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 think people are always looking for something but I think Vettel’s problem was genuine. The problem could be managed but it was also something that didn’t just fail straight away and collapse like Hamilton’s. This means that Vettel could still post quick laps which probably didn’t do the gearbox any good but meant that he would have to look after it a lot more in the later stages.

    I think you could tell from Vettel’s body language that he was quite relieved to have finished and would probably have looked a little peed off if he had to yield to Webber.

  2. Absolutely fake, and yes, the person that was not in on it was Mark. An almost new gearbox which never actually failed, Vettel able to hold a defensive position in 2nd helping Mark to keep 3rd place in the championship – Vettel even able to make the comment about his similarity to Senna with a broken gearbox – all planned before the event and executed to perfection. Anything with visible team orders would have (as before) left many with a bad feeling about the team at the end of a fantastic year for them. They were never going to do it and Mark would never had accepted it.

  3. I’m not at all convinced by the claim Red Bull pretended Vettel had a gearbox failure and kept it a secret from Webber to ‘boost his spirits’.

    Many of the people working on Vettel’s car would have known if the problem was fake or not and it wouldn’t have taken five seconds for the information to spread to the other side of the garage.

    1. Keith, it would be good to know the nature of the problem. The whole car can be run well, badly or not at all from a laptop. Was there actually a physically broken or significantly worn component for all to see or were there a bunch of sensors showing that things were not good in a software program developed by Red Bull? If Red Bull decided that it wanted to play out a strategy delivering what happened on Sunday then it would do a good job on it (as always) – including making sure that it had all it’s ducks in a line after te event.

  4. Glenn Freeman says people working for Autosport have been shown data from Vettel’s car and “are satisfied Vettel’s gearbox problem was genuine”.

    1. Conclusive evidence I’d say.

      More evidence than the pessimists can come up with.

      But I’m sure they’ll turn this one around by saying Autosport was in on the whole thing…

  5. I love it – if Red Bull are faster than anyone, there’s something illegal on their car. If they have an issue, it’s staged. They probably staged the puncture last time out to give Vettel a rest yeah?

    The gearbox issue didn’t stop Vettel from going fast – it didn’t affect performance. Apparently there was hardly any oil in the gearbox by the end so to keep temperatures down, he was told to short shift. If he didnt, there was a risk the gearbox would fail but on several occasions, Vettel went for it and pulled out a good lap time. As soon as this happened, he was warned to slow down.

    Red Bull regularly tell Vettel to not go for a FLAP on the final lap but he does it anyway… The gearbox problem needed managing and Seb kept ignoring them so they said it was a serious issue and that he had to slow down.

    You could see when he pitted, the car spluttered to a stop – there was clearly an issue.

  6. Why cover team orders up? Because the fans dont like team orders, we want to see racing and Christian Horner knows how unpopular team orders are. Remember eveytime we have seen team orders this year and last, fans were annoyed. Also Why do Red Bull tell Mark to hold station behind Hamilton and Alonso this year, kind of annoying we want to see racing till the end

    1. If Webber can’t overtake/beat Alonso and Hamilton, it’s because they’ve outdriven him, not because he’s been told to hold station.

  7. Some people said, look at Vettel he can nurse a broken gearbox to the end and Hamilton can’t. Gearbox issues are always going to be different. But think about it, Hamilton was going all out, he wasn’t doing any nursing, Whereas Vettel was doing what his engineers told him and Hamilton had nothing to lose, its the end of the season, whereas Vettel would have liked a 1-2

  8. Eternal Newbie
    28th November 2011, 13:36

    Unless some of the few people at RBR who are in a position to know leaks out we’ll never know for sure. But it is highly suspicious.

    Yes, TO are legal now, but RBR got a lot of flak earlier this year for issuing them at Silverstone, after having said that they’d never do that. Also, a direct TO would have left Mark Webber badly exposed. So RBR had good reasons to disguise it.

  9. Genuinely surprised to see most people agree with RBR on this one!

    Can we frame this poll at put it up at F1 Fanatic HQ? ;)

    Seriously though, I don’t think there was anything to it. It took a while for it to click but when I realised that Webber was within a reasonable distance of Vettel I did think, ‘hmm, this is a little convenient’. I dread to think what Twitter was like at the time, so I avoided it!

    Their reason was plausible and I think the nature of the RBR on high-downforce tracks would have negated some of the time Vettel lost due to short-shifting. Anywhere else, he may have suffered more.

  10. I don’t believe in so many coincidences. Team orders very badly disguised.

  11. Essentially the RedBull team showing their gratitude to Mark. He played his part in the team, so here is the RB team saying thanks. Hat’s off to Seb for his part and giving Mark credit for being a (even if reluctant) supportive team mate.

  12. There is something in it that makes me feel it was a disguised team order. Redbull doesn’t want people to hear direct team orders of letting someone pass on track. They’ve done orders for Webber not to attack Vettel but there weren’t any orders before allowing the lead driver to let the other driver past. Not disguising it would just make Redbull look bad in front of F1 fans even if team orders are already legal… People would openly criticize their perfect season and they don’t want that to happen. So I think it was a beautifully executed team order and they planned it before the race.

  13. YES

    The team orders had to be disguised. They were kept secret from Webber in order for him to get his motivational boost.

  14. Webber said he believes it because he could smell there was a problem with Vettel’s gearbox and he noticed it leaking oil.
    So unless Red Bull deliberatly gave Vettel a faulty gearbox (as I’m sure the pessimists will believe in a heartbeat) I see no reason why to suspect Red Bull pulled one over on us and Webber.

    It’s a shame to see so many frustrated ‘fans’ here who try to make a conspiracy out of everything Red Bull does.

    Now I’m also reading that Red Bull deliberately played down their own speed during the season as to not look too dominant…

    Come on, can’t you guys take a step back to see the whole picture instead of just saying what you thinks makes your favorite driver/team look better?

    1. Thanks for this, I hadn’t seen anything from Webber suggesting that – can you post a link, it be interesting to read his version of events….

  15. Positive that Vettel had no problem with his gearbox why you may ask, because Webber was too quiet on the podium and he said in the press conference that it would have been nice to have a battle with Sebastian.

  16. Deutscher Schäferhund
    30th November 2011, 19:17

    This was a humiliation for Webber, even won no race in the year would be better for Webber…

    I love Vettel, another winner german, but compare itself with Ayrton Senna by a fake problem…

    Sorry for my english

  17. No.

    I suppose all F1 driver knows how their cars work. I mean, look at Vettel in the last race, even after his early end from his race, he went to check his rear wheel, talk to the engineer, try to understand the cause.
    Given that, I doubt Red Bull can hide the secret from Vettel, if not Webber. And I think Webber would be curious to understand his teammate’s problem too.

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