Successful performance in sport is all about effective relationships. Whether these are between teammates, the coach and the athlete, or between players, coaches and the support staff the quality of these relationships impacts upon the overall performance that is produced. Indeed, there is a lot of research and applied guidance regarding developing effective relationships in teams (team building) and developing the coach-athlete relationship.
This aspect of team performance is a particularly current issue following the Malaysian Grand Prix at the Sepang International circuit in Malaysia at the weekend. I watched the race unfold with interest while sitting on the sofa on Sunday. It was a very enjoyable race with different teams adopting different approaches to the tactical decisions required to underpin pit-stop strategies and tyre changes. It was particularly interesting as with 15 laps to go it looked like the racing was over with Mark Webber of team RedBull first, and his teammate Sebastian Vettel second. Indeed this seemed the case following the teams’ decision to suspend racing to finish first and second. That was until Vettel decided he wanted to win the race, so proceeded to overtake his teammate against team orders. The repercussions of which are still being felt with Mark Webber now questioning his future of the club, his relationship with Vettel and the degree to which he trusts the Redbull team.
Vettel has since apologised profusely, but then it is easier to apologise when you have the extra seven championship points in the bag and the race win under your belt. A similar situation developed in the 1990’s at Maclaren between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost that created a very corrosive atmosphere in the team. So the question remains can Redbull recover from this?
The answer to this in one sense is a simple one. It depends how much time and effort the team are willing to invest, and the degree to which they want Webber to stay. Vettel is undeniably the top driver on the team and has historically received preferential treatment (he is the world champion). The rhetoric coming out of Redbull is that they want to fix this and what Vettel did was wrong, but once done these things can’t be easily undone.
So, if the team wants to resolve this issue there are questions to be asked of Vettel, his approach and his adherence to team rules. The team need to discipline Vettel to send a strong message to Webber that they will not tolerate such actions and that the word of the team can be trusted. This should help in rebuilding the relationship between the team and the driver. The only question remains can the drivers bury the hatchet and move on from this in a positive manner or is the only way forward for one of them to leave?
Time will tell, but it is going to be a tough season for Redbull.