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?


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?

  1. Girts (@girts) said on 27th November 2011, 20:36

    Of course not.

    Talking about Vettel’s ability to set competitive lap times despite the gearbox problem, this is not the first time we see something like this. Remember the 2010 Malaysian Grand Prix? Here’s what Keith wrote in F1F’s team-by-team analysis then:

    Despite losing his clutch early in the race Alonso kept up with his rivals and often looked capable of lapping quicker than them. He ran the longest first stint of the race – 36 laps – and even with his gearbox problem set some of the quickest laps of the race.

    • John H (@john-h) said on 27th November 2011, 20:59

      Very good point.

      However the fact that Webber really needed this win and the chance of Vettel braking Schumi’s record had now gone makes this one a little bit more suspicious.

      • F1fanNL (@) said on 29th November 2011, 11:53

        How so?

        Did Webber need the win?
        Wouldn’t it be easier for the team if Webber thinks he can’t even touch Vettel?
        And the fact that Vettel now can’t break Schumacher’s record is more of an against than a for argument, don’t you agree?
        What’s the one thing Vettel has been focusing on now?
        Correct, records.
        Vettel is too much of a winning man to give away victories, especially when that victory has no real value.
        Who cares that Webber finishes 3rd in the WDC now.

    • 91jb12 (@91jb12) said on 27th November 2011, 21:28

      Vettel did something similar on 3 brakes at Barcelona, Schmuacher could only catch him at 1.5 secs a lap by the end

  2. I think it was team orders. I think they disquised it so as not to crush Webber’s spirit. Just look at Massa as an example of how blatant team orders can affect you.

    Webber’s reaction after the race also leads me to believe he suspects so too. There was a lack of whooping and hollaring that we saw in 2009 and 2010.

    It was all too convenient for me.

  3. GameR_K (@gamer_k) said on 27th November 2011, 20:42

    2010 – Monza, when Seb suddenly lose engine power and had to let Mark through it was immediately suggested that RBR were using team orders. We all know the end result.
    Some believe that since HAM had a gearbox failure and retired VET should also retire, failing that the result seems to be fixed in their eyes.

  4. Brian C (@bcracing) said on 27th November 2011, 20:43

    It seems it was an actual gearbox issue. Redbull had no reason to cover-up team orders and it would make them look bad for doing so since they have already openly used team orders this season.

    Just a broke part.

  5. Zagal (@zagal) said on 27th November 2011, 20:48

    Vettel was reminded several times and they said it was a very serious problem. Contrary to what Horner and Vettel explained, the inboards showed no sign of short-shifting.
    In a circuit like Interlagos, loosing 2nd & 3rd gear would have result in a huge loss of time, and Seb even managed untroubled pit stops (pit stops are very demanding for gearboxes)
    On the other hand, it seems to me a needless, overcomplicated ruse for something that can be achieved with open orders, with more subtle indications or even easier, instructing Vettel before the race began.

    • Alex (@smallvizier) said on 27th November 2011, 20:54

      You say that “in a circuit like Interlagos, loosing 2nd & 3rd gear would have result in a huge loss of time.”

      But he didn’t actually lose those gears; he just had to change up a little sooner than usual. And Coulthard said in the commentary that there were only two corners where he’d even use 2nd gear.

      • Zagal (@zagal) said on 27th November 2011, 21:05

        Then I cant see any “very serious” problem. Regarding 2nd & 3rd, Im no expert, I follow De La Rosa and Marc Gené remarks on Spanish TV coverage, but maybe “huge” is an exagerated translation of what they said. DLR was not for the “conspiracy theory”, but at the beginning he thought that with such a gearbox problem as the radio com suggested either VET would retire or he would lose a lot of time

  6. Lin1876 (@lin1876) said on 27th November 2011, 20:49

    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.

  7. Alex (@smallvizier) said on 27th November 2011, 20:51

    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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. Not that this will convince anyone one way or the other, but here’s Christian Horner addressing the issue: http://www.autosport.com/news/report.php/id/96555

  11. Schmorbraten said on 27th November 2011, 21:26

    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 …”

  12. Jonathan189 (@jonathan189) said on 27th November 2011, 21:34

    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?

  13. Racer (@racer) said on 27th November 2011, 21:48

    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.

  14. hamizors said on 27th November 2011, 21:53

    - 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.

    • Zagal (@zagal) said on 27th November 2011, 22:34

      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

      • Ino (@f1givesyouwings) said on 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!

  15. PieLighter (@pielighter) said on 27th November 2011, 21:57

    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.

    • 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?


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