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Soup of This Day #305: All Men Become Brothers Under The Sway Of Thy Gentle Wings

April 4, 2013

Mark Webber
Don’t be fooled by the number 2 on the cap – This Webber guy is not too bad for a number 1 – Photo: Rich Jones, 2012. Rich Jones is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

As a football player I was never much of a goal-scorer.

In fact, my last outdoor, 11-a-side gig lasted 3 and ½ seasons and yielded just 2 goals. This might indicate to you an inability to hit a barn door at 6 paces but I’d respond that: a. I hardly ever took a shot so it’s unfair to judge me on accuracy; and b. What’s up with the hitting the barn doors?

See, my problem with the scoring of goals is that my job has almost always been to stop the other guys from scoring goals. This usually involves spending a lot of time at least 50m from the correct goal, and while I think I have a cultured right foot, it’s not sophisticated enough to work a wonder-strike from beyond halfway.

Sure I could get closer but that wouldn’t be right – Defenders need to be disciplined. They need to suppress the desire for glory, that urge to run around with a shirt over their face, or the need to invent some kind of celebratory dance.

Nay, dancing is not for defenders.

Defenders do the inverse of a dance. Mostly this involves standing still and glaring down at opposition players who have tripped over their own feet. Which is not really in the class of the male lead of The Nutcracker. Although that reads like the kind of role that a good central defender might take. Cracking nuts.

A better dance analogue would be if Michael Flatley was doing his Feet Of Flames thing and 4 supporting choral singers to the rear of the stage each grabbed up a corner of 1 of those heavy curtains and then threw it over the lord of the dance. What those choristers are doing – Working from the back, singing from the same song sheet and smothering the dance – That’s defending.

Mark Webber would be a defender.

Sure the Australian is a Formula 1 driver, at the very pinnacle of motorsport and by definition an automatic superstar, seemingly far removed from a supporting role. He’s not Michael Flatley though, right down to the part where he seems a little slow with the feet, particular at the start of a Grand Prix (GP).

Webber is a good driver though – He’s a professional but he still has the capability to let the red mist take over, allowing him for instance to make a nutcracking pass on the outside of the Eau Rouge-Raidillon combo at 300kmph:


That’s 2 times World Champion Fernando Alonso that Webber is taking on there at the 2011 Belgian GP and it’s a battle for position.

Yep, Mark Webber is a racer.

As is his Red Bull teammate Sebastian Vettel. Although that brief description is pretty much all they share – Seb is a 25 year old German (Webber is at 36 a veteran), 3 times a World Champion. As Red Bull is an Austrian beverage company the perception is that Vettel is the darling of the team, with Webber there in a discreet supporting role. This skeleton of a theory has been given meat by a number of incidents, starting with the Turkish Grand Prix of 2010, in which a leading Webber was challenged by his teammate, with the resulting collision punting out Vettel and demoting the Australian to a 3rd-place finish in this 7th round race.

The acrimony generated – Both drivers blamed the other for the costly mishap – flowed over to the 10th round, the British GP. There, the German ace was given new parts in preference to his Australian colleague. That did backfire – Webber went on to win the race, and still smarting from the mechanical backhander, snarkily suggested over the radio that his efforts were:

‘Not bad for a number 2 driver.’

And they weren’t bad at all, even for a number 1 driver. It’s this obvious talent in Webber that fuels such antagonism between he and Vettel. Not for Mark the shady world of pulling over and allowing Seb a clear run at the line – The Aussie pilot goes out to race and win.

Sometimes though it’s wise to park the emotion, to dampen the dance and do the team thing. Team orders are not illegal in F1. It is perfectly acceptable for a team principal to instruct a driver to not pass a teammate. Primarily this would be done to ensure that both cars will make it home safe and therefore derive the best possible points for the constructing team and best possible positive exposure for the sponsors.

Crashing into your teammate is not good for the sponsors.

In that 2010 Red Bull Turkish march that turned, in a moment of indiscipline, into a Turkish bath the constructor went from a potential 43 points to a disappointing 15 points. That’s not good for the business.

So it was with this in mind that Red Bull’s racing supremo Christian Horner issued an instruction after the last pit stop in the recent 2013 Malaysian GP that his drivers, placed 1 and 2 on the track, should drive conservatively to the chequered flag, without fighting for places. That order was a simple, ‘Multi21’, a thinly coded directive on the finishing order.

Upon receipt both drivers would normally dial their tempestuous machines back to a more conservative setting, cruising home for the Quinella and a bag full of points.

Except that the reigning World Champ, Sebastian Vettel was in 2nd and clearly felt that he had the faster car. So while his Australian teammate followed the team orders and dialled back his settings, the German ace accelerated and engaged in a pitched battle to pass him.

This is not smart racing. Even Horner agreed, somewhat peevishly telling his teutonic charge over the radio:

‘This is silly, Seb. Come on!’

That though did nothing to calm Seb and he eventually completed the wheel to wheel pass across a series of corners, at each turn endangering both cars until the marginally cooler Mark backed off. Vettel then went on to win the race while Webber was left to safely bring his car home.

And fume.

Fume he did too. He snubbed Vettel’s attempt to talk post-race and in the press conference that followed didn’t hold back:

‘The first part of the grand prix went very well for us. In the end we got the right strategy and after the last stop the team told me to turn the engine down. Seb made his own decisions and will have protection as usual. I turned my engine down and as we know he’s a quick pedaller.’

By protection he probably doesn’t mean a helmet liner. And there’d be little actual pedalling going on – I think that’s a metaphor.

Webber then expanded:

‘We have had a lot of history, I respect Seb. It is still very raw at the moment because we had a plan before the race…. I should probably stop now.

It’s very, very, very hard for Seb to sit there when we are told to bring the car home safely. I turned the engine down and was reassured twice that we would not use the cars against each other. It’s very hard for people to understand the situation, they think they know what went on but they don’t.

It puts a lot of heat on certain people. Unfortunately there is no rewind button but it will put some pressure on certain people. We have three weeks now before the next race and I will catch some waves on my board in Australia.’

Which is practically zen and the kind of thing that worked well for Keanu Reeves in Point Break. Of course Keanu was only dealing with a surfing gang of deranged bank robbers led by Patrick Swayze, so Mark might need a bit more than that.

He could for instance consider a game of football in the Carnarvon Senior Soccer Association. Through that comp I got to do the team thing, loyally defending at the back. I did though occasionally get permission to wander forward into uncharted territory, where I could try my luck with a strike on goal and a chance at a jig of joy.

Twice it came off for me. Both times I scored the final goal in 6-0 routs, once from a cross that was spilled by the opposing keeper, allowing me to pounce with my seldom used left boot and rifle home the ball from all of 5m out. The 2nd time was in my last game wearing the green and white for Kennedy Rangers and I’d loped down the centre corridor hopefully, only to receive a pin-point cross with the keeper on the ground and out of position. From 10m out I this time used my preferred right peg and simply guided the ball home.

And did I dance?

No.

In both cases I briefly clenched a fist, mostly just for me, and then I jogged back to my rightful position, proud that in both games we’d kept a clean sheet. I’m a defender, not a dancer.

All Men Become Brothers Under The Sway Of Thy Gentle Wings

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