You’d have absolutely no idea there was a Formula 1 race on in Shanghai this weekend unless you were standing in the pit lane watching the cars be pushed to and from scrutineering.
There isn’t a single sign or advert for Sunday’s race unless you are within 500 metres of the track and once you’re inside, the only conversation in the paddock revolves around team orders. Or the chicken feet that appeared next to the bacon and toast on this morning’s breakfast menu. I politely declined the feet as well as the next pot along which was advertised as ‘gruel’.
The talk of team orders isn’t surprising given last race’s controversy surrounding Webber and Vettel, but it hasn’t been helped by the latter commenting that if he was in that situation again he’d “probably do the same”.
Such was the scrum at the Red Bull press conference I wasn’t quite sure that’s what he said, but listening back I wasn’t mistaken. “Being completely honest I have never had support from his side,” he continued. “I have had support from the team and I think the team has supported both of us in the same way. I respect Mark as a racing driver, but there has been more than one occasion in the past where he could have helped the team and he didn’t.”
Webber was, luckily for Vettel’s health, not sitting beside him. His name had been put down for the FIA press conference an hour beforehand so the two haven’t had the ‘opportunity’ to be questioned together yet. An hour earlier Webber had looked calm and relaxed about what had happened two weeks ago and even had a rather brutal new haircut – “Well, I went to the hairdressers and he wanted to talk a lot, I wanted to get in and out quite quickly so I just said ‘shave it off’. When he was halfway through I thought ‘that’s a bit short now’.”
When he was told about Vettel saying that he wasn’t sorry for winning – a comment he made in an Infiniti PR event – he paused, “Seb’s comments… If that’s what he thinks, then that’s what he thinks. That’s his position on what happened in Malaysia so…
“I’m keen to finish the season – a lot of people were questioning that one, which was something that certainly wasn’t on my mind. I’ve always done my contracts year by year so come summer I’ll talk to Dietrich [Mateschitz] and we’ll go from there.”
Make no mistake, despite words to the contrary, the pair have not made up. They may now have a professional relationship – “procedurally everything with the team is fine,” according to Webber, but there will be no moving over on track to help each other.
As I walked back to the media centre I bumped into Karun Chandhok, who is here working for Sky. “It’s not pleasant for the team or the engineers,” he said of the situation. “What the team will be very conscious of is that it doesn’t spill over to the technical side. You look at the Senna and Prost era and although they hated each other, from a technical point of view they worked together to move the team forward. You have lots of stories from history of team-mates hiding facts and sometimes even giving wrong opinions just to throw off the other side of the garage. As long as the team doesn’t have that situation then it will be OK.
“I think the big worry for them will be is if we get to Brazil and say Mark is leading the race and Vettel is second, I wouldn’t put money on Mark moving over to let him past to help him take the championship.”
Apparently we’ll get to see some cars on track tomorrow. Usually this would mean an end to bickering and gossip, but in this case I doubt the green lights at the Shanghai circuit will be the end of this one.