Horner and Webber Set to Clear the Air: Red Bulls Lock Horns Again

Jeremy NorthcoteContributor IJuly 11, 2011

VALENCIA, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 02:  Mark Webber of Australia and Red Bull Racing talks with his Team Principal Christian Horner as he prepares to drive the new RB7 during day two of winter testing at the Ricardo Tormo Circuit on February 2, 2011 in Valencia, Spain.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
Paul Gilham/Getty Images

Just when you thought all was quiet on the range at the Red Bull ranch, another internal dispute has broken out involving the same old characters and the same old issues.

Mark Webber is unhappy about team principal Christian Horner's instruction to hold position behind teammate Sebastian Vettel during the closing laps of the British Grand Prix held on the weekend. Christian Horner is unhappy that Webber proceeded to blatantly ignore those instructions and harassed Vettel to the finish line.

Ironically, it was at the same grand prix last year where the team's dirty laundry was also aired for everyone to see, following Horner's decision to place Webber's front wing on Vettel's car after Vettel had damaged his. Webber famously chided, "Not bad for a No. 2," after taking the chequered flag.

One year on, Webber may well be feeling like a No. 2 once more.

No one can blame Horner for wanting his two drivers to stay out of each other's way to maximise the points haul for the team. Horner is the team manager and achieving the best result for the team is his job. 

Neither can one blame Webber for wanting to improve his points position by passing the guy in front. Webber is a racer and his job is to finish as high up the order as possible.

Perhaps it is just Horner's bad luck, but whenever he makes a decision to "protect" the team's results, the outcome always appears to favour Vettel.

In this case, Horner defended his instruction for Webber to hold position by pointing to the incident at last year's Turkish Grand Prix incident where Webber and Vettel crashed into one another when fighting for position.

But there is something that Horner seems to have forgotten in relation to the incident in Turkey. After the race Horner had insisted that team mates are free to fight for position, as long as they give each other enough room (a criticism that was directed at Webber, who only gave Vettel the minimum of space to pass him in Turkey).

One would think that Webber had this in mind as he tussled with Vettel in the closing laps of the British Grand Prix on the weekend, expecting Vettel to give him enough room and avoid the kind of outcome that Horner claims to have feared.

Therein lies the problem—the manner in which Horner changes the ground rules at the spur of the moment, and always seemingly in favour of Vettel.

Impromptu strategic decisions during the course of a race are often the key to success or failure. But it is also important for team principals to be consistent with the understandings that they have developed with drivers so that the delicate thread of trust between team and driver is not broken.

It is also important that they do not unduly curb the basic instinct that spurs drivers to better results—the will to win.

While Horner has insisted in the wake of the latest incident that the driver is not greater than the team, it is also true that a team must have clear guidelines for its drivers for the sake of avoiding confusion, maintaining trust and getting the best out of its drivers.  

No one can dispute Horner's success as a team principal. But in terms of driver management, it appears he still has much to learn.


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