Red Bull Racing will ultimately come to count the cost of supporting and defending Sebastian Vettel even when the German has palpably been in the wrong, reckons Jacques Villeneuve – as the former world champion tips Mark Webber to fare better when it comes down to 'crunch-time' in the F1 2010 title battle.
Webber currently leads Vettel by 14 points in the drivers' standings with three races left to run and 75 points remaining to be claimed, and Villeneuve contends that it is the steely and gritty Australian who is the mentally stronger of the pair, reasoning that the Heppenheim native has not been able to learn from the mistakes he has made due to being overly-cosseted by his team, with what happened post-Istanbul the most glaring example.
Whilst Vettel has on balance been the fastest driver in the field this year – annexing pole position in eight of the 16 outings to-date – careless errors in Turkey and Belgium have betrayed an immaturity more characteristic of his 23 years. One that, Villeneuve warns, Red Bull is doing little to help banish.
“What's happened throughout your career and your time in F1 is what forms your psychological make-up,” the French-Canadian told The Daily Telegraph. “The guys who have had it tough do better when it's crunch-time, like Mark and Fernando Alonso. It has a huge effect when you compare these guys to some of the pampered young guys.
“Just look at the differing seasons Mark and Sebastian have had. Vettel has shown he has an impetuous streak, but if he makes a mistake and the team don't tell him it was his fault, he won't learn. It's Red Bull's fault for spoiling him.”
Vettel has already hit out this season at what he clearly believes to be unjustified criticism of his driving and the mistakes he has made, lamenting that his errors are far more widely reported and vilified than have been those of his world championship rivals, who have all similarly come unstuck on occasion. What's more, the sport's youngest-ever grand prix-winner remains adamant on the eve of this weekend's inaugural outing in Korea, that he retains as good a chance as anybody else of lifting the laurels.
“In 2007, Kimi [Raikkonen] had quite a bad chance of winning the championship with two races to go, at 17 points behind Lewis [Hamilton],” he mused. “Of course he showed it's possible – he did his maximum and he won those races – but it also required the others not to finish in the points or not to finish high up, so I don't think you can really compare... I think it will be different this year, [but] with three races to go, all five of us are in a position to win.”