x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Webber and Vettel sharpening their claws

Ever since the Turkish Grand Prix in May the two Red Bull-Renault drivers have been involved in a catfight.

The catfight between Red Bull-Renault teammates Mark Webber, left, and Sebastian Vettel started at the Turkish Grand Prix back in May.
The catfight between Red Bull-Renault teammates Mark Webber, left, and Sebastian Vettel started at the Turkish Grand Prix back in May.

Formula One is impressive, compelling, often riveting and sometimes deeply funny.

The funny part, so widely under-appreciated in daily life, comes in the sport's unusually excellent driver feuds, driver tiffs, driver huffs, driver cattiness and driver bad moods.

Here toil some of the boldest people on Earth, people who have conquered such confounding layers of the ogre we call fear. Yet every once in a while they double as fussy little porcelain divas who preen and caterwaul. Perhaps this is for our entertainment purposes. Perhaps we should thank them for the relatively inexpensive diversion.

As if this sport did not supply enough with the whole 19-race chase bound for a palpitating hilt with the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on Sunday, as if it did not give us theatre with every racing millisecond an edge between mirth and despair, F1 gives more. It gives the unique racing norm of the intra-team catfight.

Sure, having teammates contend against each other might lend the sport deep imperfection and subvert its credibility - see the German Grand Prix, 2010 - but it also provides indisputable relief from daily tedium. You might call it an important mission.

Sebastian Vettel had barely finished winning on Sunday in Brazil, with Mark Webber, his Red Bull-Renault teammate second, when the excellent BBC.com blogger Mark Orlovac noted: "There's not a lot of contact between Vettel and Webber," quoting the BBC commentator Jonathan Legard as saying: "I gather they have not been speaking a lot recently."

Few workplace settings boast the outstanding spectacle of co-workers seething in part because they have crashed cars into one another as Vettel and Webber did in Istanbul in May. On lap 40 of the 58-lap Turkish Grand Prix, with Red Bull in despotic command, Vettel tried to duck through on the inside of Webber, Webber pushed Vettel into retirement and Red Bull's available 43 points (25 for first place, 18 for second) collapsed into 15 (for Webber's third place).

Rather than meeting each other halfway, which would have been so unacceptably humdrum, each driver mercifully blamed the other as if in a fine competition for the honour of Most Sniffy.

"I felt I was a little bit faster," Vettel sniffed.

"I was not responsible in any way, but these things happen when the adrenaline's flowing," Webber sniffed.

Weeks later, the whole thing got better still at the British Grand Prix. See, the team had these new toys, front wings. And on the Saturday, Vettel damaged his new toy. And the bosses decided to take Webber's new toy and give it to Vettel. And Webber thought mum-and-dad were showing favouritism.

And Webber proceeded to win the race impressively, proving his huff irrelevant but famously telling the team over the radio: "Thanks guys - not bad for a number two driver," thereby earning a spot in any future Huffiness Hall of Fame.

Now after Webber huffed in Brazil about his "inconvenient" title bid next to Vettel's title bid, they head for Yas Island with both in contention, Webber on 238 points and Vettel on 231 behind Fernando Alonso's 246. Even amid such competitive absurdity, it would be one whole heap duller were they on three separate teams, especially as Vettel might end up having to opt to help Webber win, as if just to add hilarity.

Thankfully, these things can play on across the years. Alonso and Lewis Hamilton famously dabbled in jealousy as McLaren-Mercedes teammates in 2007, a nice backdrop for Valencia of this year, when the same Alonso who overtook his current teammate Felipe Massa on the entrance to the pit lane in China snivelled with the word "unfair" over Hamilton overtaking the safety car, and Hamilton sniffed back: "I just focus on my job, so maybe he should have done that."

Even football teams and sewing circles can lack stuff this good.

An all-time preen festival, of course, starred teammates Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost in their fabulously snippy march through 1989 that should have been the envy of any sport.

Prost felt undervalued, and the melodrama climaxed in the penultimate race in Japan when they crashed on lap 47 of 53, finishing Prost's car before Senna rebounded to win, before officials disqualified him for illegal re-entry, giving Prost his third driving title.

Senna: "The most important thing is not to have the championship but to deserve it."


Prost: "The first title you win is wonderful. The second, you don't believe it happened to you. But the third title is a logical conclusion."


Senna threatened retirement. Prost said Senna had "destroyed" F1. Prost left for Ferrari but their tiffs persisted a while.

But just in case you worry these things constitute incurable distress, remember they do tend to ebb. In 1994, at Senna's funeral, Prost served as a pall-bearer.