Hey Red Bull, I see what you did there…

Posted: September 11, 2011 by Matt Ruda in Insights

I was ecstatic when I read about how Sebastian Vindexfinger was slowest through the speedtrap. The beauty of qualifying is that nobody can sandbag their way through. Sure, Pirelli tires mean grid position is not the end all be all it once was, but nobody wants to be in the back with the Failspanias. I’ve given this some thought, and I think Red Bull are trying to go with a very conservative strategy that will save fuel, tires, and ensure solid performance throughout the entire race.

This depends on a series of events working out, all culminateing in one single corner, because you see, I don’t think this has anything to do with aero. I think Red Bull are running shorter gear ratios in Seb’s car. Let’s discount most of the field from these results, because let’s face it, speed is nothing without grip in the corners, and there is no way Sauber will be able to match the sharp end for grip. With that, we’re looking at three different teams. Namely, McLaren, Ferrari, and Mercedes.

Gap from Ferrari to Vettel: 14.6 kph

Gap to McLaren: ~5 kph

Gap to Mercedes: 11.4 kph

If these figures carried, McLaren would end up with 7.5 kilometer lead by the end of the race.

Now in qualifying this makes a negligible difference for Red Bull. They (and by that I mean Seb) have demonstrated blinding one-lap pace, and still have one of the best EBD systems out there. I think Sebastian’s engineers figured that his chances of taking poll would not be effected by hampered top speed, and chose to shorten his gears.

Now some would say, “But Matt, why ignore the obvious? He’s just running more aero.” Here’s the thing though, there is no way that speed is from aero, unless Red Bull lost all aero sense, or they effed up big.

You see, the ratio of lift to drag (or in our case downforce to drag) must remain constant given a set of perameters. More drag means you need more power to maintain a given speed. In our case, F1 engines have limited power output. So, naturally, more drag means slower top speed. To oversimplify things a lot, this situation would mean Sebastian is running 2.5% more aero than Webbo which, if my math’s right, is the biggest gap between teammates. Now this assumes everyone got a clean run, and there where no external aero effects (which there where). The problem is 2.5% is still a massive difference, and with the car already competitive in the mid-speed corners adding on all that extra drag is not the way to go.

Shortening gear ratios makes sense, but the scenario for them to work is rather complicated. I think Red Bull banked on Seb getting pole. Now he will struggle on the straight, especially when DRS pops, that is certain. But, if he can hold off his competition for the first few laps, Seb may be set to win a race even if he can’t build a gap. Vettel’s acceleration will be better out of Ascari, giving him a slight edge in the initial portion of the straight. If Vettel can defend any attacks, he will get an even better jump out of Parabolica. Once again, his attackers will catch him, but Seb will get a much, much better run out of the chicane. Red Bull’s EBD means they do not need to match competitors’ rear wings to get the same performance, and can stay competitive through the remaining sectors.

Combining the shorter ratios and no aero changes, expect the Red Bull to use less fuel overall and be easier on the tires. This should give Seb room to push if need be, and play safe if he can somehow build a comfortable gap. There is a problem with this though, a massive problem. If Seb get’s passed, it’s over so long as the passing driver keeps his head about him. This is where I expect Seb to fail tomorrow, and why I’m almost sure he will lose. If he cannot keep the lead coming out of the first chicane, or regain it immediately after, he’s cooked. Sure, he’ll have the fuel and tires to turn the wick up, but he’ll still be running with a sizable speed disadvantage to his competition. In essence, Sebastian’s entire race depends on the very first corner, lap after lap. True, mistakes can be made, but the top contenders to pass all have the will to keep it solid.

Hamilton: In need of redemption

Alonso: Mathematically still in this fight

Webber: To show Seb that “Number 2” does not work for him

So there you have it. This may just be some semi-lucid rambling (haven’t slept in a day) or I may be on to something. One thing I didn’t account for originally is DRS, in the sense that I’m counting on the FIA to not make this a push-to-pass event. So long as that happens, expect Vettel to epic fail tomorrow. If I’m wrong, I will cry.

  1. Good catch there! In some hours we will know if you’re right.
    But if your theory with shorter gear ratios is true, the DRS will hurt Vettel even more: Should Vettel pop open the DRS, he would be on the rev limiter pretty fast, right? Others, like the Mercedes could maybe go faster without the DRS, than Vettel would be with the rear wing wiiiide open.
    That would leave him without chances once he loses his lead to fight back and pose a threat to others.
    But again, nobody knows, if you’re right: Wow! If you’re wrong: Cool theory! We’ll see in some hours.

  2. thevillainf1 says:

    It’s evident from the onboard that Vettel is indeed running a much shorter 7th gear than his competitors. He shifts up to 7th way earlier and hits the limiter quite early on. Red Bull have geared Vettel thinking he will lead from Pole like he always does. Remember, last year the Ferrari’s had a 12kph speed advantage over Button, yet he still managed to keep ahead of them all race. Only the pitstops took that win from him. Like you say his corner exit will be crucial lap in lap out. Also, last year didn’t feature DRS of course. I agree that if at any point he loses a spot, he can forget about the win. Safety car could also ruin his day on the restart.

    • Raj says:

      well the race is over the championship is most definitively over vettel didn’t suffer from the safety actually it helped him for the 2nd consecutive race

  3. “If I’m wrong, I will cry”

    Well, did you? 😉

  4. Matt Ruda says:

    No crying from me!
    *yes I did*

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