The Battle of the Bulls
Written by Caitlyn Gordon, Edited by Yu Xin Wang
Formula 1 is at its peak entertainment when two drivers are battling head-to-head on track, but it’s even more feisty and eye-catching when these rivalries take place between two teammates. We have seen some notable rivalries in Formula 1 such as Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg’s unbelievable title battle back in 2016, and more recently between Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso during the 2022 season when they were constantly fighting on the track. However, one of the most incredible rivalries which happened on and off the track was between the Red Bull drivers. When Red Bull signed a contract with Sebastian Vettel in 2009, they had no idea what kind of rivalry was about to brew between Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel.
This rivalry first started sparking up back in the 2007 Japanese Grand Prix which was before Vettel even joined Red Bull. Webber was running in second place, and it was his 101st Grand Prix without a win. As Webber started closing in on Hamilton, it looked like his 101 streak was going to come to an end. A safety car was put out after Alonso lost control of his McLaren due to the wet weather and spun his car into the barrier. During the safety car, it was getting harder for the drivers to see with all the spray hitting their visor. This caused rookie driver Vettel to hit the back of Webber's Red Bull and end the race for them both. Webber was rightly furious about this situation and spoke his mind regarding the crash: “It’s kids isn’t it… kids with not enough experience – you do a good job and then they f*** it all up.” That is where the rivalry first started and 2 years later, they would become teammates.
In 2010 before the thrilling Turkish Grand Prix, Webber revealed how he thought his team was starting to ‘conspire against him’ when Red Bull managed to get a new-spec rear wing. There was only one available, and Red Bull decided to give it to Vettel. Webber was confused about this as he was leading the championship and expected Red Bull to ‘give him the edge in the pecking order when it came to new components for the cars.’ Vettel got third in qualifying, and Webber held onto pole position.
Going into the Turkish GP, both the Red Bulls were contending for the championship. By the 40th lap, Webber was leading the race with Vettel tailing in second. It was going steady and easy for Webber until he was told to go into fuel saving mode. Vettel however, still had one lap left of full fuel and decided to give it his all as he started getting pressure from Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton. As the Bulls headed down the straight, Vettel pushed his car and became wheel-to-wheel with his teammate. Vettel’s car slightly drifted more towards Webber’s, and it caused contact. Vettel spun out and was out of the race, but Webber was still able to continue the race after a quick pit stop. Vettel was furious and said on the radio, “What the f*** are we doing here? What a stupid action. F*** you, I’m going home.” Vettel was then seen doing a gesture with his hand, to indicate that Webber was ‘crazy’. When Webber finished third and came back to the team, he was greeted by Marko Helmut blaming him for the incident. Christian Horner originally did not pick sides, but he ended up siding with Helmut and blamed Webber. Webber later wrote an article in 2015 about how he felt during the Turkish Grand Prix and stated: “When I saw on the TV the hugs Sebastian got on the pit wall from the team, I began having serious doubts as to who was really pulling the strings at Red Bull Racing.” This was the first of many boiling points the pair saw, and this incident meant that the relationship between the drivers was starting to crack even more.
The fury was still present in 2011 when Red Bull was going into the British Grand Prix with Vettel leading the championship by almost 80 points. Webber, in third place, was behind Vettel in the final remaining laps and was ordered by Red Bull several times to try not to race Vettel. However, Webber did not listen to the orders. A scrap on the track started taking place in the final laps but he did not successfully pass Vettel, meaning he came in third. In an interview post-race, he was asked about how he felt about being ordered to back off on Vettel. He angrily responded with: “I am not fine with it, no. That is the answer to that.”
The 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix was a turning point. On the first lap, Vettel was pushed against the wall by Webber. This then caused Vettel to drop down positions, and have a collision with Bruno Senna at Turn 4. Vettel’s car somehow survived but carried on with a hole in the side. Webber got in Vettel's way again on the 12th lap after seemingly letting Alonso through a few laps earlier. After Webber kept racing Vettel, he was told “Multi 1-2”. Webber acted clueless to this by asking, “What button is that?”. He was then told to let Vettel go and stop racing him. Vettel then went on to win his third championship that race. Horner came out in 2021, saying, “Sebastian had felt that Mark hadn’t played team with him in that championship and compromised him on the run down into turn one.”
The rivalry hit breaking point in 2013, when the iconic Malaysian Grand Prix took place. Webber was leading the Grand Prix and was on course to getting P1. To make sure Webber did finish first, the Red Bull strategists radioed Vettel the infamous line ‘Multimap 2-1, multimap 2-1’. As they headed into the final 13 laps, Vettel disobeyed orders and started attacking Webber. When Vettel overtook him on the outside of Turn 4, it started a scrap between the pair and Vettel ultimately snatched the victory from Webber. After the race, Webber walked into the cool down room visibly furious. “Multi 2-1, Seb, multi 2-1”, Webber said to Vettel, trying to get some answers as to why he disobeyed orders. However, Vettel did not respond to this remark. It was safe to say that the podium was even more awkward than the cool down room as it was very visibly apparent that Webber did not want to be standing next to Vettel at that moment. When interviewed at the podium, Webber said, “In the end, Seb made his own decisions and will have protection as usual and that’s the way it goes.” This race was the final nail in the coffin for the pair’s relationship, as Webber felt isolated by his own team and was treated as a number two.
However, the drama at the Malaysian Grand Prix did not end there. After their falling out, Vettel was questioned on why he did what he did and he claimed that he did not understand what the team meant by the code word ‘multi 2-1’. He continued to say, “Had I understood the message, then I think I would have thought about it, reflected on what it means, what the team wants me to do, to leave Mark in first place and me finishing second. I think I would have thought about it and probably would have done the same thing because Mark doesn’t deserve that.” Reporters then asked Vettel to further elaborate on what he meant by saying that Webber did not deserve the victory. “The bottom line is that I was racing, I was faster, I passed him, I won,” Vettel answered bluntly. In a later interview conducted before the 2013 Chinese Grand Prix, he stated, “I don’t apologise for winning; I think that is why people employed me in the first place.” 2 months later, Webber announced that he will be retiring from Formula 1 by the end of the 2013 season.
2 years later, Webber revealed in his autobiography that Vettel got his legal team involved and threatened to sue. He said, “He [Horner] admitted that the team had received a two-page letter from Seb’s lawyer a few days after the Malaysian race, stating that they were in breach of his contract by giving him an ‘unreasonable instruction-team order’.” Webber further stated that the events of Malaysia 2013 quickened his decision to retire at the end of the 2013 season.
In 2022, Vettel was asked whether he would do it any differently now, if he could redo ‘multi 2-1’ all over again. He answered with a blunt ‘no’. However, the pair have fortunately and thankfully somewhat mended their relationship over the years since their feisty rivalry in Red Bull.
After Vettel retired at the end of the 2022 season, Webber pondered on the good (and bad) times he had with his old teammate and said, “I’m stoked he’s in one piece, he’s had a great career. He was a juggernaut obviously in the early days and on his day, he could still do some special stuff. A four-time world champion, not to be sneezed at, and he’ll be missed.”
Now, they both have mutual respect for each other. After shutting the door on the past, they now appreciate each other’s racing achievements and reminisce on the time they dominated the track with Red Bull together.