Red Bull have an impressive record when it comes to meeting fresh challenges and the latest one is something completely different: how will Mark Webber's decision to quit the team upset the most impressive operation in Formula One?
Red Bull go into Sunday's British Grand Prix with a comfortable lead in both the drivers' and constructors' championship, by 36 and 56 points respectively. Realistically, only Fernando Alonso and Ferrari can overhaul them. But even the prancing horse might need a small implosion, a helping hand in the form of a wobble from the Milton Keynes-based team.
It is all they and the other hangers-on in Formula One can hope for after Montreal, where Red Bull made a swaggeringly confident statement concerning their ability to retain their two world titles.
Webber has always been his own man. But will his new freedom turn him into a loose cannon? Will he feel unhelpful in the important matter of helping Vettel to his fourth world championship in as many years? It will be a new and considerable test of his and his team's professionalism.
Webber's decision to leave Red Bull after 12 more races places Vettel in an even stronger position within the team, if that is remotely possible. The two drivers have had a strained relationship for some time and it has deteriorated this season, especially after Malaysia, where Vettel ignored team orders to deprive Webber of a well deserved victory.
Red Bull feel piqued that Webber told them about his decision to leave only minutes before the official announcement was made by Porsche, the driver's new employers. But they have no choice but to keep him happy for the rest of the season.
The team principal, Christian Horner, said a decision on Webber's replacement would be made before the end of the season. "We're not going to let it drag on for ever but we can take a bit of time to make sure we make the most informed decision," he said. "I think we need to recognise everything Mark has done for the team. He's decided to remove himself from any speculation about next year and that puts us in a situation where we want to pick the best candidate for that role.
"Kimi Raikkonen is a driver you would be foolish to ignore. It's important we make the right decision. We're fortunate that we have the pool of talented young drivers at Toro Rosso to draw upon and we will also gauge what else is available in the marketplace."
The Sky F1 commentator Martin Brundle feels that Webber's position within the team had become impossible. "It was pretty well untenable that they could be team-mates past this year after all the things that have happened, and then Malaysia, in particular, although Mark says that that's not the reason he's made the decision," he said. "I think it's brave to jump before you're pushed because I'm pretty sure Mark could have got a ride somewhere else.
"He's always been – to an extent – an adult among boys in terms of his stance. He's quite emotionally driven as well. He's always prepared to stand up and be counted for what he believes in and he obviously believes that it's the right time for him to go."
Webber said on his website he did not look for a fresh one-year contract with Red Bull. "I never asked the team for more work but I've remained in touch with Dietrich Mateschitz [the owner] over the last six to eight months and he's been absolute quality for me. Going forward I will remain tightly inside the Red Bull family, working with the brand, and watching and supporting fellow Red Bull athletes push the boundaries. I realise F1 is seen as the absolute pinnacle of motorsport and I've worked with some incredible people, in particular Adrian Newey."
At least Red Bull can be sure of one thing: Webber will be nothing less than fast and competitive for the rest of the season. The Australian finished second to the Mercedes man Nico Rosberg in Friday afternoon's second practice session, when the morning rain had mostly cleared. The in-form Rosberg was among the leaders from the start. Webber emerged after a long period in the garage to push Vettel back into third place in the timings; the Red Bulls were followed by Paul di Resta, Lewis Hamilton and Daniel Ricciardo.
The race looks like a shootout between the two leading contenders, Vettel and Alonso. Hamilton's chances dipped a little when he said after practice that he had felt particularly ill at ease in the car.
"I can't remember the last time I felt so uncomfortable with the set-up," he said. "We just need to go back and work on it to make it feel good."
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