Despite lapping a lowly 16th-fastest during practice for this weekend's European Grand Prix when his Red Bull Racing RB7 was experimentally kitted out with its new post-Silverstone specification exhaust system, Sebastian Vettel remains confident the current runaway F1 2011 World Championship leaders 'have nothing to be afraid of'.
There has been much talk in the paddock of late about the FIA's impending ban on the employment of engine-mapping to operate blown-diffusers – sending a full blast of exhaust gases into the diffuser when the driver is off the throttle in corners – with the general consensus that the move will hurt Red Bull more than most, particularly in qualifying trim.
Both team principal Christian Horner and the energy drinks-backed outfit's motorsport advisor Dr. Helmut Marko have point-blank dismissed such a notion [see separate story – click here
], but Vettel's poor pace in FP1 in Valencia today – a gaping 2.5 seconds shy of the leading pace, set by his team-mate Mark Webber – has set tongues wagging once more. The young German insists he is not unduly concerned.
“To be honest, I can understand that this is news to everyone, and everyone wants to get some information,” the 23-year-old is quoted as having said by SPEED.com
. “I can only say that it will affect everyone when the rules change, but I don't see us suffering more than other people, to be honest. Maybe we will be surprised, maybe not. [From] what I can judge now, I think we have nothing to be afraid of.
“Sometimes you try different things, which is normal on a Friday – there were no secrets from us today. If you're not in the top five or the top ten, clearly you're running a different programme from the others, so that was this morning. In the afternoon, we were [on] more-or-less on the same page as the others. As you've seen, it's very tight, but I had a good feeling in the car, to be honest. It was much better than in the morning.
“It is a Friday, and it's always difficult to see what other people are doing. The important thing is we are there-or-thereabouts. Last year, obviously, we had a very good race, but there were a couple of people – Lewis [Hamilton] and Fernando [Alonso] in particular – who were very close to us. The race unfolded a bit differently, though, so we had a nice time at the front.
“It changes circuit-by-circuit – you can't really say that's Team A, Team B, Team C. Sometimes the gaps are bigger, sometimes they are much closer. I give you the perfect example – we go to Australia, we are quite a bit quicker than the rest, we come to Malaysia and we really had to push hard to qualify on pole. That's two weeks; nothing was changed on the cars – it was just a different track. That's how it goes. We'll see what we can do tomorrow.”
Vettel wound up third-quickest at the close of play on day one in Spain, three tenths of a second adrift of pace-setter Fernando Alonso and a similar margin in front of Webber, who slipped back from first to seventh in the afternoon.
“We used the medium tyres in the first session and they weren't too bad,” reported the 34-year-old Aussie. “The first session went okay; there were a lot of different people testing a lot of different things with different fuel loads. In FP2, it was more straightforward; we had a slow start and then went out on the 'Option' tyre. The long run went well, and we got lots of information for the race on Sunday. The track temperatures are likely to be different on Sunday, but it's still useful.”