Sebastian Vettel says a 'combination' of factors are at the root of 2014 struggles
World Champ explains reasons behind his slide in exclusive Sky F1 interview; Vettel admits he's had enough time to adapt now but "very confident that we’re getting there"; Jokes "next week maybe Mercedes?" after latest round of silly season links him to Ferrari
By James Galloway
Last Updated: 19/09/14 5:09pm
Sebastian Vettel has elaborated on the reasons behind his struggle to adapt to F1’s new-for-2014 hybrid cars, with the German insisting his problems haven’t been solely caused by the ending of the exhaust-blowing effect.
The quadruple World Champion’s fall from the top of the pecking order both at Red Bull team and in F1 as a whole has proved one of the most scrutinised stories of the season, the 39-time grand prix winner having yet to win a race whereas new team-mate Daniel Ricciardo has triumphed on three occasions.
Speaking to Sky Sports F1’s Martin Brundle ahead of the channel’s exclusively live coverage of the Singapore GP this weekend, Vettel, while pointing out that his season had hardly been without mechanical setbacks, admitted he was still working towards being able to extract the full performance from Red Bull’s RB10.
“First of all we didn’t have the smoothest season so far, we had a lot of issues. But other than that I’m not yet where I want to be in terms of manipulating the car in the way I want to in terms of confidence and being able to just make it stick and believing it’s there,” the 27-year-old explained.
“It’s a good mix of that. Obviously the cars have changed a lot, you had to adapt, which I think for a racing driver is not unusual, but it seems we’re just not yet able to extract that extra bit of performance that we’ve been able to extract the years before.
“That’s nothing new. I’ve had enough time by now with the new generation of cars and I’m not blaming it on that. There’s still obviously some bits that I think we can do better. On the other hand the season has been quite compromised if you look at the raw results and the pace we had, it’s not always that fair. But that’s how it is sometimes.”
The most widely-cited reason for Vettel’s malaise, particularly relative to the previously unproven Ricciardo, has been the reductions in rear downforce created by the new regulations. The German was considered a master of the now-outlawed blown-diffuser effect and able to derive a significant lap-time advantage form his manipulation of the technology.
However, the World Champion says his drop in performance can’t be put down to one single factor – and his side of the garage are closing in on a decisive breakthrough.
“It’s a combination of things. It’s not saying ‘okay, we lost downforce, we lost blown exhaust’ it’s not that, it’s a combination of things,” Vettel insisted.
“The tyres are worse this year, they’re just a step harder, the cars have less grip. The way nowadays power unit and its components work with each other. There’s a lot of stuff going on in the background which could be just stupid to explain to people because that’s not what they want to hear – they want to see us driving and racing.
“But there are small things that have an impact and it’s all that together which I think we are still learning a lot. But the progress we’ve made makes me very confident that we’re getting there.
Vettel’s best results so far in 2014 are a pair of third places – the most recent of which was seven races ago – and the 60-point margin he trails Ricciardo by in the standings means the German is in acute danger of being outpointed by a team-mate over a season for the first time eight-year F1 career.
If the World Champion is to maintain his 100 per cent career record over the season’s final six races then it’s imperative he starts finishing ahead of the sister car on race day – a feat Vettel has, incredibly, only managed once all year when both Red Bulls have made the chequered flag.
“In qualifying and speed we are getting back to where we’ve been, we are making progress, whereas at the beginning of the year we were sort of struggling,” Vettel said, having outqualified Ricciardo in five of the last seven events to close to within one score of his stable-mate in their Saturday head-to-head.
“In the race it didn’t come together yet when there was things to benefit from, obviously he was in a strong position. He drove good races as well with all the respect to him and he deserved to win those races. In Hungary and Canada it was quite close in terms of how the race evolved, in Spa he was clearly quicker and he deserved to win. I didn’t have the speed, I was not able to look after the tyres the way I wanted. I just wasn’t as quick as he was – full stop.
“Why? I think we’ve been working on that all season and we’ve been working on that after Spa especially and, yes, we’ve made some progress but you’d want to find this one solution that solves all your problems but there are a lot of things, a lot of small steps you have to take.”
Such has been the scale of Vettel’s problems and Ricciardo's rise in 2014 that it has even been suggested in some quarters that he may seek a move away from Red Bull, the company which have supported him since he was a junior driver.
Although the German’s contract runs to the end of next season, wild speculation in recent weeks has claimed he could engage in a blockbuster ‘seat swap’ with Ferrari rival Fernando Alonso as early as this winter.
But, asked again whether he was staying at Red Bull, Vettel gave the wryest of responses: "Last week I was going to McLaren, so I don’t know, next week maybe Mercedes?”
The 2014 Singapore GP is live only on Sky Sports F1 this weekend. Our race-day coverage begins at 11.30am on Sunday with lights out at Marina Bay at 1pm.