It’s too early to be talking of Red Bull as a spent force in Formula One, after all they are still the defending double world champions and still have Newey and Vettel on board. Yet it is obvious to all that the team is struggling to get to grips with the notion that for the time being they do not have the best car in F1 anymore.
It can all change very quickly but to come from dominating every quali session to qualifying on the third row must be a hard blow to any team..especially since winter testing was suggesting everything would still be fairly smooth sailing for the team. BBC tech pundit Gary Anderson had a remarkable observation that while last year they had a car so good they generally needed to do fairly little work to get it set up for qualifying and race day, this year the mechanics are flat out changing all kinds of things like torsion bars, ride heights, etc,.. throughout the weekend trying to find the right balance. This is a clear indication that the team just doesn’t have a good understanding of the car yet. It would be really interesting to put last year’s quali laps next to this years to notice just how much more Vettel is having to fight the car to get it to do what he wants..it all just seemed a little too easy at times last year.
While the team overall is struggling to live with its new place in the current pecking order, Mark Webber is probably the only fairly happy guy in the team. Having received a humiliating pounding from Vettel last year, he’s outqualified him 2 out of 2 races and is right up there during the race. However he must do something, anything about his starts as he continues to fail on the grid time and again. Nevertheless, for Webber it must be gratifying to see he’s still got what it takes to challenge the Wonderboy, and all of it is of course also putting into perspective Vettel’s achievements of the past two years. Was it really just the car, the tyres and the exhaust configuration which gave Vettel’s driving style such a massive edge over his teammate? From the qualifying wonder he was last year we’ve seem more mistakes on his quali laps than during the whole course of last season combined. It was rumored last year that the advent of EBDs did take away a crucial edge Webber had in his driving style, and perhaps the new regs have simply rebalanced the teammates to their 2010 respective balance of power?
This year will be crucial for Vettel to prove he really is as good as his record of the past two years suggested, and that it was not just down to the car. He needs to pull a few Alonso-esque performances to truly stake his claim as best F1 driver on the grid. Alonso, and to a lesser extent Hamilton, Schumi (in his 1st career) and Button have shown they can win in an inferior car, but Vettel still needs to check that final box which makes a true champion. Monza 08 I’ve said it before and will keep repeating it..that weekend and in those conditions the Toro Rosso was right up there with the best cars even though it still remains a great drive by the German. Vettel can use this difficult season opener to sway those who still doubt him, but instead he is starting to act a bit like a spoiled brat, with Christian Horner taking the role of the father of said brat who tolerates his every whim. The middle finger to Narain, while certainly not very classy can be understandable, you’re in the heat of the moment and Vettel is not the first nor will he be the last racing driver to lose his cool behind the wheel in those situations. The immediate post-race interview is somehow also still understandable as the adrenaline levels are still high, but to keep standing by your comments days later is not cool. First off, Vettel was just as much at fault for the collision with Khartikeyan by cutting in front so aggressively, so he does not even have much reason to call the man a cucumber, which by the way is the weakest insult I’ve ever heard. If you’re going to insult somebody, then at least do it with flair.
To have Horner protect his driver is understandable, but to do it by saying he’s 100% justified to be saying these things is rubbish. He could have used the excuses I’ve said above but he chose not to and remain on the high horse. To Horner, Narain is indeed an idiot and just ask Jaime, anyone who gets into Vettels way will feel the wrath of the Red Bull bosses.
Horner is not helping Red Bull’s slide from determined upstarts to shake up the system to the villains on the grid by his continuous moaning about the Mercedes W Duct. It is all incredibly ironic of course that last year Horner could not wipe the smirk of his face when ridiculing other teams when it was their turn to bitch about Red Bulls flexi front wings. The FIA have cleared the Merc system on about 3 occasions now, and Merc have surely not made any significant changes to it, so why is this story still being beaten to a bloody pulp by Horner? Either you file an official complaint and accept the FIA decision or you shut the hell up – as the other teams eventually did last year as they set out to copy the Red Bull design as best they could. It probably hurts Newey’s pride a bit to be reduced to copying other team’s superior design solutions but if that’s what it takes to win then that’s what they should be doing.. If they do that, Red Bull can still be fighting for the championship this year, but they need to get their head down, stop moaning and start catching up.