Who calls the shots?
It’s been two weeks since the now-infamous Multi 21 affair at Red Bull – and two weeks of the reigning Constructors’ Champion trying to convince the world that everything’s a-okay. But with every angle of Vettel‘s actions now examined, there’s one final question that needs answering – ever more important in the face of what may well be impending crisis between Vettel and Webber – who’s calling the shots at Red Bull?You may have read statements from any of the three men currently claiming dominance over Formula One’s troubled team as to why the team is, in fact, not at all troubled. Each of them is staking a claim to ultimate power inside Red Bull Racing.This battle has three protagonists: Dietrich Mateschitz, ruler of the Red Bull energy drink empire. His second-in-command is Helmut Marko, officially titled motorsport advisor – who in turn supervises the team principal Christian Horner.Up this point, it was all working relatively harmoniously – it simmered at worst, but the perils faced by the team so far have been relatively minor. Now it’s at risk of unravelling completely, and undermining the otherwise solid foundations of the minnow-turned-Champion.This question was always going to be asked after Christian Horner’s limp-wristed attempts at controlling Vettel during the Malaysian Grand Prix. Why didn’t he demand the place be given back? His answer: because Vettel wouldn’t have listened. That itself is telling of his lack of authority – but how did it get so bad?After the race, Helmut Marko pounced, detecting the need for damage control. In a post-race interview, while shifting attention to Mercedes, he couldn’t help but subtly make the point that it was Horner specifically, not the team, who made the call, implying he was responsible for letting the situation spiral out of control.Later that week, Horner attempted to wrest control of the situation by triumphantly declaring he’d dragged Vettel in front of the team at Milton Keynes to apologise – a schoolboy punishment at best – while confidently proclaiming that Mark Webber would be staying at Red Bull.Cue Dietrich Mateschitz admitting Kimi Räikkönen is on his radar as a replacement for Webber should the Australian decide the team situation is now unworkable. Webber is closer to Mateschitz than most – he deals only with the boss when re-negotiating his contract. All the while, these three factions are quietly chipping away at each other’s authority.On the one hand, Dietrich Mateschitz wants his team to exist to race – no matter the cost. He admitted before the 2010 title-deciding race he’d rather lose the Championship than enact team orders. Meanwhile, Helmut Marko has taken on his role as a licence to find the sort of success in his young drivers he was deprived of in his own racing career when he lost an eye during a Grand Prix. Wily and ruthless, he’s fiercely protective of Sebastian Vettel, his one true success to date. Finally, in the garage, Christian Horner preaches total equality for both drivers. Can there be two number one drivers in a team? Horner insists it’s possible, and looks close to getting his answer.Three men, all unable to agree on the means to an end. Horner wants his drivers to race, but Marko demands Vettel be the undisputed number one. Mateschitz, meanwhile, wants what’s best for his brand. Yet the Austrian drinks supremo continues to sanction Marko’s renegade style – allowing his famous attacks on Webber’s abilities and place in the team.Who runs Red Bull Racing? When times are good, a sole leader is less important. It’s when the team faces challenges, as it is now, that such a figure needs to come forward. The duty should fall to Christian Horner, but his leadership crumbled in Malaysia – eroded by the power play inside the team.Red Bull Racing’s current leadership hierarchy has scattered authority and leaves no leader truly accountable – and thus makes the team accountable to no-one. We saw this manifest in Malaysia – Vettel disobeyed team orders because his principal did not have the authority to compel him, while Horner could not compel him because he wasn’t given the power that makes a leader truly accountable.To continue running the team in this way is a risk, and Red Bull Racing makes itself vulnerable to further disharmony should it choose not to change. It must either accept a first/second driver policy, or instil Christian Horner with total responsibility and allow him to call the shots – or the team will have learnt nothing from Malaysia 2013.