So what’s it all about? This booing Sebastian Vettel on the F1 podium business? Some say it’s an infantile response to the continued success of a champion. Others suggest it’s simply haters doing their thing. Perhaps it’s just raw, anti-German sentiment… To be honest, it could be one and all of these things, but I suspect it’s something far more straight forward and basic. I think it’s all about respect.
Sebastian Vettel is a worthy champion, make no mistake. The man’s ability to drive an F1 car very fast is beyond any current drivers’ ability (much to the paddock’s consternation). He’s wiping the records chart clean, with his super slick, unfussy dominance of Formula 1. But every time he get’s up on the podium, the crowd boos… what does the guy have to do to be loved?
1) First of all, I don’t believe all these conspiracy theories about Webber’s car being artificially hobbled. It doesn’t make any business sense. However, when it comes to preference within the team, there is clearly a dividing line. And why shouldn’t there be? Vettel is the faster driver, wins the races, and earns Red Bull their lions share of the points. Red Bull’s protestations to the contrary sound feeble and insincere. Not having a preference does not make any business sense either. I’m with Webber on this one.
2) Perhaps Red Bull know what we know? That Mark Webber is an eminently likeable bloke, albeit prone to the typical racing-driver egotistical outbursts (on and off-track), but all things considered, a good egg with a sense of humour and a sizeable slug of sportsmanship thrown into the cocktail. Do we get any of that crowd-surfing, common-man ‘surfer dude’ accessibility from his super cool and uber-talented counterpart? Nope. Just fast fast fast… Fair enough.
3) Respect has to be earned. I recall Vettel, in the early days, wiping people out with his Grosjean style lunges, destroying the races of title contenders and blaming it on them for (outrageously) being in his way. Not unlike Hamilton, I hasten to add, or any other driver you care to mention. Such was his recklessness, Mclaren’s Martin Whitmarsh dubbed him ‘The Crash Kid‘. But despite this, Vettel gradually came of age, started to win, and do so cleanly, earning the respect of not only the paddock, but of the F1 community as a whole. The golden boy of F1 was here to stay.
Then came the Malaysia incident. “Multi-21” were the words uttered by Webber in the pre-podium sweat-box… Vettel had ignored team orders, stabbed his team mate in the back (the look on his face said it all), and claimed the win. And who can blame him? I mean, team orders are outdated and irrelevant right? But no, team orders are relatively new on the scene, following Ferrari’s shameless demonstration that they were are alive and well, in all but legality, using them to get Filipe Massa out of the way of a hungry Fernando Alonso. Such was the community outburst, that the FIA did a flustered about-turn and made them legal again. And so the wheel turns.
So, back to Vettel and the boo’s. It wasn’t so much the fact that Seb did what he did (as I said, who could blame him, he’s champ for a reason) but the fact that, following the sickeningly false apologies, beck-pedals and contradictory messages from the Red Bull motor home, he then demonstrated that he simply didn’t care by stating he would do it again! And the team (amazingly, bafflingly) backed him up. But what could they do? Vettel is the best, and Red Bull need him. He is their brand, their winner. And this is the crux of the matter. If Sebastian Vettel doesn’t care about honour, integrity or sportsmanship, why should we? Why should we invest our time and energy in supporting a person who epitomises selfishness to the highest level? Does this man care for no-one, aside from his own poor feelings?
Respect takes a long time to earn. You have to work for it. Seb threw his earnings away, willingly, and then set the remains alight by saying he’d do it again. Thank you Seb, but I think I’ll invest my support and earth-pounds elsewhere from now on. Perhaps Formula Porsche? Who am I kidding, F1 will always be number one, however I will be merrily booing from the sofa, or perhaps the stands at Silverstone, until we have a hero we can respect with some personal integrity. If you like the guy, he can be your hero, and I will respect that. But for me, Supporting Vettel simply because he’s the best, is not only selling out sport, it’s selling out yourself.
Today, on a floodlight Singapore podium, SKY’s eminently respectable Martin Brundle had the audacity to tell the glittering world of F1 what to think. But here’s the thing Martin… Sebastian Vettel may indeed be the best, but he’s demonstrated very capably, that he’s also the worst.