Formula 1: Why Red Bull May Not Have It All Their Own Way

Neil JamesFeatured ColumnistJuly 13, 2012

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JULY 08:  Race winner Mark Webber (R) of Australia and Red Bull Racing talks with third placed team mate Sebastian Vettel (L) of Germany and Red Bull Racing on the podium following the British Grand Prix at Silverstone Circuit on July 8, 2012 in Northampton, England.  (Photo by Andrew Hone/Getty Images)
Andrew Hone/Getty Images

They has what should now be considered the best all-around car on the grid and a substantial lead in the constructors' championship. Such strong positions don't tend to breed crises.

But Red Bull have a bit of a problem.

When Mark Webber won the British Grand Prix, he closed the gap to Fernando Alonso at the top of the drivers' standings to 13 points. He also extended his lead over his teammate to 16 points.

That teammate is Sebastian Vettel—Red Bull's golden boy, de facto team leader and last year's dominant champion. In the minds of the team's management, he's the one who should be challenging for the title, and Webber is supposed to be the rear gunner.

But 2012 isn't turning out that way.

Losing the blown diffuser seems to have hurt Vettel more than anyone, while Webber—who never liked the way the 2011 car worked—appears to be much more competitive.

So we have a fast but unspectacular "No. 2" performing on a par with a man generally considered one of the top three drivers in the sport. If things stay the same, they'll spend the rest of the season taking points off each other.

And it all smells faintly of 2010.

In that year, the Red Bull drivers had the best car but very nearly battled each other out of the title. Vettel eventually took the prize by a mere four points after a strategic error (in hindsight) by the team's main rival in the final race.

That rival? Fernando Alonso, driving a slower Ferrari but with no point-snatching teammate to get in his way.

As the 2010 season unfolded, it became clear even to casual observers that Red Bull favoured Vettel, most notably following a collision with Webber at the Turkish Grand Prix.

Friction between the two drivers developed, and though it no doubt cooled during Vettel's dominant run in 2011, one would imagine that the sense of competition between the two men is back and as strong as ever.

It's unlikely Red Bull would go so far as to instruct Webber to play the backup man, especially now that he's signed a new deal to keep him at the team for 2013. The Australian would probably step away from the car before he'd give up a chance at the title.

But Red Bull also won't want to upset Vettel, a possible future target for Ferrari and—one could reasonably expect—maybe even Mercedes.

As well as developing their car and working on race strategies, Red Bull will find themselves having to ensure that two title-hunting men stay happy, competitive and friendly.

And that could play right into the hands of Ferrari.