It’s not sport, however, if all year you’re just making tactical moves,” he concluded.
[Original image via Sutton Images]