While the team’s plan would always have been a front-row lockout, they probably couldn’t have predicted that Felipe Massa would get in the way as Sebastian Vettel started his final hot lap.
By qualifying second, Vettel is stranded on the dirty side of the grid, with Lewis Hamilton starting inside him, but on the clean side of the grid, and the fast starting Fernando Alonso directly behind him.
Vettel’s frustrations were apparent for all to hear. After hearing that he had only secured second place, he asked pointedly why he wasn’t told about Massa’s decision by his long-time engineer Guillaume 'Rocky' Rocquelin.
For the record, Rocky told him to suck it up—or words to that effect...
Ignoring the grid positions, Webber presents a different problem for Red Bull.
Assuming that he gets away to a lead—a shaky assumption, given his chequered start history—is it too soon for Red Bull to start playing the team orders issue?
With five races remaining—including this one—Webber is 56 points behind his team mate and 60 behind championship leader Alonso. Not a mathematically-insurmountable gap by any measure, but realistically, a bit too great.
Only Vettel and Alonso have a realistic chance to take out the championship in 2012.
Is it too early for team orders?
Sure, there is always the possibility that someone completely unexpected could pop up and snatch it from them, but as each race passes those chances get slimmer and slimmer.
More importantly from Vettel’s perspective, Red Bull has hit a rich vein of form. The new rear wing stalling device has given them straight-line speed, a commodity they have searched for the last three years.
With that in mind, is it possible that we could hear “OK, so, Sebastian is faster than you. Can you confirm you understood that message?” coming over Webber’s radio?
While it would be fun to be a fly on the wall for the conversation, it almost certainly won’t happen. The teams are more sophisticated than when the same message was sent to Felipe Massa in 2010 and team orders are no longer illegal.
It will be interesting to see whether Webber will yield to his more successful teammate and do everything in his power to see the young German receive his third successive world title.
Not that Vettel will feel he’ll need the help.