Red Bull Racing team boss Christian Horner has praised Sebastian Vettel for bringing home valuable points from the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix, even though a potential victory went begging.
Vettel claimed pole position for the Sakhir event, and appeared headed for the top step of the podium before being hobbled by an engine problem in the late stages, but Horner admitted that the team had feared the German going home empty-handed. Vettel eventually massaged 'Luscious Liz' to fourth place, keeping Mercedes' Nico Rosberg at bay to the flag.
"Sebastian immediately radioed in that he had had a big loss of power, and the first time he came past [the pits], it was obvious that there was something wrong," Horner recalled, "I think that anybody who was anywhere near the circuit could hear that the engine was not running smoothly.
"Our first diagnostic was that the exhaust had failed as, to all intents and purposes, that's what it sounded like. He was playing around with some of the mixtures available to him in the cockpit and trying to adapt his driving style [but], at that stage, we thought that, not only had a race victory been lost, but that he was unlikely to score any points.
"But he adapted brilliantly well and managed to limit the damage and come home in fourth place, which was a big effort and very impressive drive from him given the circumstances.
"On further investigation, the problem was a spark plug that had failed. It is one of those things. [We've] not seen one like it before, certainly not in a Red Bull car, and Renault have been unable to fully explain the reasoning behind it. It looks like just one of those rogues which unfortunately struck at just the wrong time."
Neither engine partner Renault or spark plug supplier Champion have accepted responsibility for the failure, however, with the French concern's spokesman, Bradley Lord, telling Cologne's Express
that 'the spark plug problem was the symptom, not the cause', and engineering boss Rob White claiming that the problem, a chip in the ceramic element of the plug, 'happens very rarely, maybe once every ten years'.