Vettel’s low straight-line speed may leave him vulnerable

2011 Italian GP pre-race analysis

Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, Monza, 2011

Vettel is 21kph down on the fastest car

With his tenth pole position of 2011, Sebastian Vettel is on course for victory at Monza.

But will his poor straight-line speed leave him vulnerable to attack from the likes of McLaren and Ferrari?

The start

The first place Vettel’s lack of straight-line speed could hurt him is at the start. The long-straight run to the first corner makes it difficult to defend a sluggish getaway.

Last year Jenson Button took the lead having started second on the grid alongside Fernando Alonso.

Quick opening laps have been key to Vettel’s advantage this year. If he can hold the lead at the start, his first priority will be to get more than a second clear of his pursuers so he is impervious to their DRS attacks.

The positioning of the two DRS activation zones may come to his aid here, as they are both after quick corners where his advantage should be at its greatest.

Keep an eye on Michael Schumacher at the start as well: he’s gained places in his last four starts.

As for Lewis Hamilton, if he makes it around Lesmo 1 he’ll already be doing better than he did last year.

Vettel’s straight-line speed disadvantage

A crucial element of this race is whether Vettel’s comparatively poor straight line speed will leave him vulnerable. Here are some of the top speeds from qualifying:

1. Sergio Perez 349.2
2. Bruno Senna 347.2
3. Vitaly Petrov 344.8
4. Felipe Massa 342.3
5. Fernando Alonso 342.2
11. Nico Rosberg 339.5
14. Michael Schumacher 338.7
18. Mark Webber 336.1
20. Jenson Button 333.1
21. Lewis Hamilton 332.7
24. Sebastian Vettel 327.7

In race conditions, with DRS closed most of the time, these figures will change considerably. But they give an insight into what speeds drivers can reach when they get the DRS open for overtaking.

Vettel may be over 21kph slower than Perez in a straight line, but the gap to his closest pursuers – the McLaren duo – is far less, around 5kph.

Last year Button went into the race with an 11.5kph speed deficit to Alonso, yet was able to keep the Ferrari behind until the pit stops.

Ferrari’s straight line speed looks very good, though possibly exaggerated slightly by slipstreaming in qualifying. Coupled with their race pace, which is reliably better than their qualifying pace, and warm track conditions, they could have a strong race.


The medium tyres were Ferrari’s weakness in Spa, while McLaren and Red Bull managed them well. They will all start on softs, as will Schumacher.

But, unusually, Nico Rosberg will start on medium tyres having used them in Q3.

This also means he has saved a set of fresh soft tyres to use during the race. This raises the prospect of Rosberg attacking on soft tyres late in the race when everyone else is getting their mandatory stint on mediums out of the way.

He will be vulnerable at the start of the race and will have to make sure he doesn’t lose too much time. But a safety car period could play into his hands later on.

Monza is not a particularly demanding circuit for tyres. And with teams now required not to exceed Pirelli’s maximum allowable camber limit the concerns over blistering seen in Spa are not likely to resurface.

Who’s your tip for success at Monza? Can anyone keep Vettel from his eighth win of the season? Have your say in the comments.

The qualifying analysis is delayed as the FIA has not published a full list of lap times from qualifying yet.

2011 Italian Grand Prix

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90 comments on Vettel’s low straight-line speed may leave him vulnerable

  1. Lin1876 (@lin1876) said on 10th September 2011, 20:46

    “… and warm track conditions…”

    Maybe, but BBC F1 weatherman Ian Ferguson said on Twitter that there is a possibility of showers into the race window. And have you seen the forecast for tomorrow in Monza. A wet race is a very distinct possibility.

    I’m probably wrong, but Vettel might have been gambling on a wet race tomorrow with his higher downforce. If so he might just look really clever this time tomorrow, or thick for that matter!

  2. Andromeda said on 10th September 2011, 21:28

    The way I see it is if Vettal is able to pull a big enough lead by lap 3 he will almost certainly win it. Likewise the other way around if his is unable to pull a lead McLaren will most likely win it (A McLaren 1-2 is very possible since Vettel will be a sitting duck to the 2 McLarens and the Ferrari of Alonso)

  3. Younger Hamii said on 10th September 2011, 21:29

    I dont think the McLarens being 5 KPH faster than Seb on the Straights is enough to overtake him on the First Lap,Its gonna take several laps(3-5 Laps) before an Overtaking Opportunity is presented for them and by then,Vettel probably would eeked out a Gap of 1.2-1.5Secs

    • Andromeda said on 10th September 2011, 21:49

      Its more along the lines of 10 KPH but this will probably be one track where having a bad star will be more costly than others. Both McLaren drivers will have to get just as good starts or better starts than Vettel so he won’t have the opportunity to pull away like wise with Vettel he needs to get one of his cracker starts he is known for otherwise McLaren will definitely be with him in lap 3 enough for their DRS and KRS to destroy him.

      • F1fanNL (@) said on 11th September 2011, 0:14

        How will they do that. They loose time in the corners, the DRS detection zones are placed after the corners.

        • Andromeda said on 11th September 2011, 3:18

          Good point but its only really the Parabolica and Ascari they are losing time on which is after the 2nd DRS activation zone but crucially before the first. It may depend more if McLaren can catch and pass Vettel before they hit the Ascari and Lesmo. Got me thinking this may be more like a Spain repeat. McLaren mighty on the strights but they may be unable to overtake on the downforce corners which means they are going to need a mighty drive before going into the corners to get Vettel.

          Vettel will probably have no hope of winning if he falls behind a McLaren because Im quite sure Alonso would love to have a challenge at him. Since he seems even stronger than the McLarens on the straights.

  4. I just don’t understand how the red bull is that fast through corners with no wing…

    There is something very clever on that car producing downforce from the shell… I mean they could probably remove both wings and still be fastest over 1 lap.

    • David-A (@david-a) said on 10th September 2011, 22:23

      I dunno, maybe time is made up through the corners (e.g. Parabolica) and under braking?

    • While they are running a low drag configuration they are obviously running enough drag to restrict their optimum top speed more than the others, so what wing they have is very effective but also you are right in that Newey has designed a very aero-efficient body.

  5. Atticus said on 10th September 2011, 22:03

    Couple of notes:

    * DRS is only enabled from lap 3 on, so while it’s of course benevolent to open a gap on lap 1 and so on, particularly in the slipstreams of Monza and with the low straight line speed of his car, Vettel could be rest assured his lead won’t be taken away by a DRS move.

    * And this is a cheeky one: if Lewis manages to get past Lesmo 1 than he has not only done better than the last lap he was there in a race, but the last two laps…


  6. themagicofspeed (@) said on 10th September 2011, 22:13

    Together, Vettel and Red Bull’s strategy engineers will find some way of making idiots out of everyone else, like they’ve done so flawlessly (much to my dissapointment) all season. Vettel will still win, either because his car becomes magically quicker, or because Red Bull devise a genius strategy on the fly.

    This year, i make no apologies for saying McLaren and Ferrari should be ashamed of themselves when you look at how rarely Red Bull make strategy errors. Theres something to be learnt, especially for Ferrari, whose strategy is at the best of times, ridiculous.

    • Aussie Fan said on 11th September 2011, 5:07

      Its easy to make a strategy work when you have the fastest car, so easy that you can actually be alot MORE flexible on strategy that others that are doing everything they can just to try & keep up…

      A good car makes the pit strategy people look good, but it all comes down to the package they have to work with in the 1st place.

      • But the problem is their car is NOT the fastest in the races, and when it is, it is not by much. RB have been under a lot more pressure from behind then lets say McLaren. They have nearly always been hunting the RB’s to the end of the races and RB have had to get it 100% right to keep their lead because as soon as a McLaren gets ahead they are virtually impossible to catch.

  7. shrayyef (@shrayyef) said on 10th September 2011, 22:44

    Webber in for a win tomorrow if he had a good start as he saved a set of soft tyres in Q3.
    but i hope Massa wins somehow he need a win.

    • Not sure it’s going to make that much of a difference – tyre wear is low here…

      • F1fan55 said on 11th September 2011, 10:04

        That may actually work in Webber’s favour, as he’s not that good at saving the soft tyres. If he can make them last long, he’ll be able to go faster for more of the race than others, say if he does a two stopper.

    • “if he had a good start” and how likely is that? one in a million chance? This year so far his starts have been average at best.

    • Estesark said on 11th September 2011, 9:36

      Webber practically never has good starts, and his tyres won’t be worth all that much time. Massa has even less chance of winning than Webber. I think if he was leading the race with five laps to go and Fernando Alonso was in eleventh, Ferrari would tell him to slow down and let everyone overtake him so Alonso could get a point! ;)

  8. It’s good to see a circuit where, as in days of yore, we have the juxtaposition of cornering speed versus top-speed, almost like, but totally different from, the era before wings.

  9. F1fanNL (@) said on 11th September 2011, 0:23

    “Last year Button went into the race with an 11.5kph speed deficit to Alonso, yet was able to keep the Ferrari behind until the pit stops.”

    That says it all doesn’t it. Only thing off course is the fact they didn’t have DRS but the Ferrari was the faster package last year.

    Now you have Vettel/Red Bull as the fastest package over a single lap and with a clear advantage through the corners.
    The McLarens need to pass him before the first corner if they want to win this race.

    • Don’t be too sure yet. The bulls are often slower during the race as long as they don’t scurry away in the first few laps

  10. Prisoner Monkeys (@prisoner-monkeys) said on 11th September 2011, 3:14

    When you really think about it, Vettel has done something very bold here – even bolder than Jenson Button’s high-downforce setup last year. By shortening his gear ratios, Vettel has deliberately limited his top speed at a circuit where top speed rules over everything else, which is like putting pineapple on a pizza: on paper, it just doesn’t make sense. His entire race strategy hinges on his ability to clear the chicanes faster than anyone else. He’s going to have to put in a handful of qualifying laps at the start of the race to get out of range of the DRS, and he’s probably going to have to produce a few more when the pit windows begin. If he pulls it off, it’s going to be hard to fault him.

    • I think the qualifying analysis indicates that even at Monza top speed does not rule over everything else…

    • Aussie Fan said on 11th September 2011, 5:09

      According to quali top speed doesn’t rule at this track after all, the fastest 6 odd cars weren’t the ones at the top of the speed traps….

    • Estesark said on 11th September 2011, 9:39

      You’re right. Pineapple on pizza on paper doesn’t make sense, but take away the paper and you’re in for a tasty meal :)

      I agree that if Vettel can pull off a victory today, we should give him, and not the car, the lion’s share of the credit.

      • Alex Bkk said on 11th September 2011, 11:44

        It’s it sweet and salty… like prosciutto and cantaloupe, ricotta and water melon and a million other confounding mouth watering delights.

  11. AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 11th September 2011, 6:58

    Vettel generally has good starts so I have no concerns about him getting off the line. The way he used to pull out so convincingly in the first two laps was majestic, I miss that about him.

    I’d like to think that Rosberg has a chance of a great points finish but it just never seems to work out, they get bogged down and usually end up being pretty quiet. A shame we won’t get a chance to see the likes of his Spa start this weekend.

    I’d like Alonso to take the win, just so I can experience the jubilant Tifosi in full swing. Of course Massa would also provide that but, well, you know…

  12. JustinF1 (@justinf1) said on 11th September 2011, 7:07

    Analysis Paralysis !! Vettel’s got the championship in his pocket.

  13. Lord Ha Ha said on 11th September 2011, 7:29

    best strategy from Webber all year. RB can’t have him mapped to go backwards off the start from P5, new tyres, higher top speed. Webber for the win.

    • F1fan55 said on 11th September 2011, 9:58

      Yeah, I seriously hope so! I’m kinda sick of defending him for his rubbish starts!

      As long as it doesn’t rain!

  14. wasiF1 said on 11th September 2011, 7:32

    My top 3 Hamilton Alonso with Button will be a great race.Roseberg will be the dark horse of the race.

  15. With less than six hrs to go the BBC and Keiths French weather predictors indicate there could be rain even heavy thundery showers.
    So maybe all plans and predictions for the race can be thrown away.

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