One of the top talking points of last season had been Sebastian Vettel’s radio outburst at the Mexican Grand Prix. As the German executed a massive first stint to have a go at the last podium position in the last couple of laps, he caught the back of Verstappen and closed in immediately on the 18 year old who got the grip levels at turn one wrong, performed a Hamilton and took to the grass, emerging ahead.
Sebastian Vettel‘s empathetic cry soon turned into an expletive ridden rant as the order to make the erring youngster give way to the Ferrari never came and no one was spared, not even the race director.
Sebastian Vettel received flak from everyone up and down the grid which is justified to the utmost degree. To hurl abuses at your competitor is one thing, but to extend that to the referee is completely over the line.
But is that so? Is an absolute line never to be crossed? And what about abusing in general. Should Sebastian Vettel have had received sanctions of a moral order?
The answer is something that requires a debate out of our sporting domain. So let’s just stick to what we can.
In the aftermath of Mexico, it seemed everyone turned into a moral police and ended up advising the German to learn to keep a lid on his emotions.
Ricciardo suggested Sebastian Vettel to do what he does i.e. scream at his competitors inside the helmet and not over the radio. And he maybe absolutely right in case of what happened in Mexico but in the long run, what he suggested is not good for the sport.
Well, the inherent reason of broadcasting the radio messages had been to allow the fans the opportunity to see the human aspect of the racing drivers they adore.
With racing drivers increasingly becoming PR puppets, fans and pundits increasingly bemoaned the lack of characters like Motoya and Schumacher on the grid. People don’t want to see robots racing out there, they want heros full of passion and determination.
But with big corporations as sponsors and under the spotlight all the time, how do you get closer to the human Fernando Alonso and not the PR machine equivalent of him? The solution is by letting the fans in during the time when the drivers are at their most vulnerable i.e when they’re racing.
If everyone paid heed to Ricciardo’s advice then we wouldn’t have heard the famous “leave me alone I know what I’m doing” or “GP2 engine“.
Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel played their cards brilliantly in 2015 and when 2016 came, expectations and pressure ran high at the Italian stable.
The German appeared in his relaxed persona all through the media briefings over the course of the year. But we knew not everything was good inside the stable as we had the access to inhibited Sebastian Vettel during the most important time of any racing weekend. During the race, as the Red Bull pressure increased and Mercedes seemed out of reach, Vettel’s radio transcripts became increasingly fraught with disappointments and they reached us through the broadcasts. And this is the very purpose of the idea of broadcasting the communication between the driver and his pit wall, to let the fans feel the emotions of a driver as he pilots his car at speeds north of 180 mph.
Coming back to the whole Mexican fiasco, on lap 68 when Verstappen took to the grass and cut the first corner, Sebastian Vettel knew that not only was that inherently wrong but also that to duel again at a circuit where it’s hard to overtake, the number of laps running out would rob him of his hard work. Also, not to forget that Ricciardo was closing in on them as well so even if he again tried to overtake the 18 year old, the opportunity to put a gap between himself and Ricciardo would be going away as well. So he did the most logical thing to do. To call the referee and get what was logically his, in this case P3.
But amidst the saga, what astounds me most is the fact that no one raised a finger at Charlie Whiting. For an incident as clear as standing water, the order from the race director instructing the child prodigy to let through the 4 time world champion never came. The tirade went on and on for a couple of laps before news came that the whole incident would be investigated after the race.
But during these laps something crucial happened. Sebastian Vettel cut down the gap that Verstappen had gained by cutting the first corner but at the same time Ricciardo closed in on the Ferrari’s gearbox as well. The Red Bull pit wall knew that a penalty was in order and so did Verstappen. The point of a personal achievement was gone but the team could still benefit out of it and so Verstappen did to Sebastian Vettel what Hamilton did to Rosberg in Abu Dhabi. He started backing his competitor into the clutches of his teammate. But the stark difference between the Dutch’s move and the Briton’s was that the latter was de jure the leading car and therefore it was his prerogative to dictate the pace. Verstappen may have been the leading car in the Mexican scenario but his lead was not legal. He had simply cut the corner, gained an advantage and used the second and third sector of the track, which by their inherent nature are extremely difficult to overtake in, to back his competitor into his own teammate. If Verstappen had the track position legally then dictating the pace would have been his right but since his lead was not legal his antics should have been weighed in that light only.
After the race, while the youngster waited in the cool down room only to be sent packing courtesy of a 5 second penalty, Ricciardo voiced his concern, saying Vettel did not deserve to be on the podium step given that he had performed “the Verstappen” to block him. And finally after 8 hours Vettel was handed a 10 second penalty and a cheeky Ricciardo posted a pic on social media celebrating in a bar with the 3rd place trophy.
He is liable to answer many questions. Did he deserve to be on the podium given his teammate had illegally backed the Ferrari into him and his team employed questionable tactics to get him there?
Verstappen too joined his teammate and went as far as suggesting that the German needs to revisit school to get his language correct. If only someone played back to the Dutch his own radio broadcasts from 2015 and let him hear the multiple F-bombs he dropped during races when things didn’t go his way. The then 17 and now only 18 doesn’t appear the role model, does he?
I know all the things are in the past now, Ricciardo got P3, Red bull a 3-4 and Vettel P5 because of a time penalty which, if you ask me, he truly deserved.
But the whole point of raising the issue again is as the new season beckons and numerous calls are being made to improve how the race is stewarded, this is another area for improvement. The Sport needs to decide how its stewards adjudge any given incident and hand out penalties.
By adopting a positivist approach they’ll make things simpler for them but at the same time run the risk of actually doing injustice in situations that are tricky. And the Positivist approach is in itself flawed to begin with and that’s why it faced a lot of criticism in the legal jurisprudence, something highlighted by the Grudge Informer problem.
What the Sport does with the Stewarding System is something that is yet to be seen, but the aim of the whole Sebastian Vettel Mexican Radio Ga Ga and my attempt to unearth this issue is to send a message to the readers that sometimes not everything is what it seems. In Mexico while Vettel’s Penalty and the criticism leveled at him was justified, the lack of attention towards the concerted Red Bull action and Charlie Whiting’s ineptness was something that shouldn’t have happened. This needs to be taken care of in the future.