Sir Jackie Stewart has lent his name to the chorus of condemnation of Sebastian Vettel’s tactics on cheating Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber out of victory in Sunday’s Malaysian Grand Prix.
The 73-year-old Scot was a triple world champion who won 27 Grands Prix – the same figures as Vettel. But Stewart’s class and integrity were never questioned, on or off the track.
“I used to regard him as the most intelligent and worldly 25-year-old I have ever seen racing,” Stewart said. “But not any more. I think he made a major mistake, and I really cannot understand what was going on in his head. He made a very serious error of judgement over what was right and what was wrong.”
Vettel’s behaviour was not universally condemned, however, with the former Formula One driver Gerhard Berger saying that an “extremely selfish” streak was necessary in all top drivers. Berger, who won 10 Grands Prix during 14 seasons in Formula One up until 1997, said: “If you remember back in history these things always happen,” he said. “To be a race winner you need to be very, very talented but to be a world champion, or to be world champion three, four, five times, you need to be extremely selfish.
“These boys have such a big killing instinct. In these moments they are stressed by the situation, they just cannot follow their brain, they just do what their instincts are telling them,” he told BBC Radio Five Live.
“So, of course, after the race he is saying he is very sorry about it and that he cannot sleep, [but] I think he sleeps very well because this is his nature. But on the other side, this is part of his success. And nobody, no team, no team chief, no team-mate, nobody is going to change it.”
Berger concedes the Red Bull team principal, Christian Horner, has a “hard job” to manage the situation between Vettel and Webber but feels it is not necessarily a bad thing to have two drivers pushing each other on.
“It’s a very good thing for a team to have two strong drivers and sometimes you have to manage it,” he said. “At this stage it’s a hard job to manage this, they are never going to be in love with each other, but at the end of the day over the whole season it’s not a bad situation to have two drivers pushing each other.”
Despite having only two points so far this season, the McLaren driver Jenson Button had cause for hope. “It’s easy to say I could have been on the podium... I’m sure a lot of people would disagree with me , but I think we had a chance to fight with the Mercedes,” the Briton said.
“I think at worst it would have been fifth and we could have pushed the Mercedes. It’s a good improvement from the last race. Only a week ago we never would have thought we’d be fighting for fifth, let alone a little bit better,” he added. “The positives are that we are improving and I can see that we will be even more competitive in China. As a team we haven’t had to [turn a corner] but the car has had to and I think we’ve made some good improvements,” said Button.