Does Sebastian Vettel need to quit Red Bull?


Sebastian Vettel has looked a shadow of his imperious best this year, but few would suggest he needs to quit Red Bull Racing.

After all, Vettel has won four world titles for the Milton Keynes-based squad, clinching 39 grand prix wins and 45 pole positions along the way.

However 1997 F1 champ Jacques Villeneuve has spoken out against Red Bull’s treatment of Vettel, going so far as to suggest that the German should consider changing teams if he wants to remain successful.

“He is a four-time world champion, but now Red Bull is treating him like they treated Mark Webber,” said the Canadian. “They seem to have decided to focus on Daniel Ricciardo.

“Now they want to kill Sebastian because he’s not right for the Red Bull image.”

So is there any truth in what the former Williams driver is saying?

There certainly seems to be something in Villeneuve’s accusations, with the often-outspoken Red Bull motorsport advisor Helmut Marko recently criticising Vettel for being a “perfectionist”. This is an interesting choice of words, especially considering he has previously praised Vettel for being a “virtually flawless” driver.

The team has been completely blown out of the water by Mercedes’ fine form in the early stages of 2014 and, in the constructors’ championship, the German team currently has more than double (301) the points of nearest challengers Red Bull (143).

So, while Marko’s words seem to acknowledge that their car is not performing well enough, they also perhaps suggest there is a feeling inside the team that Vettel’s previous success came from the car, not just the driver.

However, if this feeling is prominent inside the Red Bull camp, it can very easily be dismissed as nonsense when looking at the results of Vettel’s former team-mate Mark Webber.

While Webber and Vettel had a fierce rivalry, with the Australian often challenging at the front of the grid, his best championship finish in Vettel’s four title-winning seasons was third, suggesting that it was not the car alone that made the German such a force to be reckoned with.

This brings us on to Red Bull’s treatment of Webber in comparison to that of Vettel.

The German was seen to be 'favoured' by team bosses when Webber pushed him close in races, although Vettel himself disobeyed team orders and overtake Webber at last year’s Malaysian Grand Prix.

Webber also suffered similar technical difficulties to the ones that have beset Vettel this year; the 26-year old has failed to finish three times in 2014, which equals the combined amount of DNFs he recorded in 2011, ’12 and ‘13.*

What is interesting to note is how Marko’s criticisms of Vettel echo his treatment of Webber. Marko once stated that the Australian driver was unable to handle the pressure of competing with a driver much younger than himself, leading Webber to claim he was not part of Red Bull’s “agenda”.

In a move that mirrors the Webber-Vettel dynamic, Marko has also recently praised Vettel’s new team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, saying the young Australian is able to drive around car problems.

Vettel has been out-qualified by Ricciardo at all but two races so far this season. This perhaps suggests that, in their treatment of the German, Red Bull are merely staying consistent to their previous approach and favouring their team’s in-form driver - even if their out-of-form driver was the number one at the start of the season.

Marko has built his reputation on supporting young drivers. Ricciardo is his latest success story and he is determined to protect the 25-year-old. Vettel, like Webber, no longer fits into the team’s agenda. However if he turns the tables and beats Ricciardo on a weekly basis, the team would get back behind him.

Whatever the case, as Villeneuve suggests, the next few months could potentially be a crossroads in Vettel’s career. Will he stay loyal to the team that brought him unimaginable success, even if he risks being out-performed by Ricciardo, or will he seek pastures new in order to recapture his dominance?

* Vettel did not finish the 2012 Italian Grand Prix but was classified 22nd after completing over 90% of the race distance.