Vettel collision: A champion under pressure?
Sebastian Vettel's behaviour during and after the Malaysian Grand Prix has been causing a bit of a fuss in Germany over the past few days.
The media have lapped up his response to his collision with backmarker Narain Karthikeyan, in much the same way as their British counterparts would have done with a similar incident involving Lewis Hamilton, and Vettel has come in for a fair bit of criticism.
On the BBC after the race, Vettel called Karthikeyan an "idiot" for his role in the collision that cost the world champion fourth place.
Speaking in German, the word he chose was "cucumber" - a common insult in that country for bad drivers on the road.
Vettel faces increased competition from outside and inside his Red Bull Team. Photo: Getty/AFP
It has also been pointed out that shots from Vettel's onboard camera appear to show the 24-year-old Red Bull driver giving Karthikeyan a middle-finger salute as he drives past. This has led some to call for him to be punished by governing body the FIA, which so far is keeping a low profile on the matter.
Comparisons have been drawn with McLaren's Jenson Button - who also failed to score any points in Malaysia, but who reacted with his usual calm.
Vettel, some in Germany have said, doesn't know how to lose.
They point out that last year he won 11 races on his way to one of the most dominant championship victories in Formula 1 history. Failing to win four races in a row in that context, the critics say, should not elicit this kind of reaction.
Vettel has not spoken in public since leaving Malaysia, and Red Bull are shrugging it off.
After the race on Sunday, team principal Christian Horner defended Vettel's driving in the collision with Karthikeyan, saying that it was the Indian's "responsibility to get out of the way of the leaders as he is a lapped car".
Although the stewards penalised Karthikeyan for the incident, others are not sure it's quite so clear-cut.
One leading F1 figure told me: "It was completely Vettel's fault - he needed to give Karthikeyan more space. He only had to clear the last inch and he cut across the front of him. He was showing a bit of frustration and it bit him."
Certainly Vettel has found himself at the start of 2012 in a situation with which he is not familiar.
Vettel has had the fastest car in F1 since at least the middle of 2009, and he has used it to good effect.
But now things are different. Red Bull's new car is not a match for the McLaren, and it has also been behind one Mercedes and one Lotus on the grid in each of the first two races.
For a man who is as driven to win - to dominate even - as Vettel is, that will not be a comfortable situation.
Nor will it have escaped his attention that team-mate Mark Webber has so far out-qualified him in both races this year - again, quite a turnaround from 2011, when the Australian managed it only three times in 19 grands prix.
It is early days, but so far the comparison between the two Red Bull drivers looks much more like it was in the first part of 2010 - before the team started fully exploiting the exhaust-blown diffusers that dominated the last 18 months and which have been banned for this season.
Webber was never that comfortable in last season's Red Bull - and while he came to match Vettel on race pace in the second half of last season, he never really got on terms with him in qualifying.
Much of that was to do with the behaviour of the car on corner entry, where the exhaust-blown diffusers were so powerful in increasing performance.
Red Bull's decline has also coincided with the stiffening of the front-wing load test, an attempt to stop teams allowing the ends of the wing to droop towards the track at speed to increase downforce. Red Bull were noticeably better at doing this than the other teams.
It may be an unrelated coincidence, but this year's Red Bull suffers from understeer, a lack of front-end grip - a handling characteristic Webber is comfortable with, while Vettel prefers oversteer.
This is not the first time Vettel has been criticised for letting his emotion get the better of him when things are not going his way.
There was the infamous 'nutter' sign he directed at Webber following their collision in the 2010 Turkish Grand Prix.
There were also mistakes in Britain, Belgium and Singapore that year as he very nearly gifted the world title to Ferrari and Fernando Alonso, who lost it only after a strategic error in the final race.
Such was Vettel's domination in 2011 that it never arose- leading some to say he had reached a new level of maturity both in and out of the car.
The truth of that claim looks set to be tested this year, as Red Bull and Vettel struggle to regain a position that the driver at least seems to consider is rightfully his.
Meanwhile, his rivals will have been watching with interest.
Webber, Alonso, Button and Hamilton remember Vettel's behaviour in 2010 all too well.
Betraying his emotions in such an obvious way will be seen by them as a weakness - they will look at it and think he is rattled.
So it is true to say on the one hand that Vettel's reaction proves he is a winner.
But it is also the case that learning how to lose gracefully - as Button and Alonso, particularly, have learnt in recent years - has its benefits as well.