Sebastian Vettel is one of the most intelligent and personable drivers in Formula One, and most of the time is obliging and informative. But on the track he grows horns.
He does not indulge in the sort of dangerous manoeuvres that sullied countryman Michael Schumacher’s career, but the relentless will to win is similar.
We saw in Turkey in 2010, when he cut too sharply across Mark Webber’s bows while they were fighting for the lead and spun into retirement, that he is not such a nice boy when things go against him. That’s when a churlishness emerges that is less than engaging.
This time the situation was crystal clear. Team boss Christian Horner wanted his drivers to hold station by the 45th lap, so they could preserve their fragile Pirelli tyres and ease the load on their Renault engines. Red Bull had had a bruising start to the season in Australia, where they dominated qualifying but were beaten on race pace by Lotus and Ferrari. Now they stood to gain a whopping 43 world championship points. Both Horner, and genius designer Adrian Newey, hid their heads in their hands as Vettel continued to push and pressure Webber.
In the end, the ruthless racer in Vettel could not be contained, and he pushed through to steal the win, and to hell with what Horner advised. He only seems to answer to energy drink magnate Dietrich Mateschitz’s right-hand man, Dr Helmut Marko.
Immediately afterwards, he explained that it was not until he and Webber were in parc ferme prior to the podium celebrations that he realised he had committed a cardinal sin. But that’s where his post-race damage limitation strategy was revealed as duplicitous subterfuge.
An apology was the right and humble thing to do. But the truth was that we were already well aware even before he passed Webber that he was going against the orders of his team, because Horner was telling him to stop being silly and to back off. And once the deed was done, Horner warned him that he had plenty of explaining to do. So he knew full well what he had done, and the suggestion that he hadn’t acted deliberately but had “made a mistake,” was risible.
His conduct was unbecoming, the petulant act of a man who simply wants to win at all costs.