Mark Webber isn’t stupid. He knows that, whether he likes it or not, Sebastian Vettel is Red Bull’s No. 1 driver and there will be no consequences for the three-time world champion’s actions during the Malaysian Grand Prix.
Besides, even if team principal Christian Horner wanted to punish Vettel, what could they do to him? Tell him to write “I must not disobey team orders” on the blackboard 100 times?
Then again, it’s doubtful that Red Bull “advisor” Helmut Marko would allow his protégé to suffer even that small indignation.
Vettel’s forced apology and ridiculous claim to The F1 Times that he “didn't ignore it [the team order] on purpose but I messed up the situation” beggars belief. Are we really expected to believe that he accidentally fought with Webber fiercely for over a lap before passing him? He went on to say, "Apologies to Mark and now the result is there, but all I can say is that I didn't do it deliberately."
It was deliberate, it was calculated and it was perfectly executed.
But therein lies one of the great contradictions of Formula One.
It’s a sport that is all about winning races, but it’s also a team sport and the team has the ultimate say in who takes the victory. Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg understood that, as he dawdled along behind his teammate after being ordered to do so by team boss Ross Brawn.
The ridiculous thing is that it was enthralling racing. It was a clean, skillful, wheel-to-wheel battle, the likes of which F1 needs to maintain its stake as the pinnacle of world motorsport.
A driver being forced to apologise for winning a race, however, damages the sport immensely.
The FIA has decreed that team orders are a legal and acceptable part of the sport. Fans, on the other hand, think it’s ridiculous and want to see the best driver win on the day.
While there is a reasonable argument for a team to enforce orders late in the season when a championship is on the line, doing so in the second race of the year does seem silly.
Yes, there were concerns about tyre wear behind the orders not to push each other too hard, but the lead over the Mercedes drivers was massive and the car had shown itself to be considerably better on its tyres than in Melbourne.
Despite the indignation and grumpiness displayed post-race, Webber will have to console himself with a moral victory and move on. Vettel has proven himself to be the better driver over the previous three seasons and has earned the team’s favour.
The team has shown faith in Webber, choosing to keep him rather than take on Lewis Hamilton. But they kept him on to do a job—support Sebastian Vettel, not get in his way.