x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Monza does some damage on Red Bulls

If Christian Horner, the Red Bull-Racing sporting director, never hears the phrase "damage limitation" again it will probably be too soon.

MONZA, ITALY // If Christian Horner, the Red Bull-Racing sporting director, never hears the phrase "damage limitation" again it will probably be too soon. It was a campaign slogan for his team throughout the Italian Grand Prix weekend. "When we analysed all the circuits at the start of the campaign," he said, "we knew this was likely to be our weakest because it has lots of long straights, where we aren't so good, and not many corners, where we are." When Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel qualified fourth and sixth, the team felt it had exceeded its own expectations. But the optimism of Saturday evening wilted within moments of the start.

There is a long run to the first corner at Monza and both drivers were swamped by the cars behind. They immediately lost a couple of places, and Webber then slipped to ninth after putting a couple of wheels on the dirt at Turn 5. He swiftly passed Michael Schumacher's Mercedes GP and then sat behind Vettel until lap 20, when the German radioed in to report a loss of power. Webber breezed ahead and triggered all manner of conspiracy theories about unspoken team orders, but Red Bull thought Vettel's race might be over.

"When the power goes like that it usually means the engine is on its way out but the problem cleared within a couple of laps," Horner said. "At first we thought one of his visor tear-offs might have flown into the air-box, but it now looks as though his brakes were momentarily binding, probably as the result of hitting a kerb." Once Webber was ahead, the team put him on a conventional strategy - although he spent much of the race's second half behind Nico Hulkenberg (Williams-Cosworth). The German bypassed the first chicane on three separate occasions in his bid to stay ahead but Hulkenberg was not penalised and the Australian was unable to pass until the 50th of 53 laps. Vettel, meanwhile, stayed out on his original set of soft tyres. "We originally planned to change on lap 14 or 15," Horner said, "but the tyres seemed to be holding up so we kept him out."

Shuffled up to fourth by others' pit stops, Vettel needed to build a 23-second lead over fifth-placed Nico Rosberg, and finally pitted at the end of the penultimate lap. Red Bull pulled off their fastest tyre change of the year and Vettel was able to rejoin with fourth place intact. "The tyres were pretty much shot by the end," Vettel said. "When I went back out on a new set it felt as though I was floating. I'd forgotten what it was like to have grip." sports@thenational.ae