On March 24, 2013, Sebastian Vettel infamously disobeyed team orders from Red Bull to hold station behind Mark Webber at the 2013 Malaysian Grand Prix.
Even before the events of Sepang ‘13, Vettel and Webber had endured a fractious relationship as teammates at Red Bull. Vettel was the first star to emerge from Red Bull’s in-house driver academy and had already led the team to three consecutive titles from 2010-12.
Webber, meanwhile, was an external recruit and lost his chance to score a maiden world championship in 2010 when he threw away a massive points lead by crashing out from the Korean Grand Prix.
The matters between the two reached its head on a Sunday afternoon in Malaysia in 2013, permanently damaging Webber’s relationship with both Vettel and Red Bull.
Although Vettel had started the race from pole position, Webber seized the lead early on, with the duo maintaining a comfortable gap to the two Mercedes cars behind.
As the race neared its conclusion, Red Bull ordered both its drivers to maintain position with the now infamous ‘Multi 21’ instruction: the driver in car #2 (Webber) must remain ahead of the other driver in car #1 (Vettel).
But Vettel defied that order with 13 laps to go, passing Webber around the outside of Turn 4 to snatch the victory from the Australian.
Vettel received massive backlash for his tactics, although some argued that athletes ought to be ruthless in professional sport, drawing comparisons to Vettel’s own childhood hero Michael Schumacher.
Several years later, Webber explained the Multi 21 incident from his perspective in his autobiography, Aussie Grit: My Formula One Journey.
“It wasn’t always beneficial to us to race hard against each other because that was too hard on the tyres and in Malaysia we had had that very discussion beforehand,” Webber wrote.
“I knew within two laps that Seb was going to take matters into his own hands despite the reassurance over the radio that the race was mine. I started defending, but as a result of our respective qualifying runs he had new tyres and I didn’t.
“My attempt in Q2 was too conservative so I did an extra lap: that meant I was on a three-lap- old set while Seb’s were brand-new. Maybe he felt he should be able to use those tyres to the best effect rather than be told to back off?
“Whatever his thinking was, when he overtook me I wasn’t so much angry as very sad that the team had reached this sorry state.”
Payback for Brazil 2012
With then Mercedes F1 chief Ross Brawn having shown much more authority to handle a similar on-track rivalry between Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton at the same race, questions were raised about Christian Horner’s management of the situation between his drivers.
Horner, however, believes that Vettel wanted to take revenge for the title-deciding round of the 2012 season in Brazil, when Webber squeezed Vettel towards the pitwall at the start.
It was that incident that triggered a sequence of events which resulted in the German driver being spun around by Bruno Senna and facing the wrong direction on the track.
“[Vettel] told [Webber] that after the race or when they sat down in China. That was probably as tense as it could get,” Horner told the official F1 podcast in 2018.
“It was very difficult for Mark to accept at the time that, and I think if he looked back at it now with perspective and honesty, Sebastian was just quicker.
“So therefore Mark would use whatever tool he could to try and get under his skin.
“As a team, we were just trying to play a straight bat, but every now and again, you’d get a missile coming in and the situation got tougher and tougher.
“It probably culminated at the end of 2012 when Sebastian was fighting Alonso for the championship and Mark squeezed him up against the pit wall at the start of the race in Brazil, in the championship decider. This ultimately resulted in him getting turned round by Bruno Senna. Sebastian was hugely angry about that.
“There was a hangover of that that led into Malaysia, literally two races later, split by four or five months. You had a situation where you have Mark in the car ahead, Sebastian on new tyres in the car behind. The tyres were pretty fragile, we’re telling them hold position and Sebastian thought ‘F*** you’.”
“No respect” for Webber
Webber may not have fulled trusted Horner over matters that involved Vettel, although he did enjoy a great working relationship with both technical boss Adrian Newey and Red Bull CEO Dietrich Mateschitz.
That prompted Webber to directly confront Vettel at the following race in Shanghai, but the meeting between the two didn’t go as planned.
“The next time I saw Sebastian was on the Thursday of the race weekend in China, and I said we needed to talk.
“The ensuing conversation was the most disappointing moment of our entire relationship. He said he was pissed off by what I had said on the podium in Malaysia, that while he respected me as a driver he had no respect for me as a person.
“That was a heavy line for me. I simply said, ‘Then our relationship is in trouble. That’s it.’ I had clung to the belief that we might sort things out between us but I couldn’t help thinking someone must have got in his ear to cause such an about-face.
“Christian later insisted it was all of Sebastian’s own doing, his justification being that it was payback for Silverstone 2011 and Brazil 2012. I could have gone back a lot further than that!”
Convinced that Horner was only trying to please Red Bull advisor Helmut Mark, who served as the direct link between Mateschitz and the team, Webber got his wife and long-time manager Ann to seek an explanation from Horner.
“When Ann later pressed Christian about why the team had never reprimanded Seb or issued any punishment for the ‘Multi 21’ incident, he 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 wrote in his autobiography.
“Red Bull Racing clearly felt they were in a very awkward position because they ended up paying first-place bonus money to both drivers and the figures weren’t small either!”