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. 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.

    1. Not to made Webber feel bad? so nobody can tell directly to him “so Mark liked Seb early xmass gift?”

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

  3. 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…

  4. macca1977 (@)
    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.

  5. 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.

    1. 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! :)

  6. I think this was a covert operation. Full stop. I knew it from the second it happened.

    There are a few reasons Red Bull did it this way instead of just switching their cars around ala Ferrari:

    1) Red Bull want to keep their credibility intact. They know that Ferrari fans hated it when Rubens and Michael used to switch places. They feared the public backlash more than anything else.

    2) They wanted to make Seb Vettel look great. They wanted him to stay out there and race with a ‘very serious gearbox issue’. Like Seb said, he wanted to be like Aryton 20 years back.

    3) Red Bull wanted their fans to think that Webber is a good driver in his own rights and deserves to be there at the team.

    4) Red Bull were having some fun. Since the WDC’s over, they couldn’t have anything better to do. Imagine the satisfaction of having pulled off a heist in front of millions of adoring F1 fans!

    However, if I were Webber, I’d be gutted with these sort of antics. If anything, this will be more damaging to me in the long run. I will know that for me to win, the team had to neutralise the threat from Seb. Ouch…

    1. +1

      4) Red Bull were having some fun. Since the WDC’s over, they couldn’t have anything better to do. Imagine the satisfaction of having pulled off a heist in front of millions of adoring F1 fans!

      This team had been about fun all weekend… I agree with the comment

      1. Yeah, really guts of them to give Vettel an oil leaking gearbox and see how he would manage! Surely they were having some betting going on in the team how far he would get with that. :-D
        (Marko probalby won by betting Vettel to finish and stay in 2nd)

        Great joke Himmat

        1. I bet Timo Glock lost by betting on Seb winning the race ;)

  7. I wouldn’t be surprised if at some point early on Vettel thought it may have been a disguised team order, especially when he was told to short shift all the gears. And there was probably a level of frustration Vettel had to deal with and wanting to drive the heck out of the car and let the gear box fail.

    But then he did the smart thing, listened to his team and the whole “I’ll have to let Mark pass”. If he wasn’t going to be fast enough, there’s no reason to fight with his teammate. I’ve seen Hamilton pull aside for Button in a similar situation in Japan (this year or last year, I forget which).

    But it was clearly legitimate. During the latter part of the race, there was a shot of Vettel going up pass turns 13 and 14 and you could see that his rear light was flashing. The BBC guys commented on it, that he may have selected inters on his steering wheel which would also set the engine mapping to accelerate more slowly (which in the wet you would want to do).

    In the post race press conference Vettel also said that eventually he would only go down to 4th gear (staying away from 2nd and 3rd) and which lead to his quip of feeling like Senna in 1991.

    One area where I think RB decided to live with this result (Webber taking the win) was not putting Vettel on a strategy of going one less stop than Webber. If he had to go slower, his tires may have also lasted longer and he may have been to jump Webber.

    I think Vettel did an amazing drive to nurse the car home in 2nd all things considered.

  8. Does that make all the problems Mark has had this season a conspiracy too? Why are these conspiracies only one sided? Mark has suffered numerous KERS issues and lets not forget his starts.

    1. Webber was never in a position to thereaten Seb all year. The only time he outshone Seb was in Germany.

      What you’re saying holds no water as I’d only buy it if Webber was matching Seb’s pace. But that wasn’t the case all year. Vettel’s just blown him off….

      1. Webber destroyed Seb in China pace wise, also at Spa Webber looked extremely strong on the primes matching Seb on the options. Webber has also got a few pole positions this year but lost out with his starts. To make out as if there is a large gap between them is absurd. There is a pace difference on some circuits and a luck difference on most.

        1. There has been a large gap between them this year. In Belgium, Vettel was taking it easy, having dominated the field. He could have pulled out an extra gap over Webber if he wanted to. A difference of 10 wins and 12 poles just isn’t luck.

  9. Also when Vettel came into the pits the gearbox was making very strange sounds according to the commentary team. I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt, there is no chance Vettel would go along with this if he knew.

  10. What made me suspicious about some kind of team orders was the fact that Vettel gave up his position too easily to Mark Webber. Then afterwards his lap times were very fast and consistent. Through his onboard camera I didin’t notice any change in the way he was shifting the lower gears. If Vettel was already the World Champion and RBR had already won the Constructors Championship, then why Vettel gave up so easily and didn’t fight to defend his leadership even at the expense of a possible DNS which in any case it would have not affected him or BRB in any way?

    On the other hand, it was “very convenient” to have Mark winning this GP for several obvious reasons. That is why this gearbox issue made me and a lot of people smell something fishy about it.

    1. Perhaps VET was wanting to finish the race rather than post another DNF so he chose to let Mark go. They are in the same team after all.

  11. Though i said no opinon I honestly think team orders were in place. Why? because,
    1) Gearbox issue short shift, was not convincing especially cause vettel wasn’t really short shifting.
    2)Seb feels like he is senna from 91 (No seb, you aren’t. He finished the race in one gear and won.).
    3)If he was short shifting, button should’ve caught up to him even faster, he couldn’t.
    4)He set the fastest lap of the race at one point.
    5)Webber who won the only race of the season, comes out of the car, waves and leaves. If it was anyone else, he would’ve jumped on the car and done some own silly victory moves which he invented.

    Feels a lot like they coded the message so webber doesn’t feel bad about it, but webber realised it anyway.

    1. Ino (@f1givesyouwings)
      28th November 2011, 11:03

      Your points 1 and 3 are just opinions that you are presenting as facts. How did you figure out that he wasn’t shortshifting? And how much faster would you expect Button to be catching him? Vettel was much quicker than Button at the beginning of the race, and after his problem he started losing at least 0.5/lap. That’s quite a big difference.

      Seb’s comment about Senna was just a reference – I don’t think he was implying they were identical situations! he was racing at Interlagos and only using high gears, so he though of ’91. As someone else commented, do you really think RBR gave Seb a script to act out while driving, to make it sound more convincing?

      The Red Bull car was much quicker than McLaren and Ferrari at this track, and that’s why Vettel could manage a good pace even with his problem. Webber wasn’t pushing consistenly as he was pretty safe in P1. As the fuel went down, both Red Bulls went quicker and quicker, and that’s why at one of the laps Vettel got FL.

      Finally, if you watch the press conference or look at the photos from the podium (e.g. this one) you’ll see that Webber was pretty happy with his win. I wouldn’t expect him to go crazy as he realised it was another driver’s misfortune that helped him, and one win doesn’t change a whole season, but I got the impression he was pretty happy with it (and so he should be!).

  12. Didn’t Horner say before the Brazilian GP that Red Bull were less popular now? Clearly he is conscious of their image and decided in unison with Mateschitz that disguising the team order was a better option than making it open to avoid damaging their image further.

  13. No. Team orders are legal and as you pointed out Red Bull have shown prevously that they have no issues telling drivers what to do.

    Why have this debate, it’s not like Webber was over the moon after the race. I’m pretty sure he’d rather have taken Vettel on fair and square and lost that be gifted a win due to problems with vettel’s car.

  14. Rejkjavicsdottir
    28th November 2011, 6:09

    Webber would probably feel greatly insulted by an open team order for Vettel to let him by. He might be many things, the gritty Aussie, but he is not an Alonso to want his teammate to let him by.
    Which is why I think the gearbox problem didn’t exist: I don’t think Webber and Vettel knew that it was a fix, but I am pretty sure it was a fix anyway. Shame, then.

    1. You don’t think Vettel would want to have a look at the guts of the box after the race? You think Vettels mechanics would lie to Vettels face after the race to help Webber?

      1. @Alex W
        I can only agree. In Abu Dhabi that guy spend hours going through telemetry, footage etc. to find out what went wrong with the tyre.
        Even after he won the championship in Suzuka, straight after the initial celebrations he went to talk to his engineers to figure out why they just didn’t have the pace.
        I don’t think RB would be able to hide something like that for Vettel.

  15. I think yes.

    You can tell in Vettel’s radio comments. ‘I feel like Senna in 91’ means he thinks he can still win despite the gearbox issue (if it exists) and he WANTED to chase down Mark, but he kept being reminded about a ‘serious problem’. Red Bull is just denying it to make it look as authentic as possible. You can also tell by Mark’s press conference that he didn’t sound like a man who believed he just ‘won’ a race (but was given the win instead)

  16. Either way Webber trounced Hamilton in the WDC for the third year running (and would have regardless of “team orders”).

    1. @thecollaroyboys what’s that got to do with the article? Webber IS in a faster car than Hamilton – we should expect him to be ahead.

  17. I doubt RB would’ve used this as an excuse. They would’ve used team orders anyway. And the reason is so that Mark has the best chance of securing 2nd place in the WDC should something happen to Jenson and Fernando. A 1st and 2nd place in the WDC and 1st in WCC would’ve been the icing on the cake for Red Bull and they were justified in running team orders to allow Mark the chance.

  18. Don’t you guys realize that the whole sport is rigged? Bernie sits down with the sponsors in February and plans out the results for the entire season.

    The only glitch was when Michael Schumacher got hold of some dirty photos of Bernie back in 2000. Unfortunately he left them on a bus some time in 2005, and now Bernie is getting his revenge.

  19. Why on earth WOULD Red Bull use team orders?

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but the team that creates a fast car, specifically tailored to one guy, isn’t that Ferrari? Webber was 2nd at the time of Vettel’s gearbox problem, and Vettel clearly said that he would ‘not hold (Webber) up’. I’m not sure what that meant to everyone else, but it sounded to me as if he’d let his team-mate past so he can hold off Alonso/Hamilton/Button.

    Team orders are allowed now, why on earth would they code them? The entire idea that RB would use team orders in a way like that is absurd.

    I bet if Hamilton was in 2nd and came through to win after Vettel’s gearbox problem, everyone would be cheering and saying how he was always there.

    For the record, I hate Webber, but a win under any circumstances is a win, and Webber deserves full credit for this win.

  20. Personally I don’t think so they did,but even if they do I won’t be surprise.

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