Red Bull and the Gearbox

Like no-balls from a Pakistani cricketer, Sebastian Vettel’s gearbox trouble in Brazil somehow didn’t ring true. Eddie Jordan predicted on Saturday that Vettel would concede to Mark Webber on Sunday. Red Bull’s entreaty on the team radio, “Remember we have a gearbox problem,” sounded like, “Remember what we said about Mark winning, slow down.” The Australian (above) gained an extra point to move one place up the world championship.
No oil in Vettel’s gearbox? Who was ever going to know? Calling on the intercom about feeling like Ayrton Senna in 1991 was a surprise. In 1991 Sebastian Vettel was four. Even the brightest driver (and Vettel is very bright) doesn’t have such recall in the heat and concentration of a grand prix. It sounded like a recent recollection. And although Peter Windsor’s cool analysis in Grand Prix Week that Vettel could (like Windsor’s hero Jim Clark) have been merely adjusting his driving and short-shifting gears, his lap times were so unaffected as to stretch credulity. Except for an uncharacteristic excursion at a late stage he looked perfectly capable of going faster and showed no sign of letting Jenson Button (below) catch him up. David Coulthard conceded that what he called the twitterati were sceptical about Red Bull’s gearbox crisis. Well, he would, wouldn’t he? A paid-up member of the grand prix circus, short of accusing Red Bull of being untruthful, he couldn’t do much else.

There’s nothing wrong in the brilliant bright-eyed Vettel allowing brave, skilled Webber past to go up a notch in the championship, securing his place in next year’s circus, not that there would have been much doubt about that. When Stirling Moss won from Fangio in the first grand prix I was at, (Aintree British in 1955 if you want to know) they were driving for Mercedes-Benz. Fangio had won all season, more or less as he pleased. Moss younger, newer, was content to drive in his shadow.

They were always within yards of one another, demonstrating the supremacy of Mercedes-Benz under team manager Neubauer. At Aintree Moss led quite a lot of the 90 laps but the expectation was that in the end Fangio would, as usual, win. On the last lap Moss slowed after Melling, slowing more after Tatt’s to provide the customary near-dead-heat. But this time Fangio did not quite draw level. Moss won a historic victory. Neither driver ever claimed the result was pre-ordained; certainly Mercedes-Benz wanted to sell more cars in Britain. But in 1955 the solidarity of the grand prix circus was as tight-lipped as ever it is now.

Sebastian Vettel, 2010 and 2011 world champion driver. Pictures National Motorsport Week.
For the record, in 1991 Senna (McLaren) lost fourth gear in the closing stages of the race, then third and fifth. Riccardo Patrese (Williams) was catching him and the gap came down from 20 sec on lap 65 to 3.6 on lap 70, the penultimate. Senna chose to remain in sixth, just as the rain started, and won by less than 3 sec but the strain was too much for the car. He stopped on the slowing-down lap to pick up a Brazilian flag and it would not restart. He was towed in and had to be lifted out of the car, totally spent by the struggle.