Red Bull Racing has confirmed that a mix-up over tyres at Sebastian Vettel's first pit-stop allowed the young German to continue his remorseless start to the 2001 F1 campaign with a maiden victory in Monaco.
Vettel lost the lead of the race when he pitted for fresh rubber on lap 16 and was then delayed before rejoining. However, despite Jenson Button romping away at the front on Pirelli's supersoft compound, Vettel's second set of tyres proved to be the catalyst for an unlikely victory, with the harder prime alternative having mistakenly been fitted instead another set of the option rubber. That allowed the world champion to continue pounding around at a consistent pace and, when the safety car appeared to cover the clearance of Felipe Massa's Ferrari, regain the lead after Button pitted for a second time.
The Briton, and his McLaren team, naturally assumed that Vettel would have to pit again, and felt that they were in a strong position after closing in on the German after running a third set of supersofts, but the need to fit Pirelli's prime tyre to comply with the rules, and the advent of a second safety car, ensured that the Red Bull was able to remain out front to the chequered flag, claiming a fifth win in six races in the process.
"We had a communication problem with the first stop, which affected both drivers as they were both stopping on the same lap," team principal Christian Horner confirmed, "It delayed Sebastian, but we managed to re-adjust our strategy. We didn't panic and managed to engineer ourselves out of the situation to get him back into the lead.
"He then had an awfully long way to go on the harder tyre, which he made work. He soaked up huge pressure from Fernando [Alonso] and Jenson and then our hearts were in our mouths when the accident happened just in front of him. But he picked his way through that and, with the benefit of the option tyre [fitted during the ensuing red flag interruption], was able to have a bit more comfort in the remaining laps after the re-start. It was a classy drive from Sebastian today and a tremendous team performance to recover from what looked to be a difficult first stop to win the race."
Vettel admitted that he was surprised at the confusion that greeted him as he stopped, but insisted that he never considered the victory to be out of reach.
"I don't know [what happened]," he conceded, "I came in, everything seemed to be okay and I was ready to go out again, [but I] looked at the front right and the wheel wasn't there! Then all the mechanics were rushing to bring the front-right wheel, so I lost probably two or three seconds.
"At that moment, you don't count but surely that cost us the lead at that stage. Jenson had a very good out-lap on a new set of supersofts and, after that, he was pulling away like crazy. I had Fernando behind me and I was able to pull away once I was not in traffic, so we were fighting our way through the cars and Jenson was just ten seconds, 13 seconds, 15 seconds away and I knew that once he is around 19-20 seconds ahead, it would be quite difficult as that's the time you need for one pit-stop.
"Then he came in for another set of supersofts which, to be honest, at that stage was a surprise. The safety car came out and we were back in the lead, but it was quite difficult to stay ahead. It is difficult to pass here, but they had so much more grip out of the exit of the corners. Then he pitted again. Initially, I got the call to box, but I said 'I want to stay out'. The only chance to win the race is to do one stop and I had a good feeling with those tyres.