Will Gray

Tech Talk: Why Vettel burns less rubber

Will Gray

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Sebastian
Vettel made it look easy in India as he clocked up his 11th win of the season --
but in doing so he demonstrated how the fine detail of tyre management has been
the difference at Red Bull this year.

In a
processional race at the new Indian Buddh circuit, strategic thinking and
careful tyre usage played a vital part in some very close battles throughout
the field and resulted in two very different outcomes for Red Bull drivers
Vettel and Mark Webber.

Ahead of
the race, teams were predicting the hard tyre would be slow to warm up and
could be up to two seconds slower than the soft -- pointing towards a strategy
to use the softs for as long as possible without them going off then switch to
the hards late in the race.

Sure
enough, that was the tactic employed by all the front-running teams (Lewis
Hamilton and Felipe Massa only took a different approach because of their mid-race
collision) so success or failure came down to how drivers managed their tyres to
get that little extra bit of performance out of them.

In Vettel's
case, after doing his usual trick of converting pole into an early race lead
and immediately building a big enough gap to keep out of DRS range from the
second-placed driver, he was in the perfect position to manage the race with
the target of maintaining a gap and staying on slightly fresher tyres than the
man behind.

Jenson
Button took second from Webber on lap one then stayed close to Vettel but his
first set of softs lasted one lap less than Vettel's and he had to come in on
lap 18. Vettel's five-second advantage at the time was enough to avoid the
undercut -- where Button would aim to pit first, put in a fast out-lap and take
the lead when Vettel pitted -- and the Red Bull driver came out three seconds
ahead after the opening stops.

Their
second stints both lasted 28 laps and the gap was 4.8 seconds when Button came in for
a second time to change to hard tyres. Vettel pitted one lap later and came out
with a 2.8-second lead, despite the Red Bull being known to suffer more than the
McLaren in warming up the hard tyre. With one lap less running on the hard
tyre, it was then an easy run to the finish for Vettel as Button slowly dropped
away.

Behind the
lead pair, the same delicate tyre situation worked against Australian Webber --
perfectly demonstrating the difference between the Red Bull drivers this year.

Webber was
hard on his tyres at the start, losing out to Button but holding off Fernando
Alonso for third, then worked them hard in the early laps trying to chase down
Button for second. It meant he had to pit for a second set of softs on lap 16,
three laps earlier than team-mate Vettel and on the same lap as Alonso behind
him.

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A Red Bull Formula One mechanic checks air pressures of tyres in front of a Swiss bank UBS sign at the pit lane at the Suzuka circuit
Webber
stayed ahead but in the second stint Alonso put the pressure on, staying close
behind and forcing the Red Bull driver to push hard to stay ahead. As a result,
Webber could only make his soft tyres last 21 laps compared to Alonso's 23
laps.

Just 1.5 seconds
separated the pair when Webber pitted on lap 37 and with those extra two laps
on the soft tyre -- or more importantly Webber's extra two laps on the slow-to-warm-up
hard tyres -- Alonso was able to jump Webber and claim third when he pitted on
lap 39.

Managing
wear has been a problem for Webber on the Pirelli tyres this season and after
the race he admitted: "It's pretty much the general story... I just don't
have the pace at the end of the stints. I run out of tyres and lose the
strategy, so you've got to pit earlier and it makes life a lot harder for you."

The same
tyre story was played out throughout the field, and it also made a crucial
difference in the battle for fifth.

Michael
Schumacher made an impressive start to jump from 11th to eighth (thanks to
saving his KERS until the back straight) and sat just behind team-mate Nico
Rosberg in the opening stint. He made his first stop one lap later than Rosberg
and his second five laps later, allowing him to set lap times of around 1:28.5
compared to Rosberg's 1:29.5 and jump him at the second stop -- taking fifth
and closing the championship gap between them to just five points with two
races to go.

 

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