F1 has a fine tradition of internecine treachery

Vettel's hollow apology after Sepang recalls a history of callous behaviour

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 11 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 11 April, 2013, 4:02am

As apologies go, it was a pretty hollow one. Sebastian Vettel arrives in Shanghai this weekend having apparently said sorry to each and every member of the Red Bull Team for his actions in the last race - even Mark Webber. According to the team, the row over Vettel overtaking Webber to win in Malaysia despite team orders is forgotten. As if.

It has taken Webber a lot of time to calm down. He went surfing to put some distance between himself and events. I imagine that the atmosphere in the Red Bull motorhome in China will be awkward in the extreme. Apparently Vettel has been spoken to at some length by Christian Horner, the team principal, but whether any more concrete punishment will be meted out is doubtful.

Fans will not be surprised by any of this. In fact, I'm sure they are delighted. It has produced some cracking racing at Sepang and a whole load of controversy and gossip. That, in a nutshell, is the sport of Formula One.

Vettel has only been acting like a proper racing driver. They are - and they have to be to get to the top - selfish, egocentric with tunnel vision and, in this case, poor hearing. In behaving in what to us mere mortals is a reprehensible manner, he is only apeing the behaviour of his fellow German, Michael Schumacher. And look at how many world titles Schumacher won.

This friction between Webber and Vettel is the latest act in a simmering feud. It started in Turkey in 2010 when the pair crashed, and was made worse at the British Grand Prix when Vettel was the sole beneficiary of a front wing upgrade and Webber won the race anyway. "Not bad for a number-two driver" was Webber's riposte as he took the chequered flag.

The sport has a fine tradition of men behaving badly. Most recently it was Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso at McLaren, stealing each other's pit stops and similar unsporting behaviour. But there is a rich history of rivalries in the sport that can all too often bring the worst out in drivers, with Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna perhaps the most striking example.

Back in the here and now, it will be fascinating to see how the ripples of this supposedly healed rift affect Red Bull at the Chinese Grand Prix and beyond. It is one thing for them not to trust each other - Christian Horner admits as much. But he insists they respect each other. I'm not so sure that is the case after Malaysia. If the two sides of the garage descend into internecine warfare, it will affect the team's title chances.

Vettel, we know, will plough on regardless, but it will be fascinating to see how Webber will respond. One of the most laid-back characters off the track, you suspect he will come roaring back as he has after other setbacks. But for bad luck and a fractured shoulder, he could have won the title in 2010 and he will be desperate to start the season strongly so as not to be considered just a number two driver. Vettel is favoured among the Red Bull hierarchy, so Webber knows he has to paddle against the tide even without his teammate misbehaving.

Whatever happens, spare a thought for poor old Christian Horner, stuck between a rock and a hard place. He is going to earn his super salary refereeing the pair. When asked why he did not order Vettel to give the place back to his teammate, he said: "Do you honestly think that if we had told him to slow down and give the place back he would have given it back?"

Good point, and a formal written warning is unlikely to do the trick either.