In the aftermath of yesterday’s Grand Prix, everybody was focussed on Mark Webber’s stunning weekend and the last minute heartbreak of Lewis Hamilton, who had second place in the bag when his left front tyre blew, possibly as result of a wheel rim problem.
Vettel had a slow pit stop, because his team did not want to release him into the path of Alonso. He lost four seconds and this also lost him second place to Lewis Hamilton. He was forced to drive off the circuit to avoid a collision with the McLaren after it exited the pits. He later went off track after one of his front brakes failed and he had to make an unscheduled pit stop on lap 54, which dropped him behind Alonso,
“I still had three brakes around the car, I think, so then obviously towards the end it was getting critical because you don’t want to have another failure,” said Vettel. “Every time I touched the brakes the car was massively pulling to the right and didn’t stop properly, obviously, so I knew that something was wrong. I was lucky as there was so much gap to the back, to Michael. I was able to bring the car home.Third is not a bad position and I think we had a horrible, quite bad race.
“I got the call to come in and retire and then I said ‘is there no chance to save some points?’ Obviously at that stage I didn’t know I was fourth but then I was telling the team that I would love to try and keep racing and try to save some points.”
Vettel had over 20 seconds in hand over Schumacher in fourth place and he relied on engine braking to slow the car down for those final laps. It will have taken a bit out of that race engine, which he will have to use again. But this is the kind of thing we have seen in the past from Schumacher and Alonso, where they have nursed a sick car that others would have retired, through to a result. It was another important step in his development as a Grand Prix driver and another window onto his quality.
From what we saw at the weekend and from many conversations with engineers in other teams it is going to be tough for the opposition to catch Red Bull this season, certainly in the coming months. Their car is untouchable in single lap pace in qualifying and, as they showed yesterday, the race pace isn’t too shabby either. Webber put in several bursts of pace when he needed to open a gap and after the pit stop to ease out the margin, but generally he was not over-extending the car to stay well clear of the field.
So all things being equal, both Webber and Vettel have to be considered championship favourites at this point with this car. Red Bull are clearly going for it this year. It looks like Mateschitz and his team have decided that this is the year and they are bringing parts to the car at an amazing rate, which is serving to push them further ahead. Whether this will have a downside cost in competitiveness on next year’s car remains to be seen.
Of the upcoming circuits they will be very strong in Monaco, Turkey and Valencia and unbeatable at Silverstone with its exciting high speed corners. Montreal is the only track on the horizon where McLaren and Ferrari might feel they could have a chance, with its long straights and lack of fast corners. Red Bull was 20th fastest through the speed trap over the weekend, so they may be on the back foot in Montreal.
Of the two Red Bull drivers Vettel is generally the more consistent, so my money would be on him to lead the charge and yesterday’s third place could turn out to be one of the most important results of his season, because the team was telling him to retire the car, but he stuck with it and picked up 15 points, instead of zero for parking it. Championships are built as much on results on bad days as they are on the glory days.
Red Bull have thrown away plenty of points already this season when they’ve had a dominant car, but yesterday Vettel refused to let that happen again. It could prove decisive.
But Webber highlighted how on the edge the F1 cars are that we are seeing at the moment,
“You need a quick car, but you need to have one that is always there for you,” he said.”It showed with McLaren with the failure there that everyone is pushing things to the limit. Ferrari have had some engine problems. We can build tractors, but they are slow. You need to build Formula One cars that are on the edge and this is the balance everyone is chasing.”