Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull Cheating Accusations Are a Storm in a Teacup
He started by stating his respect for Vettel and Red Bull. He said it was "not my intention to devalue Vettel" and that he did not "want to even jab at anyone." He said the entry was simply a reflection of what he saw and heard.
As a former team owner himself, Minardi has seen a variety of regulation changes and (by definition) interpretations of these rules.
To put it another way, he would be well-placed to comment on the issue...if there was an issue to start with.
Minardi raises two key doubts in his blog, and we will start with the first of those.
Doubt 1: Vettel's Sector 3 Mastery
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Through the final sector at Marina Bay, Vettel was mighty. Untouchable, so said his teammate Mark Webber, per Autosport.com. He was also quick where it counted throughout the lap.
From my suite, I chose some mainstays as a reference point in order to monitor and compare the drivers’ way of driving. My mainstays were the kerbstones located on the corner which leads to Republic Boulevard.
Their function is to avoid passing on the kerb. I was impressed by Vettel’s neat way of driving on that stretch of the track. He was able to drive all that stretch without making any corrections, unlike all his rivals (also his teammate). His laptime was also remarkable in T3, which is the track’s sector with the highest concentration of corners.
Red Bull's Advantage
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Red Bull has been excellent in interpreting every key area of the current rules package; from double diffusers in 2009, off-throttle exhaust blowing in 2011, and now maximising the Coanda effect.
Vettel's always been a neat and tidy driver. It stems from his intelligence and understanding of car dynamics. If you're sliding, you're moving sideways slightly, and not moving forward as fast as you could be. His car allows him to be smooth and the German duly obliges.
He was mighty in the crucial final sector—so much so that teammate Mark Webber, despite being quicker than Vettel through the first two-thirds of the lap on his flying effort in qualifying, said he never really expected to be able to take pole.
What about race pace?
Minardi noted: "I think that a 2.5 sec advantage each lap is really too much. It’s like a three-generation- development gap, it’s a huge gap."
Yes, that was a huge pace advantage showed by Vettel after the safety car. However, there are reasons for that, and they don't extend to cheating.
Vettel was told to push when the safety car came in. He also had fresher tyres than his rivals, who were being held up by Nico Rosberg's aerodynamically inefficient Mercedes, which was struggling with rubber in its front wing.
Red Bull and Vettel had a pace advantage in Singapore, but the crushing winning margin was also flattered by a perfect storm of circumstance.
Doubt 2: Traction
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Minardi goes on to say, while raising his second concern:
On the same stretch, Sebastian was able to speed up 50m before any other driver, Webber included. Whilst all the other drivers sped up on the same stretch, Vettel was able to speed up before them. The thing that surprised me the most was the engine’s output sound.
Besides speeding up 50 m before any other driver, the Renault engine of the German’s car grinded like no other French engines on track, neither like Mark’s. That sound was similar to the sound made by the engine when the traction control system got into action in the past seasons. Furthermore, that sound was only heard when Vettel chalked up his excellent performances.
For example, after the safety car went off, he took a great restart and chalked up many excellent laps, gaining a 32 sec. gap over Alonso, then he leveled off, taking precautions in the case he would have had to pit one more time. In those moments the Renault engine was more powerful than any other engines (Renault and other brands).
Vettel's Own Contribution
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Only Minardi really knows what he is hearing from Vettel's car/engine that is different to everyone else. There is a perfectly legitimate technical advantage Red Bull has, which would partially mimic the effect of traction control, but not the sound.
One of Red Bull's biggest assets is its mastery of the exhaust-blown diffuser. Adrian Newey has designed the car (one of three to do so, alongside Lotus and Sauber) so that the exhaust gas exits right onto the rear diffuser. The Coanda effect, as Gary Anderson of BBC Sport explains, ensures they stick to the diffuser and provide more rear downforce.
Of course, since the outlawing of off-throttle exhaust blowing, this can only happen when a driver sticks his right foot down.
Here's where Vettel is fantastically efficient, effective and intelligent in equal measure.
The German gets on the throttle quicker than any other driver (Hamilton condeded there's at least an extra 20 metres of acceleration for Vettel, per BBC Sport), which means he maximises the advantage you get around the 60mph-80mph mark from the Coanda effect. Maximum throttle time means maximum downforce in the acceleration zone.
Vettel knows the advantage he has in his car, but to say Mark Webber does not have the same advantage is foolish. Webber was trounced in 2011 when exhaust blowing was at its peak, and was overshadowed by Vettel in 2012 as Red Bull began to perfect its new system.
The Perfect Pairing
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To put it more simply, the Red Bull/Renault combination has a distinct advantage in this area because it has exploited the rules and understood the process better than any other team, and Vettel uses it better than any other driver.
Has F1 degenerated to the point where we cast aside technical prowess and driver ability as cheating?
Of course not. Minardi, in writing this blog, is offering an avenue for Red Bull's rivals to say "we did a good job, but their tactics were underhand." Note that none of Vettel's rivals raised this concern. They know the job they have done is not good enough.
That's why it is so easy for Vettel and team boss Christian Horner to dismiss the claims as rubbish, and so the final word goes to the soon-to-be four-time world champion:
We are pretty proud of the system and other have to figure out how we have done it. That is part of the homework they have to do.