What’s eat­ing Se­bas­tian Vet­tel?

F1 Racing - - INSIDER -

Ab­sence of ex­haust-boosted aero­dy­nam­ics is thought to be the cause of the world cham­pion’s strug­gle for pace

Se­bas­tian Vet­tel has known for some time that he would face a difcult start to the sea­son. En­gine part­ner Re­nault’s lack of com­pet­i­tive­ness was well known to Red Bull back in De­cem­ber, and pre-sea­son test­ing was a dis­as­ter.

But what Vet­tel will not have been pre­pared for, is to be un­der such pres­sure from his new team-mate. Daniel Ric­cia­rdo has im­pressed from the off, with P2 in both qual­i­fy­ing and the race at the sea­son-opener in Aus­tralia, even though he was sub­se­quently dis­qualied.

Vet­tel suf­fered tech­ni­cal prob­lems in qual­i­fy­ing in Mel­bourne and re­tired early in the race and was the faster Red Bull driver in Malaysia. But in Bahrain and China he was beaten hands down by Ric­cia­rdo – and had to suf­fer the ig­nominy of be­ing asked by his team to let the Aus­tralian past in both races.

Vet­tel is clearly not en­joy­ing the sit­u­a­tion, and he and Red Bull seem bafed by it. He ad­mit­ted he is not happy with the car’s setup and team prin­ci­pal Chris­tian Horner said: “He’s strug­gling and it’s hard to ex­plain why.”

Vet­tel has cer­tainly had some is­sues with re­li­a­bil­ity and, ac­cord­ing to Horner, has borne the brunt of the is­sues with Re­nault’s en­ergy re­cov­ery sys­tem. Even so, in China and Bahrain, he was just plain beaten.

A likely ex­pla­na­tion for this is the ab­sence of ex­haust-inuenced rear aero­dy­nam­ics, which Vet­tel ex­ploited to such great ef­fect in his four ti­tle-win­ning sea­sons, es­pe­cially from 2011. Red Bull were bet­ter at this than any­one else, and Vet­tel was able to adapt his driv­ing style to get the best from it in a way Mark Web­ber could not.

It is fair to say that while Vet­tel is clearly gifted, he was never as good when he did not have this tech­nol­ogy. When the Red Bull was just a very good ‘nor­mal’ car, as it was through most of 2010, or the rst half of 2012, he and Web­ber were much more evenly matched. And even with ex­haust-blown dif­fusers, Vet­tel’s ad­van­tage over Web­ber was only ever in the slow cor­ners. To the end of his ca­reer, Web­ber was bet­ter than Vet­tel in fast parts, as a glance at the sec­tor two times from Austin last year shows.

This year, the Red Bull is once again a very good ‘nor­mal’ car – and Ric­cia­rdo is prov­ing a match for his team-mate. Vet­tel and Red Bull are even aware of this them­selves. Vet­tel has talked in the past of need­ing to have the car a cer­tain way to per­form his “tricks”.

Mo­tor­sport boss Hel­mut Marko said af­ter the 2012 nale, re­fer­ring back to their early-sea­son strug­gles to get the ex­haust blow­ing work­ing again: “I told my people, ‘Boys, there is no need for Vet­tel if we can’t give him the car he needs in or­der for his skills to shine.’”

This year, there is no prospect of nd­ing a new way of do­ing this. What that means for Vet­tel re­mains to be seen.

In both Bahrain and China, Red Bull’s Daniel Ric­cia­rdo out­per­formed his four-time cham­pion team-mate Se­bas­tian Vet­tel

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