Red Bull team bosses on Monday hailed world champion Sebastian Vettel after the German survived retirement-threatening damage to his car on his way to finishing sixth at the season-ending Brazilian Grand Prix.
“It was about as bad as you can possibly have – and still finish a race,” said Red Bull technical director Adrian Newey, the design genius who has created race and championship winning cars for the Williams, McLaren and Red Bull teams in his career.
Team chief Christian Horner added: “I can’t think of a more stressful race than that race. None… I mean, it had everything going on in it. It was utterly nerve-wracking.
“From the first lap, with Seb getting turned around – and thankfully the rest of the field missed him…
“It did quite a lot of damage to the floor and the exhaust on the left-hand side. But then he got himself going again. His pace in the damp was unbelievable.”
The team’s relief was once again coupled with amazement at the achievement of the 25-year-old German driver, who had been left spinning backwards at the back of the field on the opening lap after a collision with Brazilian Bruno Senna’s Williams.
From last, he recovered to finish sixth and become the third and youngest triple world champion in Formula One history, following the great Argentine Juan Manuel Fangio and his own boyhood hero, compatriot and mentor Michael Schumacher.
At the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on November 4, Vettel had started from the pit lane and finished second – another feat of dogged determination coupled with astonishing talent that defied the odds.
Asked after the race if the team were concerned that the damage to his car was sufficient to force his retirement, Horner said: “Yes. Absolutely.
“There was quite a lot of damage to the exhaust and they’re sensitive bits of equipment. So for them to receive an impact like that, of course, it was massively concerning for us… “
Horner added: “He got himself going, and then came back through the field to get the ultimate position. He was up to about sixth or seventh and just kept pushing and getting himself back in there, and then the rain came, so we went on to inters.
“Then the rain stopped, so we went back onto the harder tyre. I think as the circuit dried out it became more obvious the problems he had were affecting the balance of the car.
“And then we needed to change tyres because basically there was no way he would have got to the end on that set.
“By this point we lost radio and we couldn’t hear him any more. He pitted, went out on the softer tyre at the end, and then the rain started to increase significantly, so we had to get him back in.
“He said he couldn’t hear what we were saying and we weren’t ready for him. And then it was a question of closing out those final laps…”
He added that Red Bull had concentrated on their own strategy and had paid little heed to Ferrari’s strategy with title rival Spaniard Fernando Alonso.
“We spoke about that before the race and made it quite clear, let’s not be sucked into just covering Ferrari because the race wasn’t just about Ferrari, it was about getting the best result and let’s try and make the right calls at the right time.”