Has Sebastian Vettel's act of defying team orders in Malaysia diminished the accomplishments of the youngest Formula 1 triple world champion?
Only time will tell whether Vettel ignoring Red Bull team boss Christian Horner's instructions to not overtake teammate Mark Webber made him a lesser legend. But F1 experts have raised questions over the sportsmanship the German displayed at the Sepang International Circuit to win the race March 24.
The pundits feel while Vettel is unlikely to face any punishment for his doing, he has lost respect and trust across the paddock.
"Team orders are a part of motor racing and should be encouraged. Having said that, I do feel that disobeying team orders and passing a teammate, who has obviously backed away, is about the worst thing a racing driver can do," Peter Windsor told IANS.
Windsor has been covering F1 for more than four decades and has worked with teams like Ferrari and Williams.
"It would be nice to think that Vettel may (of his own volition) 'give a win' to Webber at some point this year but history has shown that the sort of situation that arose in Malaysia - like two team cars running together with the opposition effectively dead - happens rarely," he said.
Banned or otherwise, team orders will always be part of F1.
A season before the rule was re-instated in 2011, Ferrari found a way of instructing drivers Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa. "Okay, so, Fernando is faster than you, can you confirm you understood the message?" that was what Massa's race engineer Rob Smedley said while the Brazilian was leading the 2010 German Grand Prix. Moments later Massa let the Spaniard pass him.
Joe Saward, who has covered every Grand Prix for the last 25 years, said it was justified for Red Bull to give an order and Vettel was wrong to disobey it.
"Motor racing is both a team and individual sport. There are, in consequence, two World Championships: one each for the drivers and constructors. The drivers' championship is important to the drivers and tends to be prioritised by fans and the media. But it is the constructors' championship that dictates the financial returns for a team and thus it is the most important thing for them," Saward told IANS.
Putting into perspective what happened in Malaysia, Saward said: "Red Bull gave an order to Vettel and Webber. Vettel ignored it and won the race. This was considered unsporting. I think that Vettel will have lost a lot of respect within the business. Breaking team orders is a real no-no in the sport."
Prior to the incident, Vettel enjoyed a clean image. All of which has changed now, says well known F1 columnist Dieter Rencken.
"I believe his 'wholesome, goody-goody' image has taken a massive knock and that it will take a long time for the trust to be regained. Teammates and team bosses will find it difficult to ever trust him again," Rencken told IANS.
Kate Walker, a popular woman journalist who travels with the F1 caravan, feels Vettel's actions apparently undermined Horner's position in the team.
"Vettel's main problem isn't that he fought for the win; everyone understands that racers are hungry for victory but that he so flagrantly overrode his team principal's instructions when he did it. Snatching the trophy from Mark was poor sportsmanship, but racer's instinct.
"Ignoring orders from the boss shows you think you're bigger than the team, so unless he handles this well, Vettel might wind up with the reputation of being unmanageable," Walker, F1 editor of Girlracer and assistant editor at GP Week, told IANS.
One would hope to see a controlled Vettel at the Chinese Grand Prix April 14.