Mark Webber, Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, Silverstone, 2010

Red Bull and Vettel triumph in spite of themselves

2010 F1 season reviewPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

Mark Webber, Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, Silverstone, 2010
Mark Webber, Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, Silverstone, 2010

Red Bull had the fastest car of 2010 – but they made life difficult for themselves.

The domination of the RB6 often made Saturday qualifying sessions a foregone conclusion. But the team only won half the races.

Still, despite several crashes for Sebastian Vettel – including one catastrophic intra-team smash – the Milton Keynes-based team captured both titles.

Red Bull team stats 2010

Best race result (number) 1st (9)
Best grid position (number) 1st (15)
Non-finishes (mechanical/other) 5 (2/3)
Laps completed (% of total) 2109 (93.4%)
Laps led (% of total) 699 (61.91%)
Championship position (2009) 1st (2nd)
Championship points (2009*) 498 (376)
*using 2010 system

Having ended 2009 as the team to beat, Red Bull skipped the first week of testing while Adrian Newey put the finishing touches to his latest brainchild.

Once it hit the track the RB6 quickly proved a worthy successor to his greatest cars, such as the Williams FW14B and McLaren MP4-13.

Its qualifying performances particularly frustrated the team’s rivals. At first suspicion surrounded a claimed ride height-lowering device, but none was found.

Later in the season the team’s front wing was seen to be dipping at some circuits to produce extra downforce. The FIA increased the severity of its chassis tests but this only seemed to lessen, not eradicate, the suspicious flexing.

While the RB6 shared the performance characteristics of previous Newey creations, it also bore another family hallmark – dubious reliability.

Although Red Bull’s race-finishing rate was no worse than McLaren’s, for Vettel the car chose the least opportune moments to break down. It robbed him of wins at Melbourne and Korea and on several other occasions Vettel had to drag a faltering car to the flag.

At the beginning of the season the balance of power was tipped in Vettel’s favour. Even at Sepang, where Mark Webber took a brilliant pole position by gambling on intermediate tyres on a drying track, Vettel nabbed the lead at the start and took the win.

Webber hit back with a pair of pole-to-flag victories in Spain and Monaco. He started at the front of the grid again at Istanbul after Vettel suffered a roll bar failure in qualifying.

This put the pair on a collision course and all hell broke loose when Vettel tried to pass his team mate for the lead on lap 40. Vettel edged towards Webber, triggering a crash that ended Vettel’s race and left Webber on a damage-limiting run to third.

Now the gloves were off, and Webber wasted no time in calling the team’s decision to hand a new specification front wing to Vettel in Silverstone a sign of their favouritism.

Webber, who had survived a terrifying crash at Valencia two weeks earlier, won the day, while Vettel made a scrappy recovery drive to seventh.

Vettel’s perceived weakness in overtaking was underlined when he crashed into Jenson Button while trying to overtake the McLaren driver at Spa. But this marked a late turning point in his season – from then on he was never headed by Webber again.

Monza was one of the few tracks at which the RB6 did not excel. Vettel overcame an engine problem during the race to take a useful fourth on a day when he couldn’t challenge Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari.

A mistake on his qualifying lap at Singapore proved costly as it allowed Alonso in for another win, Vettel chasing him home. But at Suzuka – a circuit he has developed great fondness for – nobody could touch Vettel.

Webber, meanwhile, saw Alonso move ahead of him in the drivers’ championship. He lobbied Christian Horner to impose team orders and have Vettel play a supporting role as Felipe Massa had been ordered to at Ferrari.

As I pointed out at the time, Red Bull could have taken the World Motor Sport Council’s decision not to enforce the team orders rule in an effective fashion as their cue to back Webber, and ordered Vettel to let him by whenever he was running directly in front of his team mate over the final six races.

Had they done that, Webber would have been champion. To their credit, they did not do this, as it would have involved Vettel pulling over at Singapore, Japan and Brazil.

Smart race strategy was an under-rated strength of the team’s in 2010. It saved Webber’s race in Singapore, allowing him to salvage third, thanks also to some pin-sharp overtaking and a huge slice of luck when he survived contact with Lewis Hamilton.

At Interlagos Webber re-stated his claim that the team were secretly favouring Vettel. But he had a secret of his own – he revealed after the season that he had picked up a shoulder injury ahead of the final four races. He denied it affected his driving, but at this crucial point in the season his form clearly dipped.

He carried the blame for crashing out in the rain in Korea and was off the pace in the final round at Yas Marina. In a season where the gap between him and Vettel in qualifying was often just hundredths of a second, he was over half a second adrift at the final race, and slumped to eighth on Sunday.

While Alonso and Ferrari took themselves out of contention, the way was clear for Vettel to grab his fifth win of the year and the title along with it.

He had never led the championship at any point previously in the season, though arguably he should have been ahead from round one. If Red Bull can marry speed and reliability in 2011, and Vettel can replicate his late-2010 form across all 20 races, this will be the first of many titles for team and driver.

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Image ?? Red Bull/Getty images, Bridgestone/Ercole Colombo