Was Vettel’s ‘gearbox problem’ team orders in disguise?

2011 Brazilian Grand Prix

Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, Interlagos, 2011

Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, Interlagos, 2011

Was Sebastian Vettel’s gearbox problem in the Brazilian Grand Prix really all it seemed?

Or, as some have already suggested, was it an elaborate ruse to gift victory to Mark Webber?

Christian Horner explained the nature of Vettel’s problem: “The gearbox had a problem from lap five, we didn’t think it would make half-distance.

“He kept it alive, he short-shifted, he did all the things that were needed to. And [it was] phenomenal for him to get it to the end.”

Vettel described how it affected his driving during the race: “Very early I got the call that we have to manage a gearbox problem. I had to turn down the engine, short-shift, and it was just getting worse throughout the race so I ended up using highest gears pretty much everywhere.”

Was it a real fault or were Red Bull using team orders to switch their drivers?

For

Going into the race Vettel had already won 11 races and had the championship wrapped up weeks ago. However Webber hadn’t won a race all year, and a victory could provide a much-needed boost for him after a tough season.

Getting Webber into first place was the only chance they had of securing second place in the drivers’ championship for him, which was something the team specifically set out to accomplish.

Christian Horner said last month: “Our priority is to get Mark up into second in the drivers? championship,” adding, “it’d be great to see him win a race this year before the year?s out.”

Vettel’s alleged problem looked too convenient – it was apparently serious enough to cost him the win, but never grave enough to put him under threat from the likes of Fernando Alonso or Jenson Button.

Vettel even set the fastest lap at one stage, before being reminded again by the team to nurse his car.

It stretches credulity that Vettel was able to nurse his car for so long, while Lewis Hamilton retired shortly after McLaren discovered a gearbox problem on his car.

Against

Gearbox problems can manifest themselves in different ways and are not necessarily terminal. Paul di Resta and Bruno Senna also had gearbox problems and finished the race without losing much time.

There are plenty of examples of drivers finishing in high positions with gearbox problems in the past, such as Michael Schumacher in Spain in 1994 and Ayrton Senna at Interlagos 20 years earlier – which Vettel referred to during the race.

If Red Bull did want to use team orders, why disguise them? They aren’t illegal, unlike last year. When Red Bull chose to use team orders in Silverstone, instructing Webber not to pass Vettel, they made no attempt to cover up what they were doing.

When team do use team orders they tend to wait until late in the race, because they can’t be sure how the race is going to unfold. However Vettel’s gearbox problem was acknowledged well before half-distance, and he gave up the lead on lap 30 of 71.

Vettel finished the race 17 seconds behind Webber. For a driver who has usually finished ahead of his team mate by a greater margin than that this year, it indicates Vettel probably lost a significant amount of time with his problem, but the likes of McLaren and Ferrari weren’t close enough to capitalise on it.

I say

At the moment it’s impossible to prove conclusively whether Red Bull used covert team orders or not.

As team orders are legal and Red Bull have shown that, unlike last year, they are now prepared to use them, I don’t see a compelling reason for them to use team orders but make a secret of it.

Given the underhand methods and coded messages some teams have employed when using team orders in the past – such as Ferrari at Hockenheim last year – I’m not surprised that some people doubt Red Bull’s sincerity on this occasion.

But based on the information available to us at the moment, I’m prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt.

You say

Do you think Vettel’s ‘gearbox problem’ was team orders in disguise? Cast your vote below and explain your choice in the comments.

Did Red Bull pretend Vettel had a gearbox problem to give Webber the win?

  • Yes (35%)
  • No (57%)
  • No opinion (8%)

Total Voters: 392

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178 comments on Was Vettel’s ‘gearbox problem’ team orders in disguise?

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  1. KateM (@katem) said on 27th November 2011, 20:15

    I was a bit skeptical at first but at the end of the day, I don’t see why they’d lie when they had already openly discussed the possibility, and used open team orders twice this season already (Silverstone and Korea).

  2. Fer no.65 (@fer-no65) said on 27th November 2011, 20:15

    Why would they set it up? at the time the gearbox started to fail, a chance of rain was still on the radars, so if they wanted to switch places, it’d have been better to do it later.

    Besides, 3 other drivers had problems with the gearbox today. Can’t it happen to Red Bull too?.

    I don’t buy it.

    • f1andy83 said on 27th November 2011, 22:09

      Here are my two cents. No red bull didnt have to lie. But its the same thing as when you get home from a best friends bachellor party, and your wife asks you if you went to a strip club or if the strippers were hot, you reply saying that you didn’t go to any strip clubs because everyone was too drunk. You know you lied, she knows you lied, but everyone is happy.

      • Cornflakes (@cornflakes) said on 27th November 2011, 23:20

        I voted no. But I could see why RB wouldn’t want to tell Vettel to let Webber through. Webber seems like the sort of guy that would rather come second than be handed a win. In the press conference, he even said it’s a shame it had been gifted it to him. Telling Vettel to pull over for him may be more damaging than good to Webber.

        • Danielg said on 28th November 2011, 14:34

          i completely agree with cornflakes.. they disguised it from the drivers.. webber is too proud to have a race handed to him. im sure Seb wouldnt mind giving the victory away, but Mark doesnt want that. Full season with the fastest car, and he cant get a win, cant get 2nd in the drivers championship.. with such a dominating car. thats deflating. and if the team said.. seb, slow your car by a second a lap, so mark can win. thats basically shooting the guy when he is down. i dont think there was a gearbox issue at all.

      • Fer no.65 (@fer-no65) said on 27th November 2011, 23:33

        You don’t have to lie in such situations. You should say: “yes, they were very hot, but not as hot as you”.

        And THEN, everything will be okay… or no. But that’s another matter :P

    • No.
      I don’t think Red Bull are so stupid. Team orders are legal, remember? Why harm Vettel’s race? He could’ve lost his podium position. It was clear Vettel changed gears early, so the problem was either real or Vettel thought it was real, or Vettel acted very well indeed.

  3. John H (@john-h) said on 27th November 2011, 20:16

    I see the reason to do this and not use an explicit team order simple… The drivers don’t have to be in on it.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 27th November 2011, 20:18

      @john-h In that case, why didn’t they tell Webber in Silverstone he had a gearbox problem?

      • John H (@john-h) said on 27th November 2011, 20:26

        @keithcollantine Good point… maybe they learnt their lesson not to do it so obviously like back then!

        I can’t really decide myself now, as you say it seems strange to do it so early in the race, but perhaps they didn’t want vettel to scamper miles into the distance. I’m guessing we’ll never really know.

        • Naehring2000 said on 27th November 2011, 21:03

          Wasn’t the Brazilian government the ones who threatened to bring criminal charges for rigging the race in response to Ferrari’s orders to Massa in Hockenheim last year? I know one country declared that last year and I thought it was Brazil.

          • BasCB (@bascb) said on 28th November 2011, 8:01

            But that was because it was illegal last year.

            After that incident the FIA threw out the rule against team orders, so now it’s just part of the sport, no ground for any investigation other than Red Bull finding out how Vettel managed to get a gearbox without any oil to the finish!

      • Bleu (@bleu) said on 28th November 2011, 8:31

        They had still races to do with that gearbox? Telling about gearbox problem and then continuing with same gearbox to the next race wouldn’t have made sense.

      • MaroonJack (@maroonjack) said on 28th November 2011, 8:58

        I just doubt Vettel would listen to a direct order, but when your engineer tells you, that you must nourish the car, then you have to listen or risk DNF.

  4. magon4 (@magon4) said on 27th November 2011, 20:17

    give me a break, people! to me it is very clear that this was not on purpose. why would vettel let webber pass with such clarity? that didn’t give the aussie any satisfaction, which seemed pretty obvious after the race. i do believe vettel had a problem – he could have handed the victory over to webber without faking a problem, if he wanted to. the team might have played a trick on vettel, that option is unlikely, but possible – but it doesn’t seem to me that vettel was any part of it…

    • hays33d (@hays33d) said on 27th November 2011, 20:37

      Agreed. Occam’s Razor cuts through conspiracy theories pretty well. Most likely scenario? The simple one. Vettel had a gearbox problem and was ordered to let Webber by since that was the most prudent option.

      • MaroonJack (@maroonjack) said on 28th November 2011, 9:05

        In this case Occam’s Razor cuts both ways, as both explanations are quite simple. We are just guessing here. I think calling it a conspiracy theory is a bit too much.

        • hays33d (@hays33d) said on 29th November 2011, 22:14

          The only thing I have to add is that if it was a ruse, then they should get an award for acting/lying. To me that complicates the situation and doesn’t make it simple. Telling the truth is simpler.

          • MaroonJack (@maroonjack) said on 30th November 2011, 7:02

            As it turns out some journalists were shown the data from the gearbox and there really was a problem. As far as I’m concerned the matter is over. Red Bull presented the evidence and that’s enough for me.

            However your argument is still flawed. If you use Occam’s razor like that and if you assume that telling truth is simpler, then you will end up lied to a lot.

    • MaroonJack (@maroonjack) said on 28th November 2011, 9:04

      I doubt Seb wanted to give Mark the satisfaction and I doubt he would listen to a direct order anyway.

  5. PedroCandeias (@pedrocandeias) said on 27th November 2011, 20:18

    Comparing Webber’s body language right after parking his car, and then later when taking the podium, I’d say the matter passed his mind as well but was then settled to his satisfaction. I don’t think Red Bull faked Vettel’s problem.

    • Andy W (@andy-w) said on 27th November 2011, 23:24

      I was curious about the body language of both drivers and their behaviour towards each other (or lack of it) after the race and in the press conference.

      Not claiming to be any expert or doing anything beyond a bit of armchair psychology it seemed to me that the drivers were avoiding each other, Seb went back to his car instead of going onto the scales. There was no congratulations from Seb to Mark or vica versa… Both drivers seemed downbeat with regards to each other.

      Before the podium Mark and Jenson celebrated together in a clearly excited and friendly manner whilst Seb sulked at the back… I would have expected Seb to be in a celebratory mood if he given a Ayrtonesque drive to clinch 2nd place.

      In the press conference both drivers seemed rather downbeat for two drivers on the top steps of the podium.. Yes Brazil is a tough race but its not the only one on the calendar and both should have had reasons to celebrate…

      Maybe I am just reading to much into it, but I did find it odd when watching the post race coverage.

      • I think you’re reading too much into it. I think the body language was one of disappointment for Vettel, who wanted to win (what driver doesn’t, especially after Abu Dhabi) and one of Webber not feeling he won a victory on equal terms (his teammate had to have a major problem).

        Vettel did come over straight away to congratulate Webber before Webber even put his steering wheel back on. I think Vettel was soaking up the last bits of a special season.

        As for Button and Webber, I think they are good mates off the track as well, I remember in Japan they went to a baseball together (Webber or Button twittered a pic about it). For sure Webber and Vettel aren’t buddy buddy, but I think they’ve found a workable professional relationship.

  6. gabal (@gabal) said on 27th November 2011, 20:20

    I think they refrained from openly using team orders due to negative backslash. Especially since they made a big fuss last year how they won’t use team orders so openly using team orders to them is a bigger deal then to some other teams.
    We will probably never know for sure but I doubt Vettel had gearbox trouble, especially since he managed to post a fastest lap before his team reminded him of his gearbox troubles.

  7. vs222 (@vs222) said on 27th November 2011, 20:21

    vettel was 0.4s faster then webber before the problem, and 0.3s slower after that. In this case his difference is about 0.7s at a short interlagos lap.

    • sato113 (@sato113) said on 27th November 2011, 23:54

      I feel we were robbed of a great battle for the lead when vet let WEB through… clearly vettel had enough pace to at least battle his team mate for a lap or two. if i remeber, VET set a fastest lap (at the time) very soon after he let WEB through

      • ivz (@ivz) said on 28th November 2011, 5:29

        Just goes to show how horsepower has nothing to do with speed of an F1 car, its all about aero! Shame isn’t it?
        VET could short shift, turn the engine down, and later on even went through corners in 4th instead of 2nd or 3rd gear, and still could keep ahead of McLaren and Ferrari!
        Shame we can’t have the old F1 cars back from the 1980′s, then we would see some REAL racing! :(

      • BasCB (@bascb) said on 28th November 2011, 8:03

        But if he had battled for places with Webber, that might have helped either Button or Alonso to close up on the both of them.

        Not to mention it might have brought a quick end to Vettels race as well.

  8. dmcobern (@dmcobern) said on 27th November 2011, 20:21

    Your reaching tbh if you think it was team orders.

  9. Enigma (@enigma) said on 27th November 2011, 20:24

    Maybe Red Bull weren’t hiding it from the public – maybe they were hiding it from Mark. They wanted Mark to get the boost from the win, and if he knew about team orders it wouldn hardly help his confidence.

    • raymondu999 (@raymondu999) said on 27th November 2011, 20:26

      Which is what I’ve been saying for a while! You’ve hit the nail on the head @enigma

    • Brian C (@bcracing) said on 27th November 2011, 20:46

      That could be a possibility but he would eventually figure out the situation and probably hurt his confidence even more.

    • David BR (@david-br) said on 28th November 2011, 0:08

      Have to admit the comments here are making me laugh a bit, because IF Red Bull did do this on purpose but wanted to hide the fact, it seems to have worked! Is that proof enough? No, but I think they did rig the order, and did so fairly elegantly. Why? Because Vettel pulling over would have been (a) a bit humiliating for Mark, and (b) not a great way for the two-time champion to end his season. So, good job.

      Also I thought Hamilton backed off twice, off the grid when he a quick start but got stuck behind Webber: he could have pulled right but it would have thrown him towards Button. And then after the latter was passed by Alonso, Hamilton was close enough to Button to challenge but just sort of faded. Maybe nothing in it, but it made me think Hamilton was unlikely to do much in the race – even if he could, he wasn’t going to overtake Button just to let him past later.

    • Lachie (@lachie) said on 28th November 2011, 3:04

      How separate are the two sides of the garage though? Does Ciaron Pilbeam have more allegiance to the team as a whole or his driver? I’m just wondering if they did keep it secret from all but Mark can’t one of his engineers just look at Vettel’s telemetry? And if they couldn’t would that not suggest there was something up and Mark would find out anyway?

    • pSynrg (@psynrg) said on 28th November 2011, 11:21

      This seems like a viable theory (as is the whole she-bang indeed) however I would think Mark Webber has got more personal self-belief and no need for a nanny victory.

      We know he’s annoyed at being the ‘unofficial’ # 2 driver and I’ve no doubt he would make his opinions known if he suspected a fake victory.

      He’s one of the most outspoken drivers although probably silenced quite a bit through contractual clauses and a desire to drive the fastest car in F1. Enigmatic team-mate or not.

      He may have also resigned himself to the fact that Vettel is simply one of the fastest/greatest drivers ever in the sport.

  10. 91jb12 (@91jb12) said on 27th November 2011, 20:24

    If Vettel had no problem he’d be up Webbers **** by the end, not 20 secs down

  11. andae23 (@andae23) said on 27th November 2011, 20:28

    Doesn’t anyone find it strange that his race engineer told him the exact same message (you have a serious gearbox problem) like 5 times? It certainly is suspicious, but as it stands now, it is impossible for us to decide wether or not this was a team order, so congrats to Mark.

    • Christian Horner’s explanation was that the team had to keep telling Vettel not to push too hard. One of the messages followed Vettel setting fastest lap.

      There have been other instances where Vettel has had to be told to back-off – Canada 2010, for example, where he asked about the fastest lap and was told to forget it.

      • BasCB (@bascb) said on 28th November 2011, 8:06

        exactly @Timg, Vettel has been very much prone not to heed calls from the team telling him to slow down and manage the car when he thinks he can get away with it.

        How many fastest laps were set after such a call this year?

        I think its just the team constantly reminding Vettel, that yes, he was in a good rithm with the car now, but please be carefull as we really do not know how long it will last.

    • There have also been other instances this season when Red Bull pit radio informed Vettel repeatedly and very emphatically (almost in a syllabizing manner) of a serious problem — that somehow failed to materialize.

      Even at the risk of seeming conspiracy-minded, I have this impression of Red Bull that many times they carefully orchestrated fictitious problems and issues.

      One might ask, why would they do it. Well, for one thing, not to look too strong. F1 is very much about politics not to fear a backlash, say in the form of some intra-year regulation.

      For another, they had a large enough advantage throughout the year to play games just for the hell of it. Not everyone is a Ron Dennis automaton, and it’s not hard to imagine Vettel playing along.

      So for me, Yes.

  12. If Vettel had a gearbox problem,then it sure wasn’t >RADIO to Vettel : VERY SERIOUS

  13. Scalextric (@scalextric) said on 27th November 2011, 20:30

    Without the gearbox problem, RBR may have given the win to WEB near the end of the race, their motivation to do so is obvious. But I’d assume this was a real mechanical problem and therefore team orders were not required. The post-race press conference comments were consistent with the story as it unfolded. The diminishing gap between VET and BUT at the end justified a) letting WEB get ahead as soon as possible to keep him out of reach and b) VET pushing as hard as his gearbox would allow to stay in second.

    • Doubt it said on 28th November 2011, 2:21

      > Without the gearbox problem, RBR may have given the win to WEB near the end of the race

      That would’ve been too obvious and would’ve made Webber look like a pathetic incompetent. It would’ve a very bitter “victory” for Webber to swallow.

      No, Red Bull did it the right way: They let Webber go ahead early and show what he can do. Meanwhile, Vettel secured the second place and also would’ve acted as a moving roadblock if the competition got too close: spending their tires and energy while they were trying to overtake him.

  14. AdrianMorse (@adrianmorse) said on 27th November 2011, 20:32

    I will not for a second believe this sort of story before I see any hard evidence, and I put it in the same category as the conspiracy theories that have been floated during the course of this season that Red Bull were deliberately trying to frustrate Webber’s races at occasions.

    • Andrew (@andrewsf1) said on 27th November 2011, 23:08

      Could You be more specific about RBR trying to frustrate Webber? Which races and how did they try to do that?

      I understand that many think that conspiracy theories are completely ridiculous and for the most part I try to keep an open mind and agree until there’s solid evidence. But sometimes I get this feeling in the back of my head that somethings not right. That driver skill isn’t the only thing which determines which driver in a team gets the better result (apart from luck).
      With Mark Weber I’ve had conflicting thoughts. In the past it felt that he just doesn’t have as much talent as the best drivers, but last year he won several races (beating Vettel in the process) and led the championship. This year either Vettel improved massively and has reached a new level in performance or there are some pieces on Vettel’s car which are missing on Webber’ car.
      I suspect it has something to do with the additional downforce from using aggressive engine mapping which help Vettel find those extra tenths in Q3 and pull away at the start before DRS becomes active.

      I had a similar feeling of foul play when in India Schumacher and Rosberg were very close the whole race and on the last set of stops Shcumi had a great pit stop while Rosberg’s was about 3s slower (if I remember correctly) and that exactly the gap between them when Rosberg exited the pits.

      • Additional downforce from aggressive engine mapping? Dude… seriously bending laws of physics with your comment there. Also, why would Brawn and Mercedes **** of Nico, who may still get a driver with top teams. Schumacher, as much as i like/ respect him, may drive for may be another 2-3 years, at best 5 max, but Nico may have more years in him, and may be more championships.

        Also, comment about some pieces missing on Webber’s car may hold true, but we will not know unless someone from within team (drivers or anyone else) confirms the same. We could say a lot of things, but Vettel did win 11 races. He also won at Monza in a STR. Meanwhile Webber is no slouch, but you could say that it is more plausible that the new car suited him more, than a possibility of RBR crippling Webber’s car. Don’t forget Webber is 6’2″ and he probably has to work twice as hard in that car than perhaps Vettel does. F1 is a physical sport, and more so if you can’t fit in the car rather well.

  15. Thanks for the chance to vote on this. Hopefully the FIA & RB may get to read the result.

    • TheBrav3 said on 28th November 2011, 7:10

      Why what would they learn? the general level of paranoia among f1 fanatics? The only thing funny about redbull today was rockys reply to vettel “you should be proud” the second vettel said “i feel like senna in ’91″

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