Christian Horner has played down rumours that Sebastian Vettel
lost a potential victory in the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix
as a result of running low on fuel.
Amid reports that Virgin Racing is going to have to redesign its VR-01 because of an oversight on how much fuel would be needed to complete a race distance at full speed, it has been claimed - by former McLaren
team boss Ron Dennis in particular - that Red Bull's RB6 may have fallen victim to the same problem in Bahrain, causing Vettel to slow his pace in a bid to salvage some points.
The German had led from pole position in the desert, but saw his pace drop in the closing stages, allowing the Ferraris of Fernando Alonso
and Felipe Massa
and Lewis Hamilton's McLaren
through to fill the top three places. Red Bull
later reported that Vettel had suffered a spark plug problem, but that did not stop the conspiracy theories.
"I guess the problem with age is that your hearing tends to fail you a little bit, and perhaps Ron didn't hear the misfire that was there - and probably didn't see the fact that the other car also finished the race without any issues at all," Horner said, "It wasn't anything to do with the size of the fuel tank, it was a spark plug issue and that was it."
Despite his riposte, Horner went on to admit that fuel efficiency was hugely important, especially in 2010 with mid-race refuelling having been banned, and revealed that RBR - like its rivals - were 'pushing the boundaries' in all areas, but teams like Virgin may have been caught out, not only by the changing regulations that accompanied the build-up to its first season in F1, but also by a lack of data.
"There's a formula, which varies from track to track, of power/fuel starting weight and you run the engine in the best form, both strategically and from a lap time perspective," Mercedes GP boss Ross Brawn confirmed, "So you may choose to start with a bit less fuel and run the engine lean for a while, which gives less power, or you may start with a plan to run the engine at the optimum. I think it depends where you've qualified and how you intend to run the race.
"I think all of the top teams, certainly, have had enough knowledge from previous years to be able to judge the size of fuel tank, and none of us have made them any bigger than they need to be. Bahrain is a hard race in that respect; [Australia] is another hard race in that respect, so I think we're all on the limit at these races - which is how it should be.
"The systems are generally sophisticated enough that we shouldn't run out of fuel – it doesn't mean to say we won't, a mistake might be made, but we've got pretty good monitoring of the fuel usage of the car to manage it during the race. You may see or hear on the radio that management is going on, when you're in traffic, when you're held up by another car, you may choose to save some fuel, so that you can run the engine at a more powerful setting when you get a clear track. It's just part of the challenge of F1 now."
"I think the message is that, even if your fuel tank is ample, big enough, which I'm sure it is on most of the cars, you will still run it to the limit, because that's what you have to do in F1," McLaren's Martin Whitmarsh concluded, "We can't carry five or ten kilos of fuel around for the entire race, as we're just giving ourselves a weight penalty, so we will, as the others have said, take some risk to a degree. You will make some assumptions about how a race is going to pan out, you will fuel accordingly and, during the race, you will adjust what you're doing to burn the fuel appropriately. If you've got those calculations wrong, then it's quite difficult."