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How Vettel went from hero to villain to superhero

Last updated on: April 13, 2013 08:28 IST

How Vettel went from hero to villain to superhero

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With the season just two races old, this is nothing short of a declaration of war. And Formula One hasn't seen a proper teammate war for a while, says Raja Sen

Champagne isn't traditionally a drink for the miserable, but the podium at the Malaysian Grand Prix featured three drivers who each looked like they'd rather be elsewhere:

1. Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull was the race winner, having won after disobeying team orders that said he should finish in formation behind his teammate.

2. Mark Webber, the said teammate, came second after leading most of the race and seething about how Seb doesn't follow orders and gets whatever he wants.

3. Lewis Hamilton rounded off the podium with a third place finish for Mercedes, one he got because Nico Rosberg, his faster teammate, was repeatedly told not to overtake Lewis.

- PHOTOS: Vettel seals controversial Malaysia win

Dramatic stuff, this. The public hissed its dissent across forums and messageboards, Twitter and Facebook, intriguingly upset at both implementations of orders: upset that Vettel had ignored team orders and ambushed his teammate, but upset also that Nico Rosberg had obeyed the word from his pit-wall.

This is, naturally, down to underdog-support more than anything else: most people would rather see Webber beat Vettel and Rosberg beat Hamilton, simply because it'd signal a break in the status quo.

Image: Sebastian Vettel
Photographs: Mark Thompson/Getty Images

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Hamilton No. 1 choice at Mercedes

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Things at Mercedes appear simple enough. Lewis Hamilton may deny it till he's blue in the face, but team principal Ross Brawn has had his most glorious moments with one driver firmly ahead of the other, and Mercedes must have offered him a Number One position in the team. Either that, or Brawn really doesn't trust Rosberg to show season-long consistency.

Assumptions aside, the fact is that Rosberg was visibly quicker than Hamilton and could have challenged the Red Bulls ahead, but despite him arguing on the radio and wanting to overtake, Brawn shut the door firmly, like a ticked-off schoolmaster. (Or Gandalf, even: Nico, Thou Shalt Not Pass.) 

It was partly the plaintiveness of Rosberg's that made Brawn's act seem crueller, but as the dust cleared it was evident that neither Lewis Hamilton or Nico Rosberg are currently in charge at Mercedes: Brawn's the boss. At least for now.

Things have been far less idyllic on the other side of the paddock. Head honcho Christian Horner was made to look rather hapless by Red Bull's golden boy Vettel, and -- while during the race the redbullfighting looked like a terrific, tantalising tango -- the fact that Webber had followed orders and dialled his engine down before his teammate shot unexpectedly past him made Sebastian's act seem alarmingly deceitful.

Image: Lewis Hamilton
Photographs: Paul Gilham/Getty Images

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Stupid behaviour

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And indeed, over the last three weeks, the World Champion has been shamed -- by the public, by the press, by drivers current and vintage.

There have been calls for Red Bull to slap his wrist with a one-race ban, and much tut-tutting. 1997 champ Jacques Villeneuve even compared Vettel's "stupid" behaviour to Didier Pironi's in 1982, when Pironi had stolen a win from Gilles Villeneuve -- an act that enraged Gilles enough for him to make a fatal error in a crash a fortnight later.

Webber, meanwhile, has lapped it all up. He's sulked, he's been brooding, he's decried the behaviour of both his teammate and his team, and said he's looking forward to racing with the gloves off, now that Red Bull have decided to remove team orders. 

"It's not complicated. It's not that difficult to translate, but both our drivers in the last three races have failed to understand those messages," Horner snapped earlier this week.


Image: Sebastian Vettel
Photographs: Getty Images

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Webber's role marginal

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And while it's easy to label them as Webber The Wronged and Vettel The Vile (since there is always room to paint a German overachiever evil in Formula One), the true brunt of that drama has finally hit home just a couple of days ago: where Vettel said that he'd do it all over again.

Making it clear that his apologies were for not understanding the message from the team and putting it in the right context, Vettel has decided to hold back on the remorse.

"Had I understood the message and had I thought about it, reflected on it, thought what the team wanted to do, to leave Mark in first place and me finishing second... I think I would have thought about it and I would have probably done the same thing," said Vettel, before delivering the most devastating line. "He didn't deserve [the win]."

Cruel, Cold, Cocky, Condescending, Callous. Yes. Also, Correct.

Despite being shocked by the brutality, it's hard to actually argue with Vettel. In the last few years of Red Bull's complete domination, Webber's role has been marginal, at best. He came close to the title fight in 2010, but hasn't been near the top since, while Sebastian has been reeling off the victories with nearly monotonous ease.

Image: Mark Webber
Photographs: Getty Images

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What Vettel did was cold, calculating and merciless

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And while Webber's whinged about being shortchanged by the team — even calling a win "not bad for a Number Two driver" — he's hardly acted like a loyal team supporter.

Not just has he barely helped Vettel's chances but he has crucially challenged Vettel's skills at the most inappropriate of moments: at last year's title decider in Brazil, for example, he closed the door on Vettel so hard it almost led to retirement for the German. So for Mark to play the martyr card seems, well, a bit of a stretch.

What Vettel did in Malaysia was cold and calculating and merciless. Yes, he stole a win. He took the 25 points a winner gets instead of the 18 for second place, and while it may seem gluttonous given that major rival Fernando Alonso was out of the race, it must be remembered that every point counts: Vettel beat Alonso last year by three points.

Image: Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber
Photographs: Mark Thompson/Getty Images

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Vettel deserves the numero uno tag

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Now Vettel — who has been looked on as an upstart for criminally long — has thrown down the gauntlet. He has called out his teammate and said, in nearly as many words, that Vettel is more talented and deserves the Number One status he's earned. With the season just two races old, this is nothing short of a declaration of war. And Formula One hasn't seen a proper teammate war for awhile.

The fuse has been lit. Put in your earplugs and brace yourselves for the boom. This is going to be a hardcore year.


Image: Sebastian Vettel
Photographs: Mark Thompson/Getty Images
Tags: Vettel

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