Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, Interlagos, 2011

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

2011 Brazilian Grand PrixPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

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?


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.


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 (7%)

Total Voters: 392

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

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  1. I doubt it. The “problem” came about very early when rain was still a threat, and the team would want to let the race run its course so as to be in the best position if the heavens opened.

    Anyway, gearbox problems, as you said, take many forms, and I think Hamilton was unlucky as much as Vettel was lucky. Therefore, kudos to Vettel for managing the problem for the majority of the race.

  2. If you’re going to quote a consipiracy theory, at least make it a good one!

    With those helmets and overalls on, we can’t tell who the drivers are anyway. I think Ferrari’s kidnapped Vettel and wants him to race for them. Red Bull put Vergne in the car, and used a body double for the podium poses.

    Of course, Vergne isn’t as fast as Vettel (yet). Horner knew the media would smell a rat. So he told everyone that the car had a gearbox problem.

    I’m surprised you needed me to clear that up – it’s obvious really, when you’re used to thinking like a lunatic. You’re welcome, though.

    1. That was awesome :D

  3. I think it was just a honest gearbox problem.
    It was a continent time he had a gearbox issue, but other drivers also had similar, or worse problems.
    And if they wanted Vettel to move over, I think they would have waited at least 2/3rd of the race distance before faking such a problem.
    I don’t think they would risk anything before the outcome of the race looked sort of sealed, with no real dangers from behind.

  4. No, Seb wouldn’t do it and I don’t think Mark would want it that way. I understand why the poll was done given how many fans are up for a conspiracy theory but I think any suggestion of it unfairly devalues Mark’s win, Seb’s character and the integrity of RBR without any real proof.

  5. Not that this will convince anyone one way or the other, but here’s Christian Horner addressing the issue:

    1. Horner says:

      Anyone that listened to the conversation between the race engineers, or looked at the back of the garage at the amount of activity that was going on over that gearbox, would see it was genuine.

      Well, publish it then.

      1. Exactly my thoughts when I read that statement @keithcollantine!

  6. One reason why Red Bull might have wanted to disguise a team order was that maybe they wanted to spare Webber the public humiliation that his only win this year was a gifted one. Absolutely makes sense to then do it this way, if they’re gunning for 2nd in the WDC. During the podium ceremony I got the impression that Webber’s celebrations would have been more exstatic if he really finally managed to beat Vettel again, even if it had really been only by luck. Vettel shook hands with him on the podium and gave him a look like he wanted to say “Sorry but the team wanted it that way, even if you don’t like to be gifted a win by me …”

  7. This is the stupidest F1 conspiracy theory I have ever heard. Along with everything else, there is Vettel’s remark that ‘I feel like Senna in 1991’.

    Does anyone seriously think that Red Bull gave Vettel a team radio script to act out during the race?

  8. I’m not saying it was team orders, but I do think there’s a difference between ordering your drivers to hold their existing positions and ordering them to swap positions. The former is done in the best interests of the team to avoid the risk of a collision, whereas the later is clearly favouring one driver over another. I can see why Red Bull might feel comportable with publicly helping Vettel to the title, but not with arbitrarily deciding to gift a win to Webber for a less valid reason. But there’s no proof so we’ll probably never know.

  9. – there was no gearbox problem.
    – vettel couldn’t help but smile during the press conference talking about it, he isn’t stupid.
    – vettel didn’t know about it either before or during the race. he could only suspect.
    – it wasn’t blatant so that mark wouldn’t think he could only win with a team order.
    – as jean alesi or Ivan capelli said, a problem on the gearbox is always felt by the driver and the team is the last to know about it
    – it was implemented early in the race to avoid to create too many suspicions
    – for those who think this is crazy, think Singapore 2008.

    1. as jean alesi or Ivan capelli said, a problem on the gearbox is always felt by the driver and the team is the last to know about it

      Marc Gené said exactly the same

      1. Ino (@f1givesyouwings)
        28th November 2011, 10:43

        I’m not a racing driver, but the problem was overheating due to loss of oil, rather than actually missing a gear or something like that. Not sure if a driver can feel the overheating before the team sees it on the telemetry!

  10. I don’t think so. I remember Ted Kravitz mentioning seeing a huge amound of red area on the telemetry, and the gearbox was revealed to have practically no oil after the race.
    Genuine fault IMO.

    1. So where did all that oil go? On the race track? Isn’t it dangerous for other drivers to be racing on a track covered with oil? They knew they were endangering other drivers and didn’t care?


  11. Love that so many people on this site have said that Web has been the worst driver this year (re-watch China i dare you), given he hasn’t had a brilliant year, he knows that himself, which has only been amplified by his team mate having one of the best seasons ever by anyone. He is finally there to take the win and the conspiracy theorists go mad.
    I say it was a real fault, why would RBR hide it, im sure Marko would be like a little devil in Web’s ear if it had been a set up.

    1. Marko have been weird all weekend, and he was smiling after Webber won… I don`t if UK did it, but after the race htey showed footage of Rocky and Timmy (Vettel race and system engenier) and they were very happy talking about something very suspicious… normaly they will be very dull because they don`t like to do bad…

      1. after the race htey showed footage of Rocky and Timmy (Vettel race and system engenier) and they were very happy talking about something very suspicious… normaly they will be very dull because they don`t like to do bad…

        Or could it have been relief that Vettel made it to the end with a car they predicted wouldn’t last past half distance?

        1. @TimG

          You must be mad! :D

        2. @TimG Could be, but as an X-File fan I rather the conspiracy theories to go on :D

  12. I’m surprised this has gained enough momentum to even be considered!

    I see no reason why team orders might or would have been used – let alone covertly!

  13. chris goldsmith
    27th November 2011, 22:11

    the suggestion of a conspiracy is almost too ridiculous to be worth discrediting, but it really does make no sense. In order for Mark to get to second in the WDC, JB would need to finish outside of the points and FA well down the order. With the red bulls running first and second, they could have made a switch at any point. Why make a switch five laps into the race when there’s no reason to believe that JB was going to drop back? You’d expect them to wait at least until there was a suggestion it may be on the cards before making a decision.

    And why would they repeatedly tell Vettel to short shift urgently even when he was well behind Mark and not really gaining ground? There was nothing whatsoever to suggest that it was anything other than a gearbox issue. To think anything else is totally baseless and without evidence.

  14. Part of me looks at this and thinks it could have been an elaborate attempt to gift Mark a win, seeing as he said he didn’t want Vettel giving him races and the team need to boost his morale. Also, if the BBC were correct, unlike the other drivers with issues Seb’s gearbox was new since he ran a total of one corner in Abu Dhabi.

    But there are much easier ways to do this. “Accidentally” botch a pit stop, tell him to save fuel, or just pull a Ferrari. I think Seb had a problem, and Mark was close enough to capitalize. He drove a fantastic race, as did Seb to keep the car in the game. The team might have exaggerated the issue at most, but I don’t believe this was any sort of sneaky Horner business.

  15. I agree, with the general consensus that there no conspiracy here. It was too early in the race for it not to be a problem IMO.

    Also, I disagree with one the Against arguments, Senna lost bundles of time with no 4th gear! That was why Maldonado was swarming all over him.

  16. I think they did even though i have no proof. I say this for two reasons. Firstly to ensure their desire to get Mark second position in the championship. Two they did it covertly because they didn’t want to bruise Mark’s ego considering he’d been thrashed by his team mate all season. Its not a good morale booster for everyone to know that your only win of the season was handed to you by your team mate.

  17. the problem suddenly appeared as soon as both RBRs made a safe gap to Button …then Vettel whining on radio..oohhh i dont wanna loose any place…

    …they probably think people will eat that red ********

    the grande finale of this performance was Vettels post race comments…i feel like Ayrton Senna in 1991…

    what a disgrace for the sport this boy is !!!!!!!!!!!

    people lost hundrends of millions because noone would ever bet his money on Webber… a good % of this goes back to F1 via money loundry channels

    and still there are 60% of f1fanatic readers that believe this gearbox problem ****…

    i realy dont get it.

    1. i realy dont get it.

      No, it would appear not.

    2. You really don’t get “it”.

      It is all encompassing.

    3. If you bet on F1 fully knowing that teams are allowed to issue Team Orders then its just you being really naive (or stupid) Manu!

  18. I have a feeling the gearbox in question is already out of Brazil and we’ll never know what actually transpired. I also think that Webber’s lack of enthusiasm after the win was an indicator that he thought something was fishy. After going 20+ races without a win, I know I’d be more excited.

    1. I agree. I though exactly the same after listen to the team radio…

    2. Ino (@f1givesyouwings)
      28th November 2011, 10:47

      Yeah, Webber was definitely unenthusiastic about the win… :P

      1. @Ino really every time Webber does that jump/face it cause me nightmares… he looks like a frog…

  19. God awful, erroneous excuse of “reporting” from you Keith.

    This site has really downhill.

    1. Which parts are erroneous?

    2. Well I’ll get right to work on that long list of errors you’ve pointed out.

      Oh wait, you haven’t given any.

      It’s easy to throw cheap criticisms and lazy insults around. If you want to be taken seriously, explain what you’re objecting to.

    3. There is nothing wrong with this article. Keith provides the official story along with his opinion, which does not contradict the official story whatsoever. Go to if you’re only interested in press-releases.

    4. I think its great that a. @keithcollantine gives the arguments for either of the sides of the discussion and b. allows us to vote on it to see what the fans here think and even c. let us discuss it in the comments.

      You are welcome to join in, please tell us what you voted and your arguments for doing so. Your current comment is a good example of the kind that really bring down the pleasure of being here “Oliver12”

    5. I guess Oliver12 isn’t going to get back to us with his list of grievances. I’m hardly surprised.

  20. OK, bored of this now. How long until pre-season testing?

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