MAURICE HAMILTON

Red Bull: Going too far?


So, what’s going on at Red Bull? I’m asking the question in this column knowing I could also be writing myself out of a welcome and a nice cappuccino in the Red Bull Energy Station.

Four months ago, when I mentioned Christian Horner’s frequent television appearances and questioned his interpretation of Sebastian Vettel’s brush with Narain Karthikeyan in Malaysia, the Red Bull Team Principal made it clear - in his customary gentlemanly and charming way - that he was not impressed by my views. Goodness knows what he will make of this.

I’m referring specifically to an interesting interview on Sky F1 TV not long after the finish of the German GP. As the spokesperson for Red Bull (a point made clear during our chat), Horner stepped before the camera - bravely, I thought, given that he was about to be grilled by Johnny Herbert and Damon Hill - to discuss Vettel’s controversial dispute with Jenson Button over second place. At that particular moment, the stewards were in session and had yet to hand down a penalty for Vettel having all four wheels off the track when overtaking the McLaren.

Horner, as you would expect, robustly defended his driver. As Sky replayed the video, Horner said Vettel “goes outside (under braking) and gets clearly ahead.” That was true. But two points here: Does that automatically mean the corner is his even though they have yet to start turning in? And Christian failed to mention that Sebastian then out-braked himself, locked his right-front and ran slightly deeper than intended.

As they pass the apex, still side-by-side, and head for the exit, Horner said Button “runs him out wide”. Which is also true. We will return to that in a minute because now we’re at the critical part of the action.

The onboard camera clearly shows that Vettel hardly made any worthwhile attempt to stay on track but headed for the kerb and the run-off while accelerating hard. Horner then said: “At the point where Seb leaves the track, he’s actually ahead.” This is also correct - but purely from a positional point of view.

It is here that Vettel’s trajectory and Horner’s views are at variance with the rules. Herbert was quick to seize the point when he said: “But you would be ahead if you’ve got that momentum (heading off the track).”

“Where was he supposed to go?” asked Horner, to which the two ex-drivers (and part-time F1 stewards) replied in unison: “Just back out of it!”

Horner went on to say that Button had wheel-spin. But Jenson also had the racing line. Horner then said it is a racing incident. So far, I’m sympathising with Christian’s loyal stance even if I can’t agree with his argument.

But then he put a wheel on the dirt by switching the conversation to Vettel’s involvement with Lewis Hamilton as the McLaren driver, running at the back and having just stopped for fresh tyres, unlapped himself

“Why was he (Hamilton) interfering with the race leaders?” asked Horner, before adding: “He should have respected the fact that they were ahead on the track.”

This thought received no house room from either Hill or Herbert. Hamilton was not breaking any rules as he ran his own race in what was, at that moment, a much faster car/tyre combination. He needed to unlap himself because, in the event of a Safety Car, he could then catch up with the rest of the field.

Horner claimed it cost Vettel time - which, again, was true. But was the histrionic weaving and fist-waving really necessary? The pity is that Hamilton never caught Alonso because I’d be willing to bet the coolest guy on the track would have let the McLaren through with the minimum of fuss and time loss.

As an aside to all that, the replay of the Hamilton overtake showed the positioning of the Red Bull and McLaren to be identical to the controversial moment with Button a few laps later. The difference this time was that Vettel, instead of running off the road at the exit, ducked inside and got alongside Hamilton, only for the superior grip from the fresh Pirellis to shoot the McLaren forward. Button, as Horner pointed out earlier, was struggling. Had Vettel tried a repeat of the inside line, he might have stood a better chance. Certainly a more legitimate one.

In the end, the stewards handed down a 20-second penalty, moving Vettel from second to fifth. I don’t know Horner’s view on this but I’m sure he feels this is harsh. I would agree insofar as a drop to third would have been more appropriate. The additional eight points lost with the fall to fifth could be crucial at the end of a season as close as this.

Horner’s frustration was probably charged by not just the loss of points but also the fact that Red Bull’s startling competitiveness shown in Valencia has mysteriously disappeared. And now they’re ganging up on Red Bull in respect of the engine mapping.

Sometimes life ain’t fair and I do sympathise - a little - for reasons other than thinking about where the next cappuccino might be coming from. It was a correct judgement. Best not to push your luck.

Maurice Hamilton , a freelance motor sport writer and broadcaster since 1977, is the author of more than twenty books and contributes to websites and magazines worldwide.

His weekly column for Grandprix.com was Highly Commended in the 2011 Newspress New Media Awards.

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