x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Things are becoming clearer for Red Bull as Vettel takes third in a row

It was an immaculate race in Melbourne, says Red Bull team principal Horner, as his driver continues in the same form as he ended last season.

Sebastian Vettel celebrates on the podium after winning the Australian Grand Prix. Paul Gilham / Getty Images
Sebastian Vettel celebrates on the podium after winning the Australian Grand Prix. Paul Gilham / Getty Images

MELBOURNE // As team principal Christian Horner left his Red Bull Racing paddock last night, the song playing over the hospitality tent's speakers could hardly have proved more appropriate.

"I can see clearly now the rain has gone," sang Johnny Nash.

In Saturday's qualifying session for the Australian Grand Prix, with spitting, sporadic rain and blustery winds, Horner had watched his young charge Sebastian Vettel comfortably claim pole position and teammate Mark Webber take third. And yet, all three men spoke cautiously: Red Bull were, they said, as much in the dark as any of the other 11 race teams in regards to true race pace.

Yes, the car looked fast, and yes, it had shown reliability in testing, but there remained question marks regarding how it would adapt to a race, especially with Pirelli's new quick-wearing tyres.

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They were so concerned in fact, that the decision — "a marginal decision," said Horner — was made to run throughout the weekend without the power-producing, but problematic, kinetic energy recovery system (Kers).

Yesterday, after watching the clouds clear to reveal a brilliant blue sky, Horner observed from the Albert Park pit wall the sport's youngest world champion storming to victory.

Such was 23-year-old Vettel's dominance that Lewis Hamilton, the McLaren-Mercedes driver who finished second, found himself passing the chequered flag 22.297 seconds after the German.

Things became clear: the Red Bull race pace is astonishing and Vettel has developed over the winter break into an even more fearsome driver than the one who secured the drivers' title in Abu Dhabi last year.

"It was an immaculate race from Sebastian," said Horner. "He was absolutely inch-perfect. His drive was very controlled; he showed huge maturity in the way he controlled his pace and dictated the race from the front.

"He has now won three races in a row and his confidence is very, very high. He said to me during the winter that he was determined to come here and take the trophy home, which is exactly what he has done."

Vettel may be confident, but he is not getting cocky.

"I don't like the word 'dominant' at this stage, to be honest - there is a long way to go," he said. "It is the first time I have finished at the Australian Grand Prix, so I am happy. But I don't think it was easy; the start was crucial."

By the end of the first lap, Vettel had extended his lead from 0.8 seconds to 2.4 seconds and the only time he had any concern was after pitting when he returned to the track behind Jenson Button's McLaren.

"After my stop, it was crucial I could get past Jenson. He was on used tyres, but because of the [adjustable rear] wing, I could get really close and then was able to pass him on the outside."

After that, he never looked back.

Webber, however, finishing fifth at his home grand prix for the third time in his career, was understandably disappointed - especially when his teammate's performance in an almost identical car is taken into consideration.

From third on the grid, the 34-year-old failed to pass Hamilton on the first lap, never got close thereafter and eventually finished 38 seconds off the pacesetter, falling behind Vitaly Petrov's Renault and Fernando Alonso's Ferrai in the pit stops as well.

"It was very frustrating," Webber said. "Seb's drove a good race in terms of what the car can do, but it's not normal for me not to go and match the rhythm at the front. I should be able to stay with these guys, but I finished a long way behind."

Horner said the difference in performance between his two drivers would be investigated.

"Usually they have been very closely matched," he said. "That's the biggest gap we've seen between the two of them as far as I can remember, so we need to get the car back and make sure they are both back to business in Malaysia."

Horner also confirmed Kers is likely to make a return to the Red Bull car at the Sepang circuit in two weeks' time.

 

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae