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Pre-Spain analysis - chassis switch to boost Vettel?

09 May 2014

In the old days of aluminium chassis it was common to see drivers asking for a new monocoque because a race-worn one had twisted or stretched its rivets and begun to lose its vital torsional rigidity. In the age of the super-stiff carbon fibre tubs that has become less familiar, though last year Lewis Hamilton received a new one for the US Grand Prix in Austin after it was discovered that his Mercedes’ chassis in India had sustained damage. The change was a clear boost to his performance in Texas after what had seemed a lacklustre run at the Buddh International Circuit had yielded only sixth place as team mate Nico Rosberg finished second.

Now, as Sebastian Vettel receives a new chassis after only four races, he and Red Bull seem to be slightly at variance as to why that change has been made.

In an apparent effort to play down the situation in which the German is believed to have insisted on it, chief designer Rob Marshall suggested it was a routine decision.

"Sebastian will get a new chassis for Barcelona, which was scheduled at the start of the season and then the next one will be for Dan at some time around Silverstone," he said.

"Drivers don't always want to change them - they can get attached to a particular chassis and when they are on a good run they like to hang on to it for as long as possible!

"From our point of view we'd rather give them one or two new chassis during the season that we have been able to check out in the factory using various testing methods."

However, in Thursday’s official press conference Vettel admitted that the switch was partly for his peace of mind.

“I think we concluded after China, where we were quite a little bit behind, to change the chassis,” he said. “Actually it’s not a new chassis, it’s an old one that we used in testing in the winter, and we have some experience with it. We don’t think that there was anything wrong with the old chassis but nevertheless we decided to change, so if so we should get an answer this weekend.

“It’s more a sanity check rather than a real problem with the other chassis. So it’s just to try everything we can and basically reset and start again. Obviously there is still a lot of work ahead of us, as I mentioned after the first couple of races, and maybe I’m not as happy as I want to be but it’s a long process, a lot of things have changed and I think we need to be patient.”

Asked to explain what it was that he was uncomfortable with in general on the new RB10, the four-time champion added: “I think generally we all have our own style to how we like to drive the car, how to set up the car. I think in general I don’t mind when the rear’s moving so I don’t mind having oversteer. But if it is too much obviously if it starts to bother you when the car slides too much, then you find yourself correcting more than actually being able to push or get the maximum out of the car. And, yeah, it slows you down. I think that has been part of the problem so far.

“There’s lots of reasons behind it so it would be nice to have just one problem and one fix for that but obviously it got a lot more complex this year. There’s a lot more factors than just the car set-up. So yeah, we’re still learning a lot. We did already a lot of improvement but there’s still obviously a lot to do. But I think generally you never change the way you like to drive a car, your style I think doesn’t change.

“I think we are generally quite good in getting the maximum out of the car. At the moment there’s a couple of things that we need to get on top of and then it should be a different story.”

He also went into more detail about Red Bull’s well documented straight-line speed problems, which Renault hope to cure this weekend.

“If you look at the sector times we currently lose out too much on the straights - but there’s always hope, obviously. Again, you have to look at it from the start. Where we started in winter testing was unfortunately way, way off compared to where we wanted to be. Talking about the car, we set fire to the car nearly every run. Talking about the engine, obviously we were not on the same page that we expected to be, both in terms of reliability and performance. So, since that, I think we had a very, very strong comeback but obviously you miss that time of development. But I think there’s always hope. Just look at Ferrari, for example, the last race, the step that they did was mostly in straight line. I think they got a better fuel and picked up around 7 km/h on the straights. So… we know that our disadvantage is more than 7 km/h to the Mercedes which are currently the benchmark down the straights, but things can change quickly. We need to make sure we push 100 percent on the car and also on the engine side. In the end we are a team: Renault and Red Bull Racing, so both parties know that we need to push very hard to make sure that we beat these guys and also the currently strongest team with Mercedes.”

Team boss Christian Horner has made it clear that Red Bull have come here to win, and that they must do that to retain a realistic chance of challenging Mercedes for the title this season.

David Tremayne