Sometimes with cars racing around circuits at 200mph and all the talk of DRS and KERS and tyres and strategies it is forgotten that at the heart of each speeding machine is a human being. All that tech is nothing without a young gentleman clicking buttons and pressing pedals and flicking paddles. But someone who can flick a paddle can also throw a tantrum. Humanity cannot be eradicated with carbon fibre or extra time in the wind tunnel. The Malaysian F1 grand prix has shown that F1 still relies on the human in the car more than any other factor. The teams might think that they can control everything and that races can be won from the pit-wall, but that relies on compliant drivers who do what they are asked to do.
Usually drivers and teams have the same desires and so there is no issue. When the team and the driver want to win then human nature is not obstructed and everyone works together for the good of all. But this race weekend showed what happens when drivers and teams have different needs. Red Bull dialled down the engine on their lead car and told their drivers to hold position. The team was first and second in the race and this would maximise their points without risking their cars in overtaking manoeuvres. This was not an issue for Mark Webber, the driver in front. The team’s desires matched his and he drove as they asked. The driver behind was not so happy. Sebastian Vettel was being asked to do something that goes against human nature – especially the nature of a racing driver. To be content with second position for the good of the team.
This is something that many drivers have been asked to do in the past and they have done it. It is not easy, but their sense of duty and loyalty to the team have overcome their more immediate, selfish desires for victory. But Vettel was unable to put human nature behind him and take one for the team. As an individual he acted as human nature often invites us, to do the best for ourselves and stuff the rest.
In the end Red Bull still got maximum points from the race, but Vettel had overtaken Webber. This could have potentially driven both cars off the track and resulted in no points at all – as has happened before with these two drivers. If that had happened then there would be argument for punishment of Vettel for his disregard of orders. As there was no loss of points such an argument has less traction, except for the fact that the driver’s actions were still insubordinate. In most organisations such behaviour is not tolerated. Court martial and firing squad may not be suitable, after all in F1 drivers have more leeway as they are the final vital part in the high-tech jigsaw. But the team will want to remind Vettel that disobeying direct orders is not helpful. How you discipline a multi-millionaire multi-championship winning driver is the conundrum currently being pondered by team boss Christian Horner.