Christian Horner says Sebastian Vettel-Mark Webber rivalry is healthy for Red Bull
Red Bull boss insists there is a flip side to in-house battle
By Pete Gill. Last Updated: 13/04/13 6:43am
Christian Horner has insisted the antipathy between Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber amounts to a "healthy rivalry" and intimated the open animosity between the 'warring' Red Bull team-mates has been a driving force behind the World Champions' ongoing success.
With a deftness which suggests a future career in high politics beckons, Horner outflanked his interrogators in Friday's press conference with the suggestion that the clear antagonism between Webber and Vettel is what has made the duo one of the most successful driver pairings in the history of the sport.
"There is an awful lot of history between them," Horner remarked with an opening comment which transpired to be as much a boast as an acknowledgment.
"This isn't new, this is something that has been there for the past four or five years, but let's not forget that they are one of the most successful pairings the sport has ever seen - they have won three successive World Championships for the team and Sebastian has become the youngest-ever World Champion.
"Of course, there's been lumps and bumps along the way and there have been incidents between the two drivers. But we retain them because they are both fiercely competitive individuals who drive each other forwards and bring out the best out of each other. Of course, at some points it is uncomfortable for the team, but it is a healthy rivalry - even though they took things into their own hands [in Malaysia]."
In the context of those remarks, the impression seemed to be that Horner was prepared for Vettel to undermine his authority by directly disobeying an overt order from the pitwall just so long as team and driver keep on winning. Success, it appears, can buy considerable allowances.
Not that Horner was falling into the trap of admitting as much, however.
"Sebastian hasn't achieved the success he has experienced by being submissive," added Horner. "I don't think Sebastian thinks for one moment he runs the team. He's been with Red Bull for a long time and he recognises more than anybody the value the team has behind the success he has had in the car. He knows he can't operate without the team and he doesn't put himself above the team.
"He's apologised the team, he's apologised to me, and we move on."
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Not yet they don't. For all of Horner's deftness and refusal to shy away from confronting his critics head on, the rancour continues to fester, with Vettel's public popularity suffering a hefty dent and Webber's retention for 2014 distinctly improbable. Perhaps tellingly, Horner was unable to offer any assurances that the Australian would be offered a contract extension in the wake of the Sepang controversy.
"Sebastian is on a long-term contract so he is committed to the team," confirmed Horner. "Mark's contract has been renewed on an annual basis over the last three or four years and that is something we intend to address in the same way this year.
"Emotions are still raw after events in Malaysia and we won't make any decisions until later in the summer when we'll make a decision with Mark, but after just two races it's far too early for us to contemplate what our driver line-up will be for 2014."
For all of the Red Bull boss's brave and clever words about healthy rivalries, history isn't shy in providing compelling evidence that intra-team driver rivalries of the type Webber and Vettel's has descended to are far more likely to end in mutual destruction rather than sustained long-term success.
Something - or rather, someone - has to give, and no prizes for guessing who is the likeliest fall guy.