Sebastian Vettel had doubts that Red Bull got his strategy right in the Turkish Grand Prix and made his displeasure plain in the post-race press conference.
And the team trod a fine line with the rule book by issuing a covert order to Vettel late in the race preventing him from overtaking team mate Mark Webber.
Vettel’s race was thrown into disarray when he ran wide on the first lap, letting Jenson Button into the lead.
That left the team searching for a way to get around the Brawn and they elected to use a three-stop strategy to do it. That rested on Vettel overtaking Button on the track – which didn’t happen – and the further time loss relegated Vettel to third behind team mate Webber.
In many ways, this was a repeat of what happened to Rubens Barrichello at Spain, when a three-stop strategy dropped him from first to second behind team mate Button.
In the closing stages of the race Vettel quickly closed in on Webber, cutting his lead to a little over a second. This reality was contradicted by the team, who told Vettel that Webber was quicker:
Mark is faster, mark is faster. Sebastian: save your car, save your car. Mark is faster.
The sub-text to the message was unmistakeable – Vettel was being ordered not to overtake Webber.
Most F1 fans have an opinion about whether team orders like this are good for the sport or not. But Horner muddied the water further immediately after the race by insisting “the pace was identical”. He added that, with new engines in the RB5s, they wanted to take the opportunity to preserve them.
After what happened to McLaren at Australia, he might want to take more care about offering a consistent explanation for what happened – and not picking a version of events so obviously at odds with the facts. Here’s how his drivers’ lap times compared after Vettel completed his final pit stop:
After the race Vettel was more concerned about the strategy mistake:
I was quite surprised we stayed on a three-stop strategy at the first pit stop. From what we had discussed before the race, if we found ourself behind Jenson it made no sense to stay on a three-stop.
Vettel stuck to the team’s version of events regarding the Webber instruction:
They didn’t really say not to pass Mark. I got the message ‘Mark is faster than you’. I thought I better keep this one for myself.
There seems little doubt that Red Bull got Vettel’s strategy wrong. But was ordering him not to pass Webber the right thing to do?