Insubordination: Sebastian Vettel and the Malaysian GP

I took a couple of days after the Malaysian GP, quarantined myself from F1 news stories, and calmed down after a race that really made my blood boil.  I despise team orders in motor sports, I believe that there is too much emphasis on series championships and not enough emphasis on winning races and that short changes the fans.  While I still believe that, the fact of the matter is that team orders are an entrenched part of not only Formula 1 but other forms of motor sport as well.  Within that framework, what Vettel did on Sunday was wrong and disrespectful not only to his teammate Webber but to the Red Bull team leadership as well.

When a driver takes a job with a Formula 1 team he knows what he is getting in to.  He knows that there are times when his individual goals will be subservient to the goals of the team.  Vettel has rarely run into situations where his individual goals became subservient to Red Bull’s goals but it happened at Malaysia.  He was ordered by the team leadership to remain behind Webber and finish P2 but he disobeyed those orders and passed him.  When he did so, he was clearly being insubordinate and that is something that the team cannot and should not allow.

I don’t believe for a minute that there will be sanctions against Vettel because he is Red Bull’s best shot at the Driver’s Championship and Team Championship.  That may benefit Red Bull in the short term but I believe that it will weaken the team in the long term.  It will weaken the authority of the team leadership.  It will illustrate to every driver in the paddock and those coming up through the ranks that the Red Bull leadership is weak and that drivers will be allowed to ignore instructions from the team at will whether they are team orders or technically related orders needed to save equipment.

Very simply, Red Bull should suspend Vettel for at least one race.  Taking away the opportunity to race and the opportunity to collect precious championship points would damage Vettel’s and the team’s chances of a World Championship but it would salvage the authority of the team’s leadership and prove that at Red Bull the team calls the shots not the drivers.  As long as F1 accepts the use of team orders I don’t see what other choice Red Bull has.

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