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Why Did Sebastian Vettel Drop Off the Pace?

Red Bull looked dominant in free practice and qualifying for the Australian GP, but come race day Sebastian Vettel failed to translate pole into victory.
Tuesday, March 19, 2013

March 19th, 2013 (F1plus/J. Leslie).- The German looked strong in dry conditions, but as the race wore on he dropped back and ended up a distant 22 seconds off eventual race winner Kimi Raikkonen, with Fernando Alonso’s second placed Ferrari 10 seconds up the road too.

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Vettel said was happy with the “naked pace” of his Red Bull RB9 but admitted tyre degradation was one of the main issues.

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The Italian firm brought the super-soft and medium compounds to Australia. Cooler temperatures meant tyre degradation was less than first feared during winter testing but the triple world champion suffered more than immediate rivals Raikkonen and Alonso.

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He said "I think the pace was there, the naked pace, qualifying was pretty good for us, and the first two laps of the race were pretty good too. The first two laps on each set of tyres felt pretty good but, obviously, after that, we couldn't keep it up and the times set (by) Fernando, and Kimi (Raikkonen) especially, were quite impressive considering the amount of laps on the tyres. We couldn't do that and that's why, I think, we lost out a little bit today."

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He eventually finished third, losing two places over the 58 lap race. Lewis Hamilton has previously mentioned "no driver likes going backwards" from their grid position and Vettel certainly felt that way after the race.

Raikkonen managed to make a two stop strategy work and prove that the Enstone based team is easy on their tyres. Vettel said he was unsure how the Lotus team would fit in and who would suffer the most with the tyre problems.

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He said “I think, in winter testing, everybody had trouble making the tyres last, it seemed to be very inconsistent in Barcelona, very dependent on the day you were running, dependent on the conditions. I think we ended up today with similar conditions, but it’s a completely different track. I think the amount of laps covered today were not even out of sight, they were out of thought, I think, in Barcelona – for everyone.

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“I think, however, there has been a certain trend if you look at Lotus last year, looking after the tyres. If you remember, in a couple of key races such as Montreal, they seemed to be the only team to make a one-stop (strategy) possible, whereas I think Fernando and myself struggled and had to pit again.”

The three-time world champion also admitted that he was stuck in traffic on a number of occasions which didn’t help his cause. “You can argue that the traffic didn’t help, especially because you start to slide around even more and then lose more of the tyres, and we struggled with that today. But I’m not blaming anything or anyone because there are plenty of laps in the race where you can make it up again. P3 I think was the best we could get today.”

Comments about the RB9′s strong point in the downforce area caused the question of whether the higher amounts of downforce created the tyre struggled. Vettel commented saying “At the end of the day, there were times when we had plenty of downforce compared to other people, but I think these times are over, not just this year but way before that,” he explained, “I think we are still very competitive, but I think there’s a lot more to it than just the raw downforce level. You could argue that, with more downforce, you go faster, you’re asking more of the tyres, all of those things, but I think overall there’s a certain trend where some cars seem to work pretty well in some conditions.

"As Kimi touched on today, he was struggling with front tyres; I think for us it was more evened out. We had both axles running away from us. I’m not sure about the Ferrari’s but, looking at their tyres during running; it looked pretty similar to us, especially at the end of the stints.

“Then again, every day can be a bit different. I think you need to be very careful to find a real trend, but I think there have been a lot of races where we have been looking after the tyres pretty well and they will come again. For sure, today we were a little bit behind, but next week is another race and completely different conditions, so we will see what happens there.”

It’s safe to say Red Bull did not have the weekend that many predicted after free practice, but with 18 races still to go and the additional help of a big budget, Adrian Newey has both the time and money to solve the current issues.

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1 Lewis Hamilton 241
2 Nico Rosberg 238
3 Daniel Ricciardo 181
4 Fernando Alonso 131
5 Sebastian Vettel 124
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