Abu Dhabi: Sebastian Vettel dropped the softest of hints on Thursday that he may assist Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber’s bid to win the drivers’ world title on Sunday – if he cannot do it himself.
The 23-year-old German, who is involved in the first four-way championship scrap in Formula One history, told a packed news conference at the Yas Marina circuit that even without obvious ‘team orders’ he knew he was “driving for the team.”
Having spent most of the last week laughing at suggestions that he might work on Webber’s behalf if the need arose, Vettel was still unable to speak with full candour and make any kind of promise ahead of Sunday’s final showdown Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
“I think it is pretty clear,” he said.
“There are lots of things that are going to happen, and more important things before we get to that stage – as we have to focus tomorrow to get the car ready, and then have a smooth qualifying as last year it was quite tricky.
“With lots of things to do, there are better things to spend more energy on than what happens on Sunday. If the situation occurs on Sunday then we know we are driving for the team.
“We have had some occasions where we got close and it didn’t get too good, so the main target is not to repeat that. And the rest, we will see.”
Vettel’s obscure and light-hearted reference to their self-inflicted collision at the Turkish Grand Prix in May could not hide the bitter rivalry that existed between the two Red Bull drivers.
They both sat on the front row during a staged media session, separated by the championship leader Spaniard Fernando Alonso of Ferrari, but they rarely made eye contact, did not smile at each other and gave a decent impression of enjoying an atmosphere of simmering resentment.
Webber, notably, was pithy and taciturn and made references to how lucky some “young twenty-somethings could be to have competitive cars at the start of their Formula One racing careers.”
Webber did not start his first Grand Prix until he was 25 – two years older than Vettel is as he prepares for his second successive title-decider.
But, rivalry and resentment aside, the Australian knows he may need Vettel’s help if he is trapped between his team-mate and Alonso in second place on Sunday.
Then, he will require the German to sacrifice the 10th win of his career to secure Australia’s first title triumph in 30 years.
Alonso, who laughed at Webber’s private asides during the conference, made clear he cares nothing for his critics’ suggestion that he must win by more than seven points – the number he was gifted when Brazilian Felipe Massa obeyed Ferrari team orders to gift him victory in Germany – to supply an untainted champion.
He said: “I think I will not lose one second of my energy thinking about what will happen on Sunday afternoon with Red Bull and their drivers.
“There is much more to do Friday and Saturday preparing for the weekend in the right way. Our only picture at the moment is winning the race or finishing second, that is the target and I think that is what we can achieve this year.
“I think winning by seven, or one, or 25 points, is a less important thing in my mind right now,” he said.
Behind the three main protagonists, Briton Lewis Hamilton of McLaren, the 2008 champion, sat alongside rookie German Nico Hulkenberg, who secured his maiden pole position last weekend in Brazil.
A relaxed Hamilton admitted: “It is kind of cool to be here, just in the mix, but on the edge. It is like being on the edge of the green! (in golf)
“For me, I have nothing to lose – these guys in front have everything to lose.
“So, I will be flat-out. They generally have faster cars than me, but that doesn’t mean we cannot fight for the win. We have to win and that is what I plan to do.”