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Chinese Grand Prix 2013: Red Bull pins hopes on tyre tactics
13 April 2013
Sebastian Vettel starting from ninth place and Mark Webber beginning his F1 Grand Prix of China from the back of the grid was very much not in the game plan that Red Bull had in mind for Sunday's race at the Shanghai International Circuit.
"We saw that some people are very fast, especially the Mercedes and the Ferrari," Vettel admitted afterwards. "Q2 wasn't too bad, we were able to split the Ferraris; they have looked very competitive on the softs, not so much on the hards. We decided to go in a different direction. Whether it works or not, we will see tomorrow."
"A frustrating qualifying session for the team," admitted Red Bull team manager Christian Horner. However, he was confident all is not lost and that the team's strategy to put Vettel on the prime medium compound tyres would pay off when the lights went out.
"As we've seen this weekend the soft tyre has had very good one lap performance, but very limited durability so we took a tactical decision in Q3 to run the harder tyre," explained Horner. "That means Sebastian will have freedom of choice to start on a new set of tyres for tomorrow's race, which should be very interesting due to the different strategies involved."
Even so, Vettel should have been at least one place higher up the grid than he was, before locking his brakes into turn 14 on his only fast run in Q3. Instead, McLaren's Jenson Button will start ahead of him, also on the harder tyre - and Button was tipping Vettel for success come the race.
"We have a very fast car next to us. He is starting just behind me on slightly newer tyres," said Button after qualifying. "He is the guy who is really going to challenge at the front for the win."
Vettel was certainly hoping that his fellow former world champion was right in that prediction.
"We're obviously on a different strategy to the cars in front, whether that works or not we will see tomorrow, but I'm confident we did the right thing based on the facts we have," said Vettel. "We have the advantage of choosing the tyres for tomorrow, so we'll see."
Like everyone else, Vettel had been struck by the impact of tyre strategies on the qualifying session, which left teams jealously husbanding their tyre stock and only sending out their drivers for a qualifying lap at the last minute.
"It was a different approach to normal in today's qualifying and it all came down to the last few minutes for everyone," he said. "It was very silent and then everyone left in a queue to start the lap at the same time – but not a problem.," he added.
However he fares on Sunday, Vettel certainly can't rely on any assistance from his team mate - after Mark Webber was sent to the back of the grid for running out of fuel midway through Q2.
"It's very disappointing," said Webber. "Q1 went okay; I was comfortable with the car and we had a good plan for the rest of the session. In Q2 we lost fuel pressure so I had to turn the car off and couldn't get it back to the pits - I had to stop on the circuit, so qualifying was over before it started really."
After provisionally looking set to start from 14th place on the grid, the fact that his RB9 couldn't cough up the mandatory one litre sample for FIA officials to test after the session concluded meant that he was in breach of the rules and sent to the back of the grid for the start of Sunday's race - just as happened with Vettel at Abu Dhabi last year.
"It's a shame as he would obviously have made Q3 today," said Horner. "Unfortunately in Q2 the amount of fuel that was required to be put into the car from the fuel rig was not fully delivered," he added.
"This was due to an error with the fuel bowser that meant it under delivered 3kg of fuel, therefore on Mark's in-lap we saw large drop outs in the fuel tank collector and the car unfortunately ran dry of fuel," he continued, calling the situation "obviously frustrating" for both the team and the driver. "The fuel bowser has been immediately quarantined for further investigation," he said.
"We need a bit of luck now," Webber admitted. "It's not the optimum starting position, but we still have to try to get something from there."