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. ross.willow (@ross-willow) said on 27th November 2011, 22:02

    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.

    • celeste (@celeste) said on 28th November 2011, 3:05

      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…

  2. sw6569 (@sw6569) said on 27th November 2011, 22:06

    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!

  3. chris goldsmith said on 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.

  4. 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.

  5. TheMaximus said on 27th November 2011, 22:15

    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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. RoscoeDC said on 27th November 2011, 23:42

    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.

  9. Oliver12 said on 27th November 2011, 23:43

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

    This site has really downhill.

    • Which parts are erroneous?

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 27th November 2011, 23:52

      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.

    • Mash27 said on 28th November 2011, 2:34

      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 formula1.com if you’re only interested in press-releases.

    • BasCB (@bascb) said on 28th November 2011, 8:17

      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″

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 28th November 2011, 9:57

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

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

  11. Mike the bike Schumacher (@mike-the-bike-schumacher) said on 28th November 2011, 0:43

    It clearly wasn’t a team order. Why would they try to cover it up if orders are legal?
    I don’t see any reason why they would try to cover it up from the public.
    The only person I can see that red bull would try to cover it up from is Webber himself, who had said he didn’t want any help.

  12. Toro Stevo (@toro-stevo) said on 28th November 2011, 0:47

    The race was that dull (by 2011 standards) people have to find something interesting to talk about.

  13. celeste (@celeste) said on 28th November 2011, 1:19

    Oh I have been dying all day… I was on a plane at the moment of the race and only saw last 10 laps and I have been without Internet all day… but conspiracy theories FTW!

    I think it was team orders… and Webber reaction to the win saids it all… even Latin American comentors were saying so…

  14. macca1977 (@) said on 28th November 2011, 1:30

    I think it was team orders, why else would Vettel gave the position to Mark like he did ? with no fighting at all ? if he had a problem and felt he was able to keep going at the pace he had before, why he would resign his position so soon and so evident ?
    Also why hide it ?, because it was the last race, the team order would let Mark advance a position or even two positions in the WDC standings. They were going to be criticized a lot more if they gave the order by radio in the last race of the season and the only reason was to promote his second driver.

  15. rachhh said on 28th November 2011, 1:54

    Check out Mark Webber’s comments at the press conference:

    When I started to take a pretty big chunk out of him per lap, I thought something might have been going down and then Ciaron informed me that he had a gearbox problem and I think I could smell it a little bit when I got close, and there was also a little bit of fluid. Normally, that’s a nice feeling… OK, it was mixed obviously for me, because there was the chance to get the win but I know how hard the guys worked on Seb’s gearbox last night because it wasn’t completely smooth. They got it together but it turned out, obviously, in the end that something’s let them down.

    Seriously Mark is such a straight-talking guy, I’m sure he wouldn’t be saying all these if they weren’t true.

    • rachhh said on 28th November 2011, 2:06

      And again, Mark’s comments when they were asked by a reporter about a possibly rigged gearbox issue:

      I’ve agreed with you many times this year, but not this time.

      The whole press conference actually, if you guys have the time, go have a read! :)

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