Red Bull driver battle hardens ahead of Chinese GP

Red Bull driver battle hardens ahead of Chinese GP

SHANGHAI - The Associated Press
Red Bull driver battle hardens ahead of Chinese GP

Red Bull Formula One driver Sebastian Vettel (R) of Germany and team mate Mark Webber of Australia stand on the winnerss podium after the Malaysian F1 Grand Prix at Sepang International Circuit March 24, 2013. REUTERS Photo

Sebastian Vettel intensified his fight with Red Bull teammate Mark Webber, saying the Australian hurt the team in the past so he did not deserve consideration in the Malaysian team orders affair.

Vettel revealed at the Chinese Grand Prix on April 11 that his decision to ignore team orders and pass Webber in the closing stages of the Malaysian race was “indirectly” related to past incidents when he felt Webber went against the best interests of the Formula One team.

“There was more than one occasion in the past when he could have helped the team and he didn’t,” Vettel said.

Asked if that was why he ignored the team orders, Vettel replied: “Indirectly so.”

The world champion maintained he had not understood the team order to stay behind Webber, even though he acknowledged that the code “Multi-21” - meaning the No. 2 car stays ahead of the No. 1 car - had been in use at the team for a long time.

Despite his claims of a mistake, Vettel said he likely would have ignored any further order from the team to give back the lead.

“I would have thought about it and would probably have done the same thing because Mark doesn’t deserve that.”

Vettel’s candid comments revealed the depths of division within Red Bull. Asked whether there was trust between him and Webber, Vettel said, “I would not call it trust to be honest, we have a professional relationship.

“I never had support from his side (of the garage), I have a lot of support from the team and the team is supporting us both the same way.”

The German had apologized to team staff for breaking team rules but laughed when asked if he had been punished in any way: “There are lots of marks on my back,” and “What do you expect to happen? Make a suggestion.”

The relationship between Vettel and Webber appeared fractured beyond repair, and it looked unlikely that the Australian would get another contract after his one-year deal expires at the end of the season.

Webber said on Thursday that initial reports that he considered quitting immediately in Malaysia were wrong, but said the accumulation of incidents of perceived favoritism toward Vettel led to career options crossing his mind.

“Malaysia is not just one event in this scenario,” Webber said. “There are lots of things that come into your mind. We have to try to keep the emotions down but it’s part of our job.

“Year by year is how it’s always been for me,” he said, when asked about his future with the team. “During the summer I will talk to (Red Bull owner) Dietrich (Mateschitz) and we will go from there. I have never ever made decisions on my career at this point in the season. I don’t see why I should make any decisions at the moment for my future.”

Webber’s replacement

The events in Malaysia also raised speculation about the position of team principal Christian Horner, as they showed Vettel can ignore instructions with impugnity.

Vettel, though, denied he effectively outranked Horner.

“That is not right,” Vettel said. “He is the boss, he is in control of all the employees and is leading the team.”

Vettel’s latest comments in the fallout from Malaysia only heightened speculation about who might replace Webber at Red Bull next season. Mateschitz and his right-hand man Helmut Marko had been quoted in the past week saying Lotus driver Kimi Raikkonen was among the candidates, but the Finn would not be drawn on the suggestion.

“The season is only two races old so I’ll try to do this year well and we will see what happens,” Raikkonen said.

“I don’t have a contract so I don’t really have a plan, but of course I probably will be (in F1). But you never know. It is a funny place.”