Gearbox gremlins may be Vettel’s biggest worry

2013 Singapore Grand Prix pre-race analysis

Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, Singapore, 2013Sebastian Vettel is eyeing a potential third consecutive Singapore Grand Prix win after a crushing performance in qualifying which secured his fifth pole position of the year.

It’s hard to see any of his rivals threatening him on raw speed alone. Instead the greatest threat to his victory chances may be the reliability of his Red Bull.

Last year Lewis Hamilton led the Singapore Grand Prix from pole position until to the moment a gearbox failure snatched a likely victory from his grasp.

His team had known about the problem going into the race and endeavoured to fix it, to no avail. Twelve months on, Red Bull are in a similar situation. Both cars had gearbox problems in Italy, and both have to use the same units at this race – or face a five-place grid penalty.

If Red Bull have any serious concerns about Vettel’s gearbox, changing it may be a prudent course of action given the championship situation. A five-place penalty would leave Vettel ahead of Fernando Alonso, his closest championship rival, on the grid. And the new top three on the grid – Nico Rosberg, Romain Grosjean and Mark Webber – are all well out of championship contention.

The start

The configuration of the first corners at Singapore invited drivers to cut across it. We saw this last year when Mark Webber and Nico Rosberg cut the corner and had to exercise caution not to gain an advantage by doing so.

It’s a short run to the first turn at Singapore – just 200 metres. Given that, and the lack of grip off the racing line, it is unlikely Vettel will face a threat from behind at the start – second-placed Rosberg may be more concerned about potentially losing a position to Romain Grosjean.

Having made several poor starts already this year Mark Webber spent part of final practice going through the starting procedure in his car to improve his getaways. That may prove valuable as, like Rosberg, he also starts on the dirty side of the grid.

Fernando Alonso will have to extract all the benefit he can from starting on the clean side of the grid to make progress from seventh. Felipe Massa starts ahead of him in sixth, and a potential storyline of the race may be whether Ferrari ask their outgoing driver to make way for Alonso – and whether he obeys.

Strategy

Romain Grosjean, Lotus, Singapore, 2013The large difference in performance between the two tyre compounds may make for difficult decisions on strategy during the race. The super-softs are around two seconds per lap quicker than the mediums.

On top of that the high likelihood of a Safety Car appearance during the race is another consideration. It has been summed at least once in each of the races so far at this track, and teams know they must be ready to react to it appearing at short notice.

In Pirelli’s view the high chance of a Safety Car appearance may lead teams to avoid the risks of a three-stop strategy, which is theoretically faster, and opt for a more conservative two-stop plan.

Having an extra set of fresh super-soft tyres will give drivers more strategic options. The risks taken by Vettel and Grosjean in Q3 and Q1 respectively to avoid using a set of super-soft tyres shows the potential value of this route.

Grosjean is an especially interesting prospect for the race because the Lotus has been so good on its tyres in hot conditions. Webber, who starts alongside him, has had a slight edge on Vettel for pace on the harder medium tyres.

The top nine will all start on super-softs. Behind them the Saubers of Esteban Gutierrez and Nico Hulkenberg are the first drivers to have free choice of tyre compounds.

Daniel Ricciardo, who qualified ninth and is the last driver who has to start the race on used tyres, suspects that getting into Q3 may prove to have been a mixed blessing: “the guys who went out in Q2 might have a little bit of a tyre advantage, so let?s hope that doesn?t have too much influence tomorrow”.

It looks set to be a long, hard race for Kimi Raikkonen who starts in 13th place and is nursing a sore back. He had to have painkillers injected into it before qualifying, and faces 61 gruelling laps of the bumpy Singapore track on Sunday.

Qualifying times in full

Driver Car Q1 Q2 (vs Q1) Q3 (vs Q2)
1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1’45.376 1’42.905 (-2.471) 1’42.841 (-0.064)
2 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1’45.208 1’43.892 (-1.316) 1’42.932 (-0.960)
3 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1’45.851 1’43.957 (-1.894) 1’43.058 (-0.899)
4 Mark Webber Red Bull 1’45.271 1’43.727 (-1.544) 1’43.152 (-0.575)
5 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1’44.196 1’43.920 (-0.276) 1’43.254 (-0.666)
6 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1’45.658 1’44.376 (-1.282) 1’43.890 (-0.486)
7 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1’45.115 1’44.153 (-0.962) 1’43.938 (-0.215)
8 Jenson Button McLaren 1’45.009 1’44.497 (-0.512) 1’44.282 (-0.215)
9 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1’45.379 1’44.407 (-0.972) 1’44.439 (+0.032)
10 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1’45.483 1’44.245 (-1.238)
11 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1’45.381 1’44.555 (-0.826)
12 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1’45.657 1’44.588 (-1.069)
13 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1’45.522 1’44.658 (-0.864)
14 Sergio Perez McLaren 1’45.164 1’44.752 (-0.412)
15 Adrian Sutil Force India 1’45.960 1’45.185 (-0.775)
16 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1’45.982 1’45.388 (-0.594)
17 Paul di Resta Force India 1’46.121
18 Pastor Maldonado Williams 1’46.619
19 Charles Pic Caterham 1’48.111
20 Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1’48.320
21 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1’48.830
22 Max Chilton Marussia 1’48.930

Sector times

Driver Sector 1 Sector 2 Sector 3
Sebastian Vettel 27.894 (2) 39.430 (1) 35.465 (2)
Nico Rosberg 28.020 (4) 39.474 (3) 35.438 (1)
Romain Grosjean 28.047 (6) 39.449 (2) 35.562 (3)
Mark Webber 27.881 (1) 39.489 (4) 35.782 (5)
Lewis Hamilton 27.971 (3) 39.632 (5) 35.651 (4)
Felipe Massa 28.125 (7) 39.807 (7) 35.958 (6)
Fernando Alonso 28.041 (5) 39.795 (6) 36.102 (9)
Jenson Button 28.138 (9) 39.899 (9) 36.114 (11)
Daniel Ricciardo 28.181 (11) 40.008 (10) 36.056 (8)
Esteban Gutierrez 28.300 (13) 39.834 (8) 36.111 (10)
Nico Hulkenberg 28.430 (15) 40.052 (11) 36.024 (7)
Jean-Eric Vergne 28.173 (10) 40.196 (14) 36.219 (12)
Kimi Raikkonen 28.128 (8) 40.191 (13) 36.236 (13)
Sergio Perez 28.308 (14) 40.075 (12) 36.369 (14)
Adrian Sutil 28.266 (12) 40.264 (15) 36.634 (16)
Valtteri Bottas 28.502 (17) 40.296 (16) 36.590 (15)
Paul di Resta 28.499 (16) 40.662 (17) 36.960 (18)
Pastor Maldonado 28.790 (18) 40.854 (18) 36.952 (17)
Charles Pic 29.164 (21) 41.394 (19) 37.553 (19)
Giedo van der Garde 29.080 (19) 41.494 (20) 37.746 (20)
Jules Bianchi 29.101 (20) 41.843 (22) 37.872 (21)
Max Chilton 29.284 (22) 41.611 (21) 38.035 (22)

Speed trap

Pos Driver Car Speed (kph/mph) Gap
1 Jenson Button McLaren 293.5 (182.4)
2 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 293.3 (182.2) -0.2
3 Adrian Sutil Force India 292.9 (182.0) -0.6
4 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 292.3 (181.6) -1.2
5 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 292.2 (181.6) -1.3
6 Mark Webber Red Bull 292.2 (181.6) -1.3
7 Valtteri Bottas Williams 291.4 (181.1) -2.1
8 Paul di Resta Force India 291.3 (181.0) -2.2
9 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 290.9 (180.8) -2.6
10 Sergio Perez McLaren 290.8 (180.7) -2.7
11 Charles Pic Caterham 290.7 (180.6) -2.8
12 Romain Grosjean Lotus 290.7 (180.6) -2.8
13 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 290.4 (180.4) -3.1
14 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 290.4 (180.4) -3.1
15 Felipe Massa Ferrari 290.2 (180.3) -3.3
16 Pastor Maldonado Williams 289.6 (179.9) -3.9
17 Giedo van der Garde Caterham 289.2 (179.7) -4.3
18 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 288.7 (179.4) -4.8
19 Jules Bianchi Marussia 288.1 (179.0) -5.4
20 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 287.8 (178.8) -5.7
21 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 287.8 (178.8) -5.7
22 Max Chilton Marussia 285.1 (177.2) -8.4

Over to you

Do any of Vettel’s rivals have a realistic chance of beating him – or is it just a battle for second place?

Share your views on the Singapore Grand Prix in the comments.

2013 Singapore Grand Prix

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Images ?? Red Bull/Getty, Lotus/LAT

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56 comments on Gearbox gremlins may be Vettel’s biggest worry

  1. Kingshark (@kingshark) said on 21st September 2013, 18:41

    One thing that really annoys me about Red Bull are the fake “problems” at the end, acting as if the wins were harder to achieve then they actually were.

    • How do you know that?

    • Guilherme (@guilherme) said on 21st September 2013, 18:55

      @kingshark People have been shouting this nonsense on forums around the internet for months and never, ever provided a single proof of what they are saying. It’s such a ridiculous idea that I don’t even know why people entertain it. What the hell, may I ask, would Red Bull stand to benefit from faking problems?

    • Hmm, you’re saying you think those “KERS problems” are all a ruse then?

    • @kingshark
      Since when did their problems become fake?
      I don’t think that their gearbox issue in Britain was a fake. Nor their alternator problems in 2012. Or their KERS problems, since ever. And Mark Webber’s issues with getting off the line.
      They have plenty of actual, real problems.
      I think it is highly unlikely that they shouldn’t have other problems as well. Like all other teams have occasionally.

    • MuzzleFlash (@muzzleflash) said on 21st September 2013, 19:19

      These cars are running prototyres, the paint shops do a great job of making them look shiny and formidable but underneath they’re very fragile and failure are very common, they’re just not always terminal. There are reasonable engineering explanations for all of them.

    • Were you annoyed when Vettel faked gearbox problems at Silverstone and Rosberg won? :D

    • Dave (@raceprouk) said on 21st September 2013, 19:46

      Red Bull fakes issues the same way Pirelli fakes tyre failures i.e. they don’t.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 21st September 2013, 20:02

      @kingshark

      fake “problems”

      What a bizarre thing to accuse them of doing. The idea that they would pretend is ridiculous, and I see no reason to believe why they would go the trouble of faking something like that.

      • Joshua Mesh (@joshua-mesh) said on 21st September 2013, 20:22

        I dont believe it is ridiculous at all. RBR is a PR machine and it would be EXCELLENT PR to win even though they had issues.

        To actually think F1 teams are above lying is ridiculous! I’d say they lie more than they tell the truth.

        • Dave (@raceprouk) said on 21st September 2013, 20:30

          The last time a team lied, three people were banned from the sport.

        • David-A (@david-a) said on 21st September 2013, 21:16

          @joshua-mesh – The problem is, no-one here is in any sort of position to say they are lying about the gearboxes.

          • Joshua Mesh (@joshua-mesh) said on 21st September 2013, 22:05

            That goes both ways. No one is in a position to say they are telling the truth.

          • David-A (@david-a) said on 21st September 2013, 22:08

            @joshua-mesh – Where would you draw the line though? Should every little problem a team says they have be considered “fake”? That’s why it is “innocent until proven guilty”, not the other way around.

          • Moolander said on 22nd September 2013, 9:12

            That goes both ways. No one is in a position to say they are telling the truth.

            As a rule, the burden of proof is on the one making the claim. The more unlikely the claim, the more supporting evidence must be provided.
            For example, if I told you I had eggs for breakfast you might accept it with no further proof. If I told you I had eggs for breakfast on an alien spaceship, you’d probably want something more.

        • Colossal Squid (@colossal-squid) said on 21st September 2013, 22:25

          Why would they fabricate so many problems over the last four seasons though? Winning once or twice despite some problems might give them some good PR, but these problems occur far too often, which probably leads to bad PR for the likes of Infiniti and Renault if it makes them look like they can’t make an engine or gearbox that lasts.

          BTW I know that it’s KERS, or the Gearbox or a number of other things nothing to do with Renault or Infiniti but the average person’s perception of the quality of Infiniti’s or Renault’s engineering by being associated with Red Bull and by congruence such failures would be negative, and therefore unlikely to be fabricated.

        • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 22nd September 2013, 9:10

          @joshua-mesh

          it would be excellent PR to win even though they had issues

          The idea that they’re going to get people on the pit wall to pretend their car has a problem and send fake messages to their drivers, just so they can say “we won despite a car problem” instead of “we won”, is just silly.

      • It may be the best reason for watching an otherwise boring race.

    • Seriously? I mean, seriously???

      I know we have to find things to complain about Vettel/Red Bull, but seriously?

    • sato113 (@sato113) said on 22nd September 2013, 0:16

      100% agree. however they are not ‘fake’ as such, just over emphasised. ie. when red bull say they had to manage a serious gear box issue all race, it’s actually not that worrying for them.

      • Baron (@baron) said on 22nd September 2013, 7:45

        Never mind fake problems, I think it’s absolutely dreadful how Red Bull have faked all these wins and as for Sebastian Vettels’s fake championships – it’s a disgrace. How do I know? Well I am in the Professional Spin & PR Industry and my job is to lie in my teeth about all the products I represent. It’s so common, I cannot believe Red Bull have achieved anything by not faking so that is my evidence. I know it sounds fake but believe me, it’s the Truth.

      • 23kennyboy23 said on 22nd September 2013, 11:23

        I actually see his point too, but as said above it’s exaggerating problems, not faking them. In the same way Christian Horner always talks about how the other teams are a real great to both championships still when nothing short of vettel and webber dropping out half the races would make that the case

        • In the same way Christian Horner always talks about how the other teams are a real great to both championships

          Please. That’s called being politically correct, respectful to your rivals and showing deportivism.

          If they said “yeah we believe we have the best car so Vettel is going to destroy them LOL” people would complain about they being pedantic and arrogant. But if they do the opposite they are fake and exaggerating???

          Give me a break.

    • Jimmy Hearn (@alebelly74) said on 22nd September 2013, 1:35

      @Kingshark the only problem with your conspiracy theory is that RedBull haven’t said a single thing about their gearbox. In fact, the only thing we’ve ever heard about it was them telling Mark and Seb, briefly over the radio, to short -shift during the last race. RedBull, just like all teams, are incredibly secretive about their cars. It is the media that gives voice to speculation, and it is the dim-witted fan who turns speculation to fact and conspiracy.

    • Oh my! Do they need to do that?

      I does not make any sense. Actually not making a second run in Q3 kinda shows that they wanted to preserve tyres and the car @Kingshark

    • I doubt RBR make up the problems just to keep back Vettel from posting FLAP and have a talking point @kingshark!

      Agree that its often talked up when a small problem occurs (during the race the commentary keeps “fearing” something might happen and after the race its nice to tell how tough it was to win it from pole) and gets annoying.

  2. AdrianMorse (@adrianmorse) said on 21st September 2013, 18:55

    Massa vs. Alonso could be interesting tomorrow, if Felipe decides to race him. Just before that fateful “Fernando is faster than you” in Germany 2010, he was still banging wheels with Alonso in Silverstone, so he knows how to.

    Another driver I’ll be following tomorrow with interest is Romain Grosjean. It’s doubtful he can beat Vettel if Sebastian has a trouble-free race, but if the Red Bull does develop a gearbox problem, then this might be a very good opportunity to score his first victory.

    As a Hamilton fan I’m pretty disappointed with P5. This was a track where I expected both Hamilton and Mercedes to be strong, but he never seemed to get in the rhythm today. In my view, Hamilton’s woes highlight the amazing job Vettel is doing this season. Multiple drivers have challenged Vettel on occasion, but only Vettel is right at the front at every race.

    • OmarR-Pepper (@omarr-pepper) said on 21st September 2013, 19:03

      @adrianmorse Massa vs Alonso WILL be interesting if Ferrari don’t mess Massa’s race in some way. And by messing I’m not talking to make him DNF, just to hold him on his final pit visit so Alonso can be on top.

    • Alonso is on the clean side so there’s a good chance he will be past massa at the start. And since he almost always has better race pace i don’t think massa will then cause any problems for him.

      • Let’s be honest here, Massa doesn’t have much of a chance.

        Massa at his best (2008) could have given any current driver on the grid a run for his money, but that’s not the case since 2010 (I assume due to the accident). He’s in a league below Alonso now.

    • “Massa vs. Alonso could be interesting tomorrow, if Felipe decides to race him.”

      Really?! It is almost a mystery to me why/how some people will continue to echo this nonsense race after race and season after season, despite the by now very proven FACT that MAS does NOT have the ability to beat ALO – no matter how much he wants/decides/wishes/prays for it. I mean, have you seen any of the last 3,5 seasons? Their respective positions in the final standings of those? Their respective qualy/race stats? The consistency of the two? What does that tell you?
      I mean, ALO even beats HAM (just to remind you in case you have forgotten) each and every one of the last 3,5 seasons in that Ferrrari – Do you really still think MAS would be a real problem for him?

      The “best” accomplishment that MAS would reach if he “decides” to “race” ALO (it is not his decision to make really buts lets play with the thought), would be stopping ALO from getting close to VET i e giving VET the best chance to open a big gap, i e reducing his team mates chances to close in in the title “battle”. Most probably, given plenty of historical data/stats, MAS would still finish behind his team mate at the end of the race. So at the end of the day, “racing” his team mate who is fighting for the title, has no positive expectation for anyone in the team – and will NOT happen. Actually, if he still did I hope and expect team management to do the right thing – kick his ass, literally.

  3. Glenn (@glennb) said on 21st September 2013, 19:37

    Not that they’ll do it but I reckon changing the gearbox here would be wise. He only really needs to finish in front of Alonso, score a few points even. A DNF would put pressure on him and the team and I don’t think they are too accustomed to that.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 21st September 2013, 20:02

      @glennb

      A DNF would put pressure on him and the team and I don’t think they are too accustomed to that.

      They did alright in Brazil last year.

    • W (@yesyesyesandyesagain) said on 21st September 2013, 20:03

      Yeah, everyone remembers how RedBull cracked at the end of 2010 and 2012… oh wait.

      • Glenn (@glennb) said on 22nd September 2013, 12:32

        I didn’t say they would *crack* under pressure, I implied they didn’t *need* the pressure. They have a decent enough lead in both titles to err on the side of caution if need be. An ounce of prevention as they say.

    • Hamilfan (@hamilfan) said on 21st September 2013, 20:23

      @glennb Vettel,today is not the same guy that lost the canadian gp in 2011 . He has grown tough and thrives under pressure . Neither RBR nor Vettel is going to crack under pressure. I think we might as well give them the trophy as they have both ( driver and team ) done a phenomenal job . I only hope the other teams could challenge them a bit more .
      @keithcollantine
      About the gears , couldn’t they have thought of this already and changed up some things or the other (gear ratios possibly ? ) in free practice to minimize the strain . Newey’s RBR cars are pretty much durable under a lot of damage (brazil ’12 ) . The only way Vettel can lose this is if he has a poor start or if he gets dirty while fighting . I really hope someone keeps up with him at the start (first couple of corner) and maybe overtake him as it is the best possible place to do so . Otherwise he is going to fly .

      Another thing in which I am interested , is the pit stop strategy of Romain and Kimi . Can they work something by using Kimi to hold up Vettel while Romain pits . It’s possible . How long will Romain be able to hold up with the supersofts ?

  4. Atticus (@atticus-2) said on 21st September 2013, 20:20

    One of the best pre-race analyses of late.

  5. tian (@tiananmen) said on 21st September 2013, 20:46

    The red bulls have had problems with the gearboxes this season so i wont be too surprised if one of them gets a dnf tommorow. Ps rosberg deserved that pole

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