So, what was it? Genius? Or a cynical ploy to undermine the efforts of the 'lackey' driver to the end of helping the 'favoured son' win?
Unless you've been up a mountain, or in a cupboard (and you are an F1 fan), then you'll know what I'm talking about. Suzuka, Red Bull and race strategy. That, after Mark Webber had led Sebastian Vettel for the first half of the Japanese Grand Prix, both albeit in Romain Grosjean's wake, the Red Bull team split their ticket. Webber was switched to a three-stop strategy; Vettel remained on a two-stopper. And in the end Vettel won.
|Mark Webber - bewildered after the Suzuka race|
Photo: Octane Photography
And selecting Webber to be the one with the extra stop is defensible too, in that he is the Red Bull driver who by common consent takes more out of his tyres, as well as was the leader of the two at the time so it made more sense for him to be the 'hare' as it were.
So far, so good. But of course we can't just park what we know more widely, and forget what we've learnt from experience. More generally, and however it does or doesn't manifest itself, it doesn't feel too contentious to say that Vettel holds a place within the Red Bull team that Webber doesn't, and if nothing else Seb's chasing down a title while Webber isn't, plus Webber's leaving the team at the end of the year. It's perhaps inevitable that Red Bull's choices would be viewed through this prism pretty much no matter what.
And further the strategy approach one way or another certainly opened up a particular path to victory for Seb that wasn't a clear one beforehand, and probably the whole approach assisted Vettel's race slightly more than it did Webber's (although sight should not be lost of the fact that Seb both in his pace including on older tyres and in passing Grosjean quickly later on took maximum advantage also).
|Sebastian Vettel seemed to benefit more from the strategy|
Photo: Octane Photography
And yet even after his first stop Webber was told by his team that he remained on a two-stop strategy, and Webber's pronouncements after the race indicate that being called in early for his second stop at half distance and being switched to a three-stopper came as a big surprise and was relayed to him with little notice. At the very least, you'd assume had Webber known he'd be pitting earlier he'd have pushed harder than he did in that stint. Something doesn't quite add up here, and we can therefore forgive Webber's obvious bewilderment post hoc.
So to return to our questions from the outset, we can say with certainty that yes it was genius: the strategy split had considerable merit in its own terms. But that doesn't necessarily negate the next part. Not entirely anyway. The key question that remains is just to what extent, if at all, the fact that it had potential to help Seb in particular sold the approach to Red Bull, as opposed to simply that it would give the team the best chance of a one-two? We don't know. And given that even if it were the former no Red Bull strategist is likely to spill the beans in the short term we're unlikely to know any time soon. In the meantime, we'll just be left to our speculating.