Monday 30 August 2010

Does the Vettel collision fall-out confirm this season's battle lines?

The collision between Sebastian Vettel and Jenson Button was a major talking point from the Belgian GP at the weekend. However, for me, it was the response to the incident from McLaren that was more intriguing.

Martin Whitmarsh missed several opportunities to keep his mouth shut on the matter, describing Vettel's move as 'more reminiscent of junior formulae', his punishment (a drive through) as 'pretty light', as well as essentially calling Vettel too error-prone. And not missing an opportunity to refer back to the incident in Turkey, wherein Vettel collided with his team mate, Mark Webber, Whitmarsh added: 'I would rather he did it (collided) with his team-mates rather than do it with us'.

Ted Kravitz in the BBC's TV coverage of the Spa race recounted to us how a number of McLaren mechanics apparently went out into the pits to perform a 'passive aggressive' stance as Vettel completed his drive through. Even the normally mild-mannered Jenson had a pop, calling Vettel's move 'weird' and alleging that Vettel was 'rattled' and 'confused'.

You could argue that all of this reflects no more than a highly-competitive team expressing disappointment at having one of their cars taken out of the race at the business end of the season by, let's face it, a rather ham-fisted move. Yet this reaction is also the latest in a lengthy succession of needling emanating from Woking and in the direction of Milton Keynes.

Without wishing to detain ourselves by re-treading old ground, so far this year we have had McLaren leading the cavalry charge on the Red Bull's controversial 'flexi wing' (lord above, if they don't like the wing they should protest it, not indulge in drip-drip innuendo via the media), public taunting of the Red Bull team after the Turkish race ('we pushed them and they cracked' was heard on the McLaren team radio on the slowing down lap) as well as at Silverstone. We even had Lewis at the start of the season claiming that Mark Webber is close to retirement.

This appears to conform to a pattern, namely that there is a deliberate strategy at McLaren to get under the skin of the Red Bull team, and there has been all season.

I appreciate that F1 is not a place for the faint of heart, but I can't help but find McLaren's tactics rather unedifying. I felt the pit lane stunt in Spa, if Ted Kravitz's description did it justice, was particularly egregious (I also suspect some of the BBC's correspondents may have said as much had a team other than McLaren done it). I also cannot imagine the McLaren team employing such tactics under Ron Dennis's management, though I'm prepared to be corrected on that one.

Still, the whole business does shed light on the likely battle lines of this season's championship race. In the blue corner we have the dynamic team, relatively new on the scene, with a brilliant, truly innovative car. However, on the flip side, they are, at various levels, mistake prone and never give the impression that they've absolutely come to terms with their new(ish)-found competitiveness. And in the silver corner we have the sly old foxes, perhaps less quick but who have seen it all, won't be caught out or miss opportunities, and they'll do whatever they can to put their opponents off their stride.

Whatever the case, the remainder of this season will be fun to watch.

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