Vettel happy with ‘damage limitation’
9 September 2013
Having been told that the Monza weekend could be a question of limiting the damage his rivals could inflict on his championship advantage, Sebastian Vettel was naturally delighted to emerge with an enhanced lead after a sixth win of the year.
The Italian Grand Prix has not been the kindest to Red Bull Racing, although the German has won there before, and the Milton Keynes team had expected Ferrari, Lotus and Mercedes to make inroads into their respective championship margins. However, a combination of qualifying problems – for Kimi Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton especially – and surprisingly superior Red Bull performance allowed Vettel to lead from the front.
Although Fernando Alonso battled through to second place, the additional seven points awarded for winning allowed Vettel to push his overall advantage out to 53 – more than equivalent to two race wins - with seven rounds remaining.
“I think [Adrian Newey] was as surprised as we were,” the victor smiled, “On the way up to the podium, he said 'I thought that it was going to be damage limitation this weekend'. I said to him 'well, if damage limitation is like that, I want to have a lot of damage for the rest of the season'…
“It was very unexpected. Already, the pace on Friday surprised us. From a balance point of view, I was very happy with the car, similar to two years ago, and, obviously, we've been very competitive in Canada and very competitive in Spa on medium downforce tracks.
“This one was a little bit unknown. We haven't been the fastest down the straights again, but fast enough, somewhere in the mid-field which is enough to use the strengths that we have through the corners, despite running as little wing as we can afford.”
Ironically, there were two issues that threatened to derail Vettel's run to the flag, starting with a flat-spot that he picked up on the opening lap. Despite concern in the garage, however, Vettel drove around the problem and was able to survive until his scheduled pit-stop.
The second problem was potentially more serious, with the German told to short-shift in higher gears after the telemetry showed a worry development. Both Red Bulls had had gears changed overnight, in accordance with the regulations, but both also ran into trouble at the end of the race, with Mark Webber also told to change his shifting patterns.
“In the end, we finished the race, so it was not a disaster but I think the heartbeat was a bit higher in the car and also at the pitwall because we didn't know what's going on,” Vettel admitted, “Obviously, it was good to have these ten seconds in hand, so I didn't have to push that much and didn't have to squeeze it all out of the tyres even though I stopped a couple of laps earlier than Fernando, but we didn't know how bad the problem was.
“There's not much you can do once you start the car so, in the end, I think we were lucky to have a little bit of a gap, especially towards the end. I don't know what they saw on the pit wall in terms of data, if the problem got worse and worse and worse or stabilised, but obviously I tried to save the car, save the engine and gearbox as much as I can.”
The problem will highlight the oft-used phrase that 'anything can happen', and no doubt helped Vettel to once again dismiss suggestions that the championship is already his.
“I'm trying not to think about it too much,” he insisted, “Obviously, the last two races have been very good for us but, overall this year, I think it's been very close.”