Red Bull face Vettel engine dilemma

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Unlucky Vettel had two engine failures in Valencia

Sebastian Vettel is set to become the first victim of F1’s new engine penalty rules.

With six races left to run, only two of the eight units he started with are unused. As engines rarely complete more than two races, and his remaining Renaults will have to cope with the high-revving challenges of Spa and Monza, he looks certain to need a ninth.

That will bring a ten-place grid penalty the first time it is used. How should Red Bull handle the problem? And does this rule punish drivers unfairly?

Plan A: Turn the wick down

Red Bull have two options.

The first is the conservative choice. They can try to make both his remaining engines last for three races.

That would mean reducing his Friday and Saturday practice running, or using one of his tired old engines for it. Additionally, they could transfer the majority of the practice workload onto Mark Webber’s car.

In the races he may need to reduce revs more aggressively than usual to prolong engine life. It would be wise to use different engines for Spa and Monza (although the predicted rain at Spa could reduce the strain on the engine he uses there).

There are two problems with this approach. First, there is no guarantee it will work. Second, it will compromise his championship chances, which are already severely damaged after two consecutive DNFs.

Plan B: Deal with it

Red Bull’s other option is to accept they are doomed to get an engine penalty, and carry on regardless.

This looks like the better bet to me. First, it allows them to practice and race as per normal.

Assuming they use two engines over the next four races, they will have to use the ninth at the Brazilian Grand Prix. That will give Vettel a ten-place grid penalty.

There are many worse circuits to take such a penalty than Interlagos. Its long, uphill drag to the first turn, and the sequence of corners that follow it, provide an excellent opportunity for overtaking.

Yes, he would be vulnerable should he have another engine failure. But he’s 25 points behind Button, and he’s not going to get that back by being conservative.

A fair rule?

The wider question here is whether the engine penalty rule is fair. Here’s what the relevant part of the sporting regulations says:

28.4 a) Each driver may use no more than eight engines during a Championship season. Should a driver use more than eight engines he will drop ten places on the starting grid at the first Event during which each additional engine is used.

Exactly the same clause is present in the 2010 F1 rules. But should drivers get penalties for mechanical failures which, by and large, they are not responsible for?

I don’t think they should – but it’s hard to see how else teams can be forced to limit the number of engines they use per season.

Perhaps teams could be docked constructors’ championship points for using extra engines. But how long would it take for one team to decide that the constructors’ title isn’t that important anyway, and give their drivers all the engines they need to win that championship?

How do you think Red Bull should handle Vettel’s engine situation? And does the rule need changing? Leave a comment below.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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78 comments on “Red Bull face Vettel engine dilemma”

  1. There’s indeed a double dilemma in this: (a) what should Red Bull Racing do to limit the amount of risk for S. Vettel, and (b) is the 8-engine rule fair? Regarding (a) I’d say try to run in as normal a mode as possible, but limit the usage of the 2 remaining race engines by utilising the already used engines in Friday practice. Regadering (b) I, like you, am not sure if there’s an other way.

    However, if a team, per your suggestion, decides to use all the engines they need to make sure a driver takes the WDC, they limit themselves not only in the WCC race, but also in the financial benefits that a higher position in the WCC standings brings with it.

  2. This rule is designed as a cost-cutting exercise, and as it applies to all teams it is basically fair, most importantly for me is that it puts great emphasis on the engine builders to get it right, and as the same random elements could cause a failure in any engine on the grid, which can cause a hiccup for any team, this will please somebody, somewhere….

  3. Go for broke the next two. If he gains a ton on the Brawns/Webber, then you make your decision. A ten grid penalty wont mean much if he is 40 pts back with a couple races to go.

    How high in the standings can Hamilton climb?

  4. I think the rule is fair.

    In practice, they don’t run flat out so it makes no sense in using a new engine, so they should make it a regular thing to use the older engines earmarked for practice. i think they already do that.

    however there are 17 races this year which means one of the 8 engines should run 3 races (aha i know how to calculate). Vettel is in a fix, but if they go conservative on practice, and full out in quali and race, i think they can pull it off, of course provided that Renault gets it’s act together and stops making engines that blow up….

  5. It has to be Plan B.
    Vettel needs to score an average of 4 points more than Jensen in each race. Therefore even if Jensen continues in his present vein, Seb needs to be on the podium for at least 5 races.

  6. With 8 engines for 17 races one of the engines MUST survive three for any team. If you look here third Alonso’s engine, which is Renault, got 2200 km. So with limited practice (20 laps*3) plus qualyfying (15) plus race (say, 60) Vettel would get 750 km per week-end and can theoretically last three GP. Even without the other two used engins which can be used for practice. The other question is why he is so prone to engine falures.

    1. cos he’s ‘an engine killer!!!!’ LOL

    2. spanky the wonder monkey
      25th August 2009, 8:03

      8 engines for 17 races – that was the first thing that crossed my mind. do we know how many engines each team / driver have already used and how this fits in with projections for the rest of the season?

      1. We should have a fairly good idea because the FIA usually remembers to post the Technical Report, which says when each driver uses a new engine. The Eurpoean GP one is up, but the Belgian media centre will be there soon, so you’ll need to download it quick.

        1. The aforementioned Technical Report is particularly helpful because it starts with an accurate list of how many engines each driver had used up to the eve of the European Grand Prix.

          The short version is that the least number of engines used at that point is 4 (the Squadra Toro Rossos) and the most is 6 (Robert Kubica). Everyone else, at that stage, had used 5.

          Since then, the Toyotas, Williamses, Force Indias and Button voluntarily changed to a fresh engine while Vettel had two engines blow up.

          As a result, everyone has now used at least 5 engines. The ones who have used more are:

          Kubica (6)
          The Toyota drivers (both 6)
          Vettel (6, and likely to become 7 next race)
          Both Williams drivers (both 6)
          Both Force India drivers (both 6)
          Button (6)

          What this doesn’t reveal is how many of each driver’s used engines are still intact. Some of them could theoretically use all their old engines (e.g. the Toyota duo), while others can’t (Sutil’s lost one engine, I think Nakajima has and both Kubica and Vettel have lost several engines apiece).

  7. If I were managing Vettel’s race I’d

    1. during practice sessions, I’d run only the most imp agenda for Vettel,and any trials with setup to Webber, making informed judgments w.r.t the track
    2. quali – least number of trials, full motivation and extra push for Vettel’s team,
    3. Race – all out, let the driver decide to fight for his points by the way he wants to,
    4. in case engine fails, extra engine/old engine – if the track is slow take the old, or fast tracks – new one, ask Vettel to give his fullest in that race, maybe Interlagos or abu dhabi – but fight till the end!!

  8. Max should resign now!!!
    25th August 2009, 8:03

    I think it’s time for Red Bull to put all the money on Webber. I remember reading an article that said that Toro Rosso were using old Ferrari engines and that they were doing that to test the reliability among other things, the funny thing is that they said that the power decreased a lot after X kms (can’t remember the exact figure arrrgh!). So maybe even if he tries to be cool with the remaining engines he won’t have the pace to win races or to shorten the points gap he has with Button.

    And also to answer the final question, I agree with you Keith the rule seems pretty unfair but also it hurts us fans because we might be denied to see some kick ass racing! But rules are rules and they0ve all signed on to this so well, that’s pretty much it really.

    1. Max should resign now!!!
      25th August 2009, 8:09

      ok, I’ve found the link:

      It wasn’t like I said they didn’t say how much the power went down they just said “After 1400 kilometres, the power diminishes dramatically,”

      1. Yes they do drop power but everybody has the same issue so timing and strategy as to when to use a new engine adds to the mystery.
        If everybody ended up in Brazil with an engine with 1400 km on it and a typical race weekend adds 750km as has been suggested and engines will survive to 2200 km then it behooves the teams to figure out the revs and abuse it can stand and adjust accordingly. It is after all a team sport.

  9. I think Red Bull should just carry on as they are, if they manage to get the points margin over Button they require in the next couple of races, a ten place grid penalty may not matter that much later on, and might be counteracted by a light fuel load or two anyway.
    On the whole, I think the penalty is fair, it probably has made the engine manufacturers more concious of engine longevity, although I don’t think the engines in the Renault cars blow up as often – are they giving B Specs to Red Bull?

  10. I don’t think that the rule is unfair to the driver; after all, the driver has the option of turning the wick down a bit or up/downshifting a few revs earlier. Some driver’s are naturally hard on engines (Vettel?), some are hard on tyres (Hamilton?), some are plain unlucky. The same rule affects them all so the playing field is level and requires all of them to look after their engines/gearboxes/tyres.

  11. spanky the wonder monkey
    25th August 2009, 8:12

    re the rule….. currently it means that each engine has to last for 2.125 races, or each engine does 2 races with at least one of them doing 3 races. if an engines lifespan is only 2 races then this forces engine manufacturers to make more durable units.

    what troubles me is that there is no leeway for out & out failures. they could introduce a ‘free’ engine swap-out that can be used should one of the motors fail DURING a race (not quali or practice). that way we wouldn’t see teams substituting poor engines for practice to intentionally get them to blow. if the failure occurs during a race, the team get a DNF so have already suffered a far worse penalty than 10 grid places.

    1. I think this idea is a good one. Its fair IMO…much better than the situation we have now.

  12. If it is going to rain in the race at Spa almost certainly, then they could use his 7th engine on friday, his 8th on saturday practice and his 9th for qualifying. A 10 place grid drop on a wet track with one of the best wet weather drivers behind the wheel of the best wet weather car on the grid would almost totally nullify the penalty.

    Of course, it’s a bit of a risk, but taking risks is the way he’ll have to go if he wants to win this years championship.

    1. Is this even possible? as of the rule I think that it is fair as teams must show some long-term thinking ahead and strategically planing. If I’m not mistaken last year drivers used the same engine on purpose for longer then 2 races so they don’t have to use the same engine on Spa and Monza.
      Can they actually swap engines from race to race? For example use same engine on 3 street tracks? I think they should continue as planed but if possible use older engines on Friday practices and new ones on saturday practice session (as it is shortest) and of course quallifying and race.
      Vettel should charge as usual and then back Webber in his charge if grid penalties affect him too much.

      1. I can’t think why DanThorn’s solution wouldn’t be possible. There may be technical reasons why it’s undesirable, I guess. But looks like an interesting piece of lateral thinking to me.

        1. It increases the issue of installation errors, which have been hinted at as part of the problem with the previous failures. I can’t see that many changes over a weekend lending itself to the teams schedule or the car set-up. Nice thinking though DanThorn, it may work with just one engine left if it gives them an option but I can’t see them going to the trouble of 3 changes.

  13. But how long would it take for one team to decide that the constructors’ title isn’t that important anyway

    Not very long, especially if it applies equally for teams who haven’t a hope in hell of contesting the constructors’ title.

    Vettel’s only real option has to be to carry on as normal and aim to close the gap. Apart from anything else, a conservative approach means he is less likely to be in a position to help Webber, who is the best placed Red Bull at present. Limiting Vettel’s practice and qualifying mileage would also put more onus onto Webber doing greater mileage, and putting more strain on his car.

    Bit of a no brainer really – there’s no good option, just picking the least worst.

  14. It would be good to track the engines and see reporters asking questions about them post race. RBR would have rated Valencia down their list of podium possibilities so perhaps the blow ups reflect them churning Vettel’s worst choice available engines anyway.

  15. Paul Sainsbury
    25th August 2009, 8:56

    This really is amother astonishingly stupid FIA rule. What a shocker if the championship ends up being decided by an engine related grid penalty.

    I find the phroase ‘turning down the engine’ almost as dreadful as ‘fuel corrected grid’.

    This is supposed to be motor RACING!

    1. Hear hear!

    2. I agree that ideally motor sports shouldn’t involve ‘turning down the engine’, but if all other teams are running 18 races with 8 engines, there’s no reason Red Bull can’t do the same.

      Why should a team not suffer if their engine isn’t reliable?

      Anyways, it certainly won’t be the first championship decided by reliability issues (Kimi in McLaren 2005).

    3. I find the phroase ‘turning down the engine’ almost as dreadful as ‘fuel corrected grid’.

      Fortunately the latter will be gone next year – but I’m not sure how you can get rid of the former, without putting costs up hugely.

  16. I don’t dislike this rule. Its a good cost saving initiative.

    From the Red Bull point of view, I think they still need to go out for a win and not turn the wick down. If they need a new engine, then they just take the penalty. If they get the penalty towards the end of the season, which is likely, they need to get Vettel to qualify pole.. that way at least he has some chance of taking some points.

    I think either way, Vettel has a lot to do now to win the championship and the penalty wont make it any easier! Still, its a long way to go and anything could happen yet!

  17. can KERS help reduce the suffering of the grid drop?
    is it worth a gamble to use KERS to jump people at the start?
    (assuming the Rb5 is good with KERS)

  18. I think that the only way a rule can be classed as ‘fair’ is if it is the same across all competitors. Which the engine rule is, therefore it is fair.

    However, as Red Bull are customers, maybe the engine provider should take the penalty, not the team that use it? What would happen if it was a Mercedes engine (there are 6 cars on the grid using them?

  19. Is there anywhere that shows who has used how many engines? Would be interested to see who else may be up for a penalty later in the season!

  20. Luke,
    This site usually has stats on the cars

    1. Great link!
      In Valencia, most drivers were on their engine nr. 5. Eight drivers used engine no. 6 for the first time there.

      But Robert Kubica has used his no. 6 engine 4 times already! Wow, he’s in trouble :/

      1. The stats don’t mean that they actually used engine 6 4 times. It just means that he used 6 engines. So it could also be that engine 1 was used again in the last race.

        It’s basically a record of all the technical reports:

    2. Thanks for that! :)

  21. If F1 is going to put limits on engine usage this years rules, where it is eight engines for the season and the team and driver decided when to use them, are defiantly better than the old rule where they had to last for two consecutive races.

    One thing I wondered about which I think the rules quoted in the article have answered, was if the eight engine limit was linked to the total number of races in a season. So say if the F1 calendar had 20 races would this change to nine engines?

    With regard to Vettel I think Plan A could work as long as the Renault engine performs reliably, but then the engine he had in Sunday’s race was a new one and that didn’t last long.

    As was looking for information on engine usage, a previous poster provided the link to The F1 Technical article which had the engine mileage but in doesn’t seem to have been updated since Silverstone. The other sites I have found were

    They both show the engine used by drivers at each race. If anyone uses other sites or has found a site which provides more information could they please post a link.

    1. I try to keep track of the engines and gearbox statuses at my blog. The most recent engine status is now up.

    2. Thanks for the links guys, very useful :-)

  22. Accidentalmick
    25th August 2009, 10:25

    I agree with Welsh Chris.

    There are some, admitedly talented, drivers who seem to lack “mechanical sympathy” and push their cars too hard. Vettel himself joked that he might be an engine killer but you must remeber that there are 3 other cars using the same engine and who hasven’t had a blow up.

  23. First of all i think you have to go with plan B as Plan A assumes you can reuse all of the motors he has gone through and i will think you will find he only has 2 useable old engines as the majority of his engines have failed and you cant repair them (the one that failed in Saturday is no use to anyone than the scapheap in fact half of it is still on the track)

    Secondly looking at this that PJA posted above.

    I think this 10 Place Grid Penalty could become quite common because if anyone who used there 6 engine in Valancia has an engine failure then they are done for.

  24. Mussolini's Pet Cat
    25th August 2009, 10:31

    As all the teams run 2 cars, why not limit each TEAM to 16 engines? This still isnt ideal, but at least in this situation you’re not penalising the driver.

    1. Favoritism will creep in. Ross Brawn may give Button’s used engine to Barrichello and ensure that Button races on fresh ones every race.

      Result: More infighting among teams. More controversy. Which as fans, we love :D

      1. That won’t work. The allocation is by car number and only substitute drivers can take an allocation off a team’s usual driver. Since Button and Barrichello cannot be each other’s substitutes, they’ve got to use what they’ve got.

    2. Well you are …
      `Barrichello & Kovalainen dislike this idea`

  25. Go for broke and aim for a win or two. He is pretty much out of contention for the championship now anyway, I cant imagine Vettel wanting to turn the wick down, Its very hard for a racer.

  26. On a related note Red Bull are due to decide soon which engine they use next year Renault or Mercedes.

    My money would be on the Mercedes.

    I wonder if Williams will end up getting the one Red Bull turn down as Williams are trying to get out of their Toyota deal and the only other options are Ferrari and Cosworth?

    1. I still don’t get how Mercedes are going to supply three (or four) teams next year. The regulations say that major manufacturers can only supply two, so the one-year contract with Brawn is already a concession on the part of the FIA.

      1. that regulation was changed so Cosworth can supply all newcomers.

        1. The limit for engine manufacturers (other than Cosworth) was recently changed to allow them to supply 4 engines. Mercedes asked for this and got their wish.

          I don’t think Cosworth has any restriction on the number of teams they can supply.

      2. True, but if the FIA can make one concession they can make two. And Mercedes wants to increase production at their Brixworth plant to improve profitability. Sadly they’ve already laid off some staff there this year.

  27. One question:

    Can Vettel change engine between qualifying and race? And can he use his 9th engine before his 7th and 8th?

    What Vettel could do is qualify with his 7th engine at Spa with a heavy fuel load. Pray for rain on the next day. Take a 10-place penalty for his 9th engine which he uses on the race day and make merry on a wet track. (Has he broken any rule in this scenario?)

    He will then be at par with other drivers in terms of engine usage.

  28. rule needs a change from a sporting and competitive view. Red Bull could just carry on as usual but just put all their weight behind Webber for the Championship.

  29. I don’t agree with the emphasis on engine endurance in the first place. As a consequence, I cannot agree on the eight-engine regulation, though it is fairer than the fixed x-race rule because it means fewer penalties.

  30. If there is a very high possibility of rain at Spa i think it would be best to take the engine penalty there. Vettel is masterful in the rain and because of the uncertainty that is usually created as a result he could well end up finishing with good points.

    1. i don’t think he can take an engine penalty in Spa, because he won’t be using a 9th engine. unless of course he uses a new one for friday practice (7th), another new one for qualy(8th), and then another new one (the 9th engine) for the race. seems unlikely though.

  31. Moo Point: Like a cow's opinion, it's Moo!!
    25th August 2009, 13:40

    I think the rule is fair as it applies to all drivers and as has been said many, many times F1 is a team sport so if the team gets punished the driver does.

    I also wonder how many drivers used the engine they used in Malaysia straight afterwards or whether any teams have kept that one to one side for use at Spa or Monza? (Since it ran a shortened race in Malaysia).

    I know Button has already used the same engine for 3 races (and won all three to boot!!), has anyone else manages 3 races with the same engine already or is Button the only one?

    1. I know Hamilton has done same although without the wins.

  32. What I can’t figure out is why doesn’t Webber and the other two Renaults have this issue.

    Is it his driving style?

    1. No driving style is going to be responsible for a fresh engine blowing up! Unless you put a rock on the gas petal, left it in first gear and left for lunch.

      Living in the US where they dont sell Renault I can´t say first hand, but Ive heard that Renaults dont have the best reputation for reliability anyway, so this is real egg on the face of Renault.

      1. Vettel might be hitting the kerbs too hard and either having too much wheel spin or causing too much vibration in the engine or drive mechanism.

  33. I think the limited engine rule is as stupid as limiting the tires.
    Engines cost relatively little to build – its the R&D that costs. So since the engines are frozen, the cost is very low. Let them have as many engines as they want!
    Same as with tyres. If they want to use ten sets for practice, ten for qualy and ten for the race, let them! Tires are cheap, and if Bridgestone had any sense they wouls make tyres that are hard and not so sensitive to tempareature. I can’t recall a season where tyres have made so much difference, and it is ruining the racing.

    1. Precision engineering doesn’t come cheap. Neither do a few exotic materials and processes

      1. Oliver, the cost of almost all the precision engineering is covered by the R&D. Once the machinery is built, it is a production line. And lots more parts can be made, so unit cost will drop.
        My point was along the lines of manufacturer teams in the “good old days” spending $100 million a year on engines. Now the development costs are essentially zero, it follows that the per engine cost is materials and labour. Much less, as evidenced by suppliers offering a years engines at $10 million or so.

  34. is there any theory into why some drivers consistently destroy engines more than other drivers? vettel and kubica have gone through a few engines more than their team mates. can it be attributed to the driver missing shifts/over reving the engine…engine braking.. or installation flaws by the mechanics. i dont see how this could be measured tho…im sure the teams have heaps of data to look at but might be difficult to pin point the cause

  35. check here for engine usage and distance covered:

  36. I think that you have to keep in mind this is a team sport not just a driver sport. Reliability of all aspects of the package is part of that equation.
    It seems odd that Renault, Williams and Mark Webber have not experienced the same level of engine failures as Vettel which begs the question is it his driving style that is part of the issue? He is no doubt aggressive and that would result in slamming the car over curbs, pushing the rev limiter etc. One of the reasons Sterling Moss did not accomplish what he might have was the fact that he was hard on his equipment. Vettel needs to learn that lesson.
    The rule is part of cost reduction efforts and to help those needing customer engines to function. Changing it because one driver out of 6 has had a two engine failures in a single weekend? I think not.

    1. It seems odd that Renault, Williams and Mark Webber have not experienced the same level of engine failures as Vettel which begs the question is it his driving style that is part of the issue? He is no doubt aggressive and that would result in slamming the car over curbs, pushing the rev limiter etc.

      That came up during the coverage last weekend a few times and I didn’t hear anyone who gave the idea any credence. With rev limiters and other electronic controls it’s very hard for drivers to damage engines themselves. I remember much the same conversations in 2001 when Juan Pablo Montoya had a series of BMW engine blow-ups.

  37. Does the 8 engine rule count those engines lost due to crash or crash caused by others?

    1. Yes, there’s no exception for that kind of thing in the rules.

  38. I think it’s reasonable to assume that they’ll attempt to get most of the Friday practice done with an already used engine. It will be interesting to see how everyone’s engines once again handle the strain of Spa-Francorchamps and Monza as two consecutive races. Reasonably, Red Bull and Vettel need to take the chance of a possible penalty for having to put in a third new engine, because they need very good individual results now, if they want to use the opportunity of winning the championship.

  39. It’s a shame to see Vettel punished for something most likely beyond his control. He’s scored 47 points from only 6 finishes this season! It’s taken Webber and Rubens 11 and 10 finishes to just barely overhaul Vettel in the points. If it weren’t for his bad luck, I think we’d see Vettel truly challenging Button like everyone was predicting earlier in the season. Now, it’s anyone’s game.

    1. Bad luck? Vettel crashed by his own fault 4 times already this season. Now he has one engine blow on him during the race and his 5 failed races are bad luck?

  40. heres my problem with the rule. when an engine goes during a race, THAT IS THE PENALTY!!!. now fine it take $ to go beyond the allowed 8, so u want to take actions against the TEAM, feel free. No grid spot reductions and no fines though (fines would be counter intuative) so the next logical place to hit a team where is hurts would be constructer points, as keith pointed out.

    -1 constructor point per race with 9th engine
    -3 constructor points per race with 10th (or more)

    It may not seem like much but when u consider how close the last 2 championships have been, well…

  41. If anything, then Red Bull should figure out why Vettel has all these engines failures.

    Four engine failures when the three other drivers have no failure at all is not a coincidence anymore.

    It’s either Vettel’s car or his driving. They really should get to the bottom of it and fix the problem.

    BTW the rule is fair. It’s much better than last season’s rule where they had to use engines two races in a row.

  42. I think the only way forward for Red Bull is to concentrate all effort on Mark Webber

  43. The rule is lame. in, 2005 I cant remember how many times Kimi had to take a 10 spot least three, which if he didn’t he may have been able to close the gap to alonso instead of being 20+ points back since every other race he had a penalty or failure.

  44. Yes Keith, Plan B. Business as usual – worry about the grid penalty IF he gets to a position to require a 9th engine.

    Don’t risk Webber’s chances by doing things different for him because Vettel has killed a few engines

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