Vettel’s car fails scrutineering
Where to start. Probably at the end perversely. As reported here on thejudge13, Milton Keynes knew there was a fuel issue some 90 minutes before the stewards decision and expected to have Vettel’s car relegated to the back of the grid.
Admittedly I’ve been to the pub for 4 hours since the FIA announcement, and the journalists were pushing midnight in Abu Dhabi when the official announcement was made. This explains why I can find nowhere the questions I’m about to address, because this is not simply another example of what happened to Hamilton in Barcelona.
Short fueling cars in qualifying is an age old trick when a team is under pressure to deliver an extra 0.1s or so. Lewis qualifying time in Spain was nearly half a second faster than anyone else so under fueling his car was just clearly a mistake and not a necessary strategic decision by the team to gain a very small advantage.
Lewis problem in Bacrelona not the same
Further, with hindsight McLaren made a mistake by stopping Lewis on his in lap for the reason that a 1 litre sample is not necessarily taken from every car. Had Lewis been able to return to the pits, McLaren’s shortage of fuel may not have been discovered.
The penalty for underfunding a car is incredibly severe (many think too much so) as the car is excluded from the qualifying session and has to start at the back of the grid. Red Bull as a highly professional outfit would have examined the issues surrounding McLaren’s misfortune and had contingency planning for a similar scenario affecting one of their drivers.
Unlike Lewis in Barcelona, Red Bull are under pressure this weekend. Interestingly this pressure is not primarily from other teams, but from Vettel’s team mate Webber. He out qualified Sebastian in Korea and was incredibly close to him in India where the team had another front row lock out.
Red Bull need 1/10th of a second for Vettel
Further, Webber has been vocal about not letting Vettel pass him if instructed and that he would race to win in both of the previous rounds of the F1 schedule. It is most likey then that Vettel’s car was indeed marginal on fuel in an attempt to give him a competitive advantage over his team mate Webber as much as over the other teams.
So learning from McLaren’s error it is unlikely knowing they were short on fuel Red Bull would have ordered Vettel to stop and admitted it was a just a mistake. Vettel was short by just 150ml of providing a valid quantity of fuel to the FIA. Had the car been stopped a few hundred metres earlier there would have been the 1 lite required in the car.
According to the FIA statement, Red Bull were able to demonstrate to the FIA that the car was stopped due to a force majeure (they had a better excuse than McLaren) – and would then receive no penalty. It was only because subsequently the car was half a 300ml bottle of mineral water short of fuel that they were penalised.
I submit Red Bull knew they were marginal on fuel and had a pre-prepared valid reason that would convince the stewards this was not deliberate marginal fueling – they just failed to stop the car a few seconds earlier that may have eluded the scrutineers who would have received a 1 litre sample.
Why would Red Bull increse Vettel’s penalty voluntarily?
We now turn to the decision by Red Bull to voluntarily increase the effect of the penalty by quite some margin. They have decided to start Vettel from the pit lane and not the back of the grid and this sets my radar pinging.
The exit of the pit lane in Abu Dhabi involves passing through a tunnel where great care is required and so the time spent on this phase of passing through the pits is disproportionately large when compared to other circuits.
By starting from the pit lane it will be around half a lap by the time Vettel catches the slowest cars starting on the grid. Should he start at the back of the grid, you would expect the Red Bull to make up a number of places before the first corner.
The reason Red Bull have given for making this choice is that by all calculations there should have been enough fuel in the car – but it couldn’t be extracted for scrutineering so they want to take the car from parc ferme and find the leak (blunt interpretation).
Leaky fuel…boom boom…we can all understand that, but if we assume Red Bull know it was just a matter of under fueling, and there is no leak why volunteer for this extra penalty of starting from the pit lane?
Existing FIA investigations into Red Bull
I originally thought that they could gain an advantage by changing the gearing of the car. We regularly hear that if you optimise a car’s gearing for qualifying there is an inevitable negative compromise for the optimal gearing required for the race. As a thejudge13 reader pointed out, gearing is set following FP2 and cannot be changed following Friday night.
The other option is the team want to make an engine change. The theory would be Red Bull had selected an engine to give the best results in Abu Dhabi to get them over the line for the constructors title and increase Vettel’s lead over Alonso. Now they cannot get the maximum benefit from this unit they will save it for Austin and use a ‘lesser engine’.
This is not beyond the bounds of possibility and we know Red Bull have no new engines left for Vettel to use in the last 3 rounds of the season. So this is a very plausible explanation for choosing to start from the pit lane if you prefer not to get into the conspiracy theories I will now outline.
In F1 teams regularly ask the FIA to investigate other teams use of technology to ensure they are complying with the rules. We had the accusations of flexi wings last year on the RB7 and the FIA response was to stiffen the test (pardon the pun) this year to measure flexibility. Other requests result in immediate instructions for remedial action to a team – eg this year Red Bulls engine mapping and alleged adjustable suspension.
The latest Red Bull alleged breaches of rules have been made by Ferrari (its always one team that makes the request to the FIA even if more than one believe there to be evidence of breaches) and they have suggested Red Bull are using banned ballast adjustments by moving ‘essential’ fluids around from tank to tank.
Webber had fluid leak problems on Friday that significantly hampered his time on track and this again has been questioned by other teams in relation to the alleged infringement of the ballast rules.
thejudge13 smells a rat
As thejudge13 reported yesterday, the FIA were requested to clarify the Red Bull procedure where they change the fluid levels of two tanks between qualifying and the race – something no other team is doing. A Ferrari spokesman said, “It seems that this is one of the tricks (Adrian) Newey has used to improve the car,”
Of course carrying additional fluid is a weight penalty, but if the balance of the car is significantly improved the time loss from extra weight would be more than countered by the improvements in car balance.
So it could be that Red Bull need time with Vettel’s car to resolve any matters we are presently unaware of that relate to their alleged clever fluid balancing solutions to avoid FIA scrutineering at the end of the race?
Even if there was sufficient fuel in the bladder, it may not have been in the the tank itself. I have heard tonight that there is a possibility that the fuel is in the car trapped behind a baffle designed to optimize weight distribution, so that the car is not gaining an advantage by being lighter, but is gaining one from fluid weight distribution. If this is the case, Red Bull have been caught out by a rule that takes fuel samples from the fuel tank inlet rather than from the outlet where the engine gets it from.
Yes before you comment it is a conspiracy theory, but opting to start from the pit lane is an extreme voluntary penalty to take.
As I said, if as Red Bull say there is a genuine problem with fuel leakage then a possible boom boom scenario would be more than enough reason to penalise their lead driver further with a pit lane start. If however, they misled the stewards and got caught then there is definitely more to this than meets the eye. thejudge13 smells a rat.