Webber was leading his team-mate on lap 41 but turned down his engine performance to ensure his car made the end of the race, while Vettel remained at maximum revs having saved fuel earlier on. This allowed Vettel to slipstream and pull alongside Webber heading down the back straight and into the favoured overtaking point at turn 12.
Webber gave Vettel minimal room as he came alongside and the German reacted by edging back across the track until the pair made contact. Vettel was out of the race on the spot while Webber lost the lead to the pursuing McLarens before making a pit stop for a new front wing.
Team boss Christian Horner said that Webber being in fuel-save mode explained the incident but did not excuse either driver for the accident.
“We now have all the facts,” he said in the paddock. “Mark had changed down into a fuel saving mode that cost him a little bit of performance on the straights, which explains how Sebastian got a very clear run on him. The large mistake remains that not enough room was given, but the explanation is there on how Sebastian had managed to get into the tow. He had managed to save an extra kilo of fuel – as both cars start the race with the same amount of fuel. Effectively he had one more lap of the optimum engine mode, but we couldn’t back him off because he was under pressure from Lewis Hamilton behind.”
Horner does not think either driver can be blamed entirely for the accident and reiterated his disappointment that they did not allow each other more room.
“I think Mark put Sebastian on the dirty side, gave him just enough room and Sebastian came across obviously quite aggressively – but he was quite a long way down the side. So, it was very, very frustrating. We saw the McLarens racing each other and giving themselves a bit more room, we’ve seen drivers racing each other previously in Malaysia – which springs to mind as a recent race and they are usually very, very good at giving each other room. Today, for whatever reason, that didn’t happen.”
He also denied that Red Bull had favoured Vettel over Webber or vice-a-versa.
“Both our drivers are treated absolutely equally,” Horner said. “They both have the same equipment, they both have the same opportunity. That is a policy we operate and that is the way that the team is – he [Vettel] managed to save a bit more fuel because he was in a slipstream for some of the race and he took advantage of that – as is his right to do. He was under a lot of pressure from Hamilton behind, which got him into a position to pass Mark. Our priority at that stage is that we want to win the race. Even if the cars wanted to change position we were still first and second, and it is still 43 points for the team and both drivers were pulling away from McLaren in the championship.”
Horner said that any hard feelings between the pair would be dealt with before the next grand prix in Canada.
“I’ve spoken to both drivers,” he added. “They are both grown ups, they are both big boys, they are both competitors, and the most important thing is that we have given away a load of points today. It must not happen again. They must learn from it. It is right to let the drivers race. We saw McLaren today letting their drivers race, but when drivers are in the same team it is important that they give each other a bit more respect and concede if one has got a run on the other.”