Sebastian Vettel pulled a dick-move on Mark Webber in Malaysia. No two ways around it. But when you do pull a dick-move that detracts from, and over-shadows, the accomplishments of your team and draw the ire of the viewing public and paddock, you do not get to say that people need to move on. As the guilty party, you are not in a position to say that people need to move on, or shift their focus to other aspects of a race or incident. When you’re the cause of the disturbance, you no longer control the message.
Vettel was quoted recently on Autosport, saying:
“I don’t apologise for winning, I think that’s why people employed me in the first place and why I’m here. I love racing and that’s what I do.”
“I think we already had a very strong weekend in Australia but we maybe didn’t quite get the result we wanted. But in Malaysia we were racing at the top and I think we worked excellently well with the tyres and everything.
“I think that’s what people forgot. Obviously what stuck in their heads was the way the race ended, but I think there’s not much more to add than what happened.”
And you know what? I’m fine with it. He’s wrong: he was wrong to ignore team instruction; he was wrong to pass Mark Webber for a win that wasn’t his; he was wrong to lie through his teeth, saying that it wasn’t deliberate; and he’s wrong now to try and steer the conversation away from his dick-move. But, really, as a fan, I’m 100% fine with it. The same way I’m ultimately okay with how Michael Schumacher raced Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve in the 90s, or how he tried to manipulate qualifying in Monaco in 2006. I’m okay with it not because I support or tolerate dickheaded moves from racers, because I don’t. (And for the record, I think Webber was just about out of line for racing Vettel to the pit-wall as they were battling.) But I do love me some drama! And with the retirement of Formula 1’s greatest, most polarizing heel, F1 needed someone to fill that void.
For a while I thought Fernando Alonso was going to be that guy. And I’d say for a couple years, between 2007 and 2009, he was. I think for a lot of people, Alonso was the knight that slayed Schumacher as the legend was at the tail-end of the peak of his powers. Alonso was the next Formula 1 legend, as he was two-times World Drivers Champion and by all accounts, the series’ most shining baby-face. Then Alonso v Hamilton at McLaren happened. With a young upstart ruffling his feathers, Alonso transitioned himself from face to heel by outing his own team as smugglers of technical information, gleaned from a rival team, and then hitting the eject button on the McLaren experiment. And while all that was happening, he damn near won the 2007 Drivers Championship again.
Since then, Alonso’s been able to rehabilitate his image – in large part, I feel, because he’s been such a valiant contender, year in and year out, but ultimately failing to retake the F1 championship crown. In 2013, many consider Fernando to be the best all-around driver in the paddock, and the ‘hero’ that fans can attach themselves to when combating the mighty Red Bulls and Sebastian Vettel.
So with Alonso back as a baby-face, who would play the heel? Enter Sebastian Vettel. Malaysian Grand Prix. 2013.
As the reigning champion, three times on the trot, Vettel was marginally polarizing, but only due to his success. It wasn’t personal. You respected his ability as a driver – regretted his success, but you couldn’t hold it against the man for being good, right? Now it’s personal. In one of the best face-to-heel turns since Shawn Michaels put Marty Jannetty through a fake barber shop window, Vettel’s now derided not just for being damn good, but for being the guy who double-crossed his team, and his square-jawed, sportsman’s sportsman of a teammate for that sweet, sweet taste of victory nectar. Or maybe it’s more akin to when Shawn Michaels pulled the infamous Montreal Screwjob on Bret Hart? Maybe Sebastian didn’t screw Mark Webber. Maybe ‘Mark screwed Mark’.
You can respect a man for fighting for every position and every point. You can respect a man for being willing to do just about anything to get that win – as only so many people in the history of motorsports can say they’ve won a Formula 1 grand prix, let alone 27 of them (good enough for a tied 6th-place all time). But to go for glory at the expense of your teammate? To superkick your own teammate and then throw him through the barber shop window, in front of the millions that made of the Formula 1 global audience?
We know the story of where Shawn Michaels was able to go with his career once he turned heel and put his teammate through a window. But I’m curious to see where Vettel can go with this, and if we’ll see him begin to crack and perhaps show us his ethics. But I think we’ve got something good on our hands, as fans: We’ve got ourselves a heel, folks. Formula 1 now has its own heartbreak kid.