Analysis: Vettel’s astonishing speed in Singapore – here to stay?
Posted By: James Allen  |  30 Sep 2013   |  11:00 am GMT  |  556 comments

One of the most commented aspects of the Singapore Grand Prix was the astonishing speed of Sebastian Vettel, particularly in the opening laps and the initial laps after the safety car. There have been many questions about how this was achieved and some interesting observations, such as Giancarlo Minardi’s comments about a strange sound coming from Vettel’s exhaust in these phases.

Here with the input of JA on F1 technical adviser Mark Gillan, former Williams F1 team chief operations engineer, is our analysis of Vettel’s speed and a consideration of why it was so noticeable in Singapore and whether it is here to stay for the rest of the 2013 season.

Graphic: Mark Gillan

It is clear that Red Bull has made a big improvement in performance since the summer break. Compare the lap time charts from Singapore (above) and German Grands Prix (below). The numbers down the vertical axis are the lap times in seconds, with the lower times at the bottom. The number of laps in the race are across the horizontal axis.

In terms of relative pace to the others, Vettel and Red Bull were quite closely matched in Germany (below), but have obviously moved a long way ahead in Singapore.

Graphic: Mark Gillan

Mercedes had the edge in Hungary in July, where there are also plenty of sub 130km/h corners. Hamilton’s pace, when not held up by traffic, is still quite good, but Vettel has a clear one second advantage in the early part of the race and more like 1.5 to 2 seconds in the period after the safety car (the blue line in the centre of the graphic which loops much lower than any other run). This post Safety car phase is probably an accurate reflection of the true pace of the car fully extended, as Vettel and Red Bull were looking to build a big gap as he had to stop again and he didn’t want to come out behind one of the cars, like Alonso, Raikkonen or Button, who were going to the finish on the same set of tyres.

It’s quite rare to see a race so utterly dominated by a car and driver combination. Having built a gap early in the race, he backs off and manages the tyres and the gap to his first stop. But the safety car made him work to get the advantage back and he had huge pace, with very limited tyre degradation.

So where has the pace come from and will it show up as dramatically as this in Korea and Japan?

The key to this is that Red Bull has done a lot of work on traction out of low speed corners. On average, across all the tracks in the F1 championship, 25% of the lap time is spent below 130km/h on corner exits. It is the most significant single area to focus on. So if you can make a significant gain in that area, you can get effectively a 25% improvement, which will show in your lap time.

Singapore is an extreme example as it has 23 corners and many of them are below 130km/h – so all the gain Red Bull has been working for will show up on a track like that. This will be less the case in Suzuka, which is a fast, flowing circuit, but it will probably show up in the first and final sectors in Korea, which will be pretty good to the team. Much of the work has gone on in the diffuser area, which generates the key downforce for the low speed corners in conjunction with the exhausts, although off-throttle blowing (where the throttle stays open even when the driver lifts off) is banned.

Also contributing to Red Bull’s dominance in the corner exit area is work they have done in the wind tunnel on high steer characteristics, when the car is turning and in yaw (ie leaning). Red Bull chassis have always had very high amounts of downforce, but here they’ve worked to ensure that it isn’t just about high load, it’s about the stability of the load, which is a big focus. Red Bull has always been able to push the diffuser hard in the high speed corners, the key to their speed now is that they have tuned it to work at low speed.

Red Bull wheel - Photo: XPB

Also helping them is the Pirelli move to the harder specification tyres, since Hungary. They have won three of the four races on the new spec tyres. Beyond that, like Mercedes they have done work on the inside of the wheel rims in the field of thermal management and heat rejection. The slots and texturing in the magnesium alloy rims work on flow through the rim. It’s a complex piece of work and quite expensive to do, but it helps with managing the temperature of these tricky Pirelli tyres.

This thermal management work has allowed Vettel to run a longer first stint than his rivals and to balance out his stops perfectly in recent races.

The team has also raised its game with the pit stops: in Singapore four of the five fastest stops in the race were done by Red Bull.

One intriguing note on all of this comes from Italy, where former team owner Giancarlo Minardi spoke to Gazzetta dello Sport after Singapore and observed that he had been trackside in a hospitality unit and heard what he thought sounded like traction control, a stuttering sound in the exhaust note of Vettel’s car, during the post safety car period.

Needless to say this has picked up some echoes around the internet, as everyone looks for reasons for Vettel’s dominance. While there does seem to be some work being undertaken in engine mapping to work around the ban on exhaust blowing, which may have contributed to the strange sound, the issue of traction control is broadly taken care of by the common Electronic Control Unit, which is manufactured for the FIA by McLaren Electronics. Because the unit is specified and the same for every team, it is hard to conceal a traction control command in what is essentially a spec part.

Rather than traction control, some kind of mapping to blow into the exhaust within the rules is more likely and this all fits with the corner exit work that Red Bull has been carrying out.

Overall it’s an impressive piece of work in this field of low speed corner exits; all the more so when you consider that they had also recently done a very impressive piece of work on the low-dowforce configuration of the car for Spa and particularly Monza, both of which they won comfortably. Red Bull has huge resources, but so do Ferrari and Mercedes.

This work shows how effectively they use those resources in terms of technical development. And with Vettel clearly maturing and stepping up a gear as a driver this season, far more measured in his qualifying and race performances, the combination is devastating. It shows what the rest are up against.

Success in sport isn’t just about doing your job properly, it’s about never giving anything away to the opposition. A brilliant footballer can dribble around 3 players and score a wonder goal, but if one of his defenders makes a mistake and gives the opposition an easy goal, it nullifies the adavantage.

Michael Schumacher brought this mentality to F1 together with Ferrari in the 2000s – never giving anything away, push everything to the limit all the time and in this he was supported by his team, with the key management figures all sharing the vision.

To be successful in F1 today you have to have this mentality and never let it slip. Red Bull Racing and Vettel have understood this and they have the limitless financial backing to support it.

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Hi James,

Excellent information!

I just wonder if you add some more info as it seems Vettel by himself says that they have “something clever” in RB9 –


I’m not sure on the whole RBR/Vettel are ‘far superior’ theme. I have absolutely no doubt that RBR bend the rules – a lot – and a good example would be the flexiwings, where I personally believe they were very clever. Is this cheating, not in my book, but is it ‘fair’ given the massive budget RBR have?, probably not.

As for the TC issue – I think it will have some merit, but not the way you might think. For example, engine maps are affected/controlled by parameters detected by various sensors – it would be a fairly simple electronic gizmo to have sensors send ‘different’ information to the engine ecu as and when requried, causing temporary ‘stuttering’ or power reduction and thereby effecting a form of TC. For example, let’s say they have an overheat sensor that cuts power/fuel mix/whatever when engine is ‘cooking’ – it would only take a brief pulse of ‘overheating’ to provide temporary ‘TC’.

Perhaps ditto with the blown diffuser/exhaust gas issue. off throttle exhaust gases are supposed to be limited, but having the throttle not actually ‘off’ would negate that?

I have no idea how or what RBR are doing, obviously! – but it WILL be clever – and it is certainly what is giving Vettel the edge – and a big edge at that! (And no, I do not think Vettel is 2 secs a lap better than anyone else!)


@Peter @Fringe

I think your ideas are really creative. But check sections 5.5 5.6 5.7 8.1 and 8.2. of the 2013 F1 Technical regulations. Especially section 9.3

“9.3 Traction control :

No car may be equipped with a system or device which is capable of preventing the driven wheels from spinning under power or of compensating for excessive throttle torque demand by the driver.

Any device or system which notifies the driver of the onset of wheel spin is not permitted.©FIA

Those seem to effectively outlaw your ideas. I just wonder whether this is all connected to something they developed for the off throttle blowing of years past. That YouTube clip sounded as if he had lifted off the throttle. 5.5 specifically bans throttle/torque balancing. Having a switch to reduce corner torque would surely be regarded as another engine map. So I think Peter might be on the right path with KERS. 9.2 excludes any clutch used exclusively for KERS. They might be using the off throttle control aspect of KERS harvesting for control.

my 0.2p

ps James and Mark. How about a prize for the best guess?



That reg is intended to stop TC in the normal sense of the way it works I guess. However, I just don’t think it can be ‘policed’ or scrutineered properly, say just from the ECU and telemetry. Again, I don’t know what telemetry they HAVE to supply to the FIA, and what they can keep for themselves – but if you think about it, the specific definition is a bit vague. When the flexiwings were on the go, I thought that RBR perhaps had a heating element to ‘warm’ the body/plastic of the wing in the race – or even a simple (perhaps adjustable) bimetallic strip built into the wing that allowed the wing to flex (droop) more under warm weather conditions which would be different than temp controlled FIA load tests in the lab? Would either be considered a moveable aero device?

On Peters idea of the Kers harvesting – I think that sounds entirely feasible, but I presume they would have to have some electronic control of exactly when to switch on the harvesting and I was under the impression that harvesting can only be done under braking or off throttle? Of course, if the driver was just ‘touching’ the brakes at the same time as exiting the corner – would it then be considered as ‘under braking’?

My point being that these rules are easily ‘bent’ in my humble opinion!


External Traction Control explained:

Although the ECU is standard, traction control is based on a sharp peak in engine revs as the grip is lost causing revs to rise, rather than a gradual rise from acceleration.

The fly by wire throttle potentiometer, steering wheel rev counter and connection to the ECU are all parts supplied by the individual teams.

It’s not a complicated electrical circuit to correlate the two prior to feeding the cable to the ECU and hence gaining a form of pseudo traction control.

To simplify, the driver presses the accelerator and revs rise, the car losses grip and revs rise without the driver adjusting pressure on the accelerator, although he is turning the steering wheel.

The simple electrical circuit is completed by the steering also being activated by an electrical impulse; note no more steering column, Jarno Trullis’ nemesis and its this circuit that is outside the ECUs’ domain and acts as the control for a sensor to react to this sharp peak in engine revs and reduce the value of the accelerator potentiometers output.

Note here that the driver will be driving through the corner rather than having taken his foot off the accelerator altogether. The potentiometer will correlate to an engine revolution of X whilst the true value of the spike Y from the loss of traction will override the potentiometer unless the reading seen by the ECU can be momenatarily reduced.

Thus the system is turned on by the steering wheel being moved from the straight ahead position and alerted by a sharp peak in the signal from the ECU to the rev counter, the feed from the accelerator pedal potentiometer to the ECU is then momentarily retarded. Remember computers act in nanoseconds.

QED Traction Control.


In 2009 when Button won the WDC, no one argued that the car was the one that gave the title, history has shown that Button is not at the level of SV, FA, LH or KR. That year any driver could win the title in the Merc as it is shown with the 3rd place of Barrichelo in the same car. Who was the only driver to threaten that championship? Yes, SEBASTIAN VETTEL. That shows the kind of driver we are watching.


I find it interesting in all this discussion of how Vettel’s car sounded in one corner that we don’t hear these sort of “discoveries” every race. These cars are being worked on from a performance perspective every race. I would think changing sounds would be par for the course. I was a course marshal in Austin last year and the Force India cars made so much off throttle noise you would be sure that they had made no changes after the blown diffuser ban. If I had known this was worldwide news I would have made a recording and started a conspiracy.

Yes teams are always pushing the limits but F1 is the most heavily patrolled racing I have ever seen and I work just about every series. The F1 stewards can see and hear every inch of every track and they monitor EVERYTHING.


having just read a precis from racecar engineering there definitely appears to be some rationale behind minardi’s comments.

he, minardi, is fully aware of what goes down in F1. don’t underestimate his understanding and observations.


You guys must all have a private 4K video feed of that YouTube piece. I can’t tell if it’s Webber or Vettel. There isn’t any time code etc, so what day was it recorded? Who made the recording? There is only one instance of ‘Vettels’ strange sound. So it could easily have been a case of a sudden throttle lift. YouTube videos are well known for the sound having only a passing relationship/sync to the video. Also the Marussia? seems to make a similar sound at the 28 sec mark. Since Vettel was on a wet setting, to save the gearbox, the engine note would sound different. Forget traction control. The FIA use forensic software specialists.

For me, the real revelation about the RB at Singapore, was its stability. There was a TV shot looking backwards to one of the right-left chicanes. The Mercs and some others attacked the chicane like a rally car – crash bang over it. But Vettel just allowed the right rear to brush the kerb of the first part. Then allowed the front left to ride the top of the exit kerb. What amazed me was the lack of pitch and roll. The wheel just went up and down, without drama. Looking under the car, the diffuser seemed to be at the same height from the track all the way through the corner. I am assuming that RB have FRICS. The other notable point is, that the stability allowed the whole car to have a constant aero balance. So they were gaining in every corner.


James, you really do not comprehend the reach of your website. Thanks for it.


How do you mean?


It appeals to everyone, even non-members who use it as a source of information. I guess the result parallels the effort you put into it. It’s a very nice site.


“On average, across all the tracks in the F1 championship, 25% of the lap time is spent below 130km/h on corner exits. It is the most significant single area to focus on. So if you can make a significant gain in that area, you can get effectively a 25% improvement, which will show in your lap time.”

Improving 25% of your lap doesn’t yield a 25% improvement. Bad choice of wording there.

“…the car is turning and in yaw (ie leaning)”

Nope. Leaning is roll. Yaw is rotation about the vertical axis.


turning (ie leaning) is correct and the car is both experiencing roll and yaw.


i have always said vettel has been made to win unaturally. i hope the evidence is exposed one way or another and nature will run it’s course.

even newey doesn’t believe vettel is that good.


What do you think “natural” winning looks like? The drivers car is made of wood and burns ethanol fuel?


‘even newey doesn’t believe vettel is that good’

Based on?


Let’s see… James posted on twitter that he was 249 comments away from the 300,000th comment a day ago, when this article had about 250 comments. Up around 480 now so this should be just about right. 🙂


Yes we have a 300,000th comment!

Announcement on that soon


Will there be cake?


yes one man can never be that fast on every track. There should be a time on certain tracks when Webber is at least a challenge to Vettel. But has no one noticed the fact that webber is the only car that is kept on prime tires in the final stints of races while everyone gets back to options. noticed this from the end of last year and it dont look like a part of strategy cause it makes no sense.

This team to me has showed a new height of unsportsmanship. To get a part of yours banned then dont stop using it but a way to hide the illegal parts is just plain unsporting. But this is not totally the fault of RBR, i put down to the lack of disciplinary action by FIA. If they dont get a penality for unsporting behaviour or cheating then why should anyone stop doing illegal stuff.

Have we totally lost the sport in f1 motorsport. If so then my lifetime thrill of watching every race cant be anymore.

Disappointed f1 fan.


“has no one noticed the fact that webber is the only car that is kept on prime tires in the final stints of races while everyone gets back to options.”

Nobody has noticed it because it isn’t happening. Vettel went back to the option tyre in Sinagpre because he had saved an extra set in qualifying. Webber (and all the other leading drivers) finished on the prime because they did not have a set of options available to use.


Read most of this thread and sorry to say most of you are delusional.

No if buts or maybes.

Its like you’re watching a different sport.

He was in the lead As a consequence of being quick.after safety car, Had new tyres, competitors in slightly slower cars anyway were nursing old tyres in a train of dirty air and held up by around 1 second by nico ‘there’s crap in my wing’ rosberg. Its also a long lap exagerating any performance differientiators.

Minardi is Italian and with full respect to Italians, that tells you all you need to know about this story being rubber stamped by a big red car company.


i know many italians and none of them said what minardi said.


? – Think you’ve missed the point – that the Ferrari PR machine imo encouraged this former F1 guy to elude to ‘odd things’ with vettels car, being of the same nationality as the ‘italian team’ its a natural fit. James himself suggested this further up the thread that it was odd how these stories have come out of italy. its not having a go at italians, its that ferrari is an italian team, minardi is italian, ferrari like to discredit vettel at any opportunity, 2 + 2 = 4. 😉


Having attended each session in Singapore the other weekend, I can confidently say that both red bulls were significantly louder mid corner – up until the race. It was clear to me that they were working the engine/exhaust hard mid corner in an effort to enhance the coanda effect of the EBD.

Webbers car was no where near as loud during the race, and it was clear that vettel was picking the throttle up far earlier than him during the race. This could have been down to vettel running in clean air at the front so was gifted more aero induced downforce as webber was always in dirty air.

Vettels car during the race sounded almost as if it was in quali trim (max power) for the majority of the race.

Was great to watch even though I’m an avid Webber/Ricciardo fan!


A true racer would race fair. There is a lot of good engineers working in F1. Its in the final year of these current regulations. How can vettel pull away so quickly. There are a lot of good drivers in F1. Qualifying there is normally less than 1 second separating the top three or four or more. Yet in the race vettel pulled how many seconds away in different parts of the last race. I’m all for a champion, but a fair and true one. If vettel’s car was checked before the start of the race then whats the problem with that. From a racing engineer not with any team


By the way…does anybody know what they meant when the pit was talking to Sev just before start and mentioned “remember you have two burn outs”? (Monza?) Is that an engine boost? Is that the way he leaves people outside DRS in the first half of the first lap?


No, the drivers do a specific number of burnouts before the start to bring the tyres up to temperature.

It’s standard procedure now, nothing special.


I believe that is incredible how RBR has been able to exploit the little details in the regulations. For instance when they banned flex on the front wing, RBR was able to design a wing that was working with the measurement procedures while it was still flexing on the outside creating the necessary wind tunnel. Then FIA changed the procedure and moved the weights.

In this case, I wonder if the verification procedure actually has the same kind of gaps. Since no measurement or mechanical process is perfect, they always allow for a certain error, either in Data or Engine Management control unit. With a reliable engine, you could force the Engine control to be on a wrong mapping only within the acceptance threshold, staying always on the legal side. With enhanced grip on 3 curves for instance, you may have advantage on over 10% of the low speed distance in a track with 20 or 23 curves. but that is just conspiracy theory.


Hi James interesting article as ever question what has Red Bull done to work around Webber’s starts? Not working it seems.


It seemed to me that Webber actually had a decent (not great, but decent) start in Singapore.

It just looked kind of bad compared to the Ferrari’s behind him which are rockets off the line.


We just have to look towards a reshuffle for 2014 now. Is Vettel’s blistering pace here to stay… yes it is. Title four is in the bag. Shame Webber has been so poor this season. In my opinion, Mark has been further from his team-mate than anyone else on the grid. No other driver is consistently a half second plus off the pace of his team-mate. On that basis, Webber is lucky he retired before he got fired. I think had Mark left after Malaysia, Seb may have had a tougher time of it. He has cruised the last few races which is sensational. Brilliant performance. Only Alonso, Raikkonen and Hamilton can hold a candle to Seb at this stage. Oh well. 2014 here we come


No doubt this curious incident of the exhaust in the Singapore night will be put to Vettel, Horner et al from this Thursday onwards. It will be interesting to hear their responses!


I can tell you their responses right now (spoiler alert):

Both our cars are within the regulations and were screened and cleared to race by the stewards.


Here’s an interesting comparison:

I was at the Abu Dhabi GP in 2009, when the championship had already been decided. I noticed that Vettel consistently drove away from the first low-speed chicane more smoothly than Webber (this is the one connecting the two long straights). Most of the time Webber’s getaway had a little bit of tail sliding, which Vettel consistently avoided.

There would be little point arming Vettel’s car with covert TC capability over Webber’s for a race that was basically a dead heat (and the last race of a season).

Moving forward, I noticed from the on board camera at the last race that Vettel had the confidence to go down to 1st gear through the opening sequence of corners, whereas Rosberg only went down to 2nd gear.

Could it be that Vettel’s traction control is his right foot?


The comment section here is overflowing with people saying things like “After the first lap, Vettel was leading the race by 2.5 seconds”. Which only goes to show that a lot of people did not watch the race, as his actual lead was 1.9 seconds.


check out sounds as of 3:29. Caterham with “the” SV sound…

Then again at 6:12: first it’s SV, then Webber, then a Williams. Even the Williams has “the” sound imho.

I leave it to you all to analyse the rest of this excellent pure sound 😉


Thanks for the video link.

I think the video puts all the conspiracy to rest.

That’s a normal sound in F1 under off-throttle. I was at the Melbourne GP this year, It sounded exactly like that on all cars.

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