Red Bull Racing seemed to occupy the majority of the race stewards’ interest last weekend in Germany. Now in Hungary, for the second time in two weekends, the team is again at the centre of attention.
Sebastian Vettel’s post-race penalty after challenging Jenson Button for second place, was harsh but under the letter of the regulations, fair.
Despite Vettel’s protests, the evidence was clear-cut that he had overtaken Button with all four wheels outside the track kerbing, using the run-off area at the exit of the hairpin.
The drivers had specifically been warned against this by F-1 Race Director Charlie Whiting, in a letter ahead of the race. Had Vettel backed off and allowed Button to regain the place, he would not have been penalised.
As much as the move itself, it was Vettel’s decision not to relinquish the place that gained him the 20-second penalty. It dropped him from second to fifth.
The size of the penalty might seem inappropriate, but the FIA Stewards are constrained in the penalties they are allowed to hand out.
During the race, they can demand a drive-through penalty, which equates to the loss of approximately 20 seconds of lap time.
Vettel’s misdemeanour occurred too late in the race for such a penalty to be invoked. The stewards then only had the option of adding 20 seconds to the German’s race time, which they did, or giving Vettel a five-place grid penalty for Hungary.
That would have been even more onerous.
The Red Bull driver was at the centre of another incident last weekend when Lewis Hamilton, a lap down after a puncture, controversially ‘unlapped’ himself by passing Vettel.
In the process, he undoubtedly hindered Vettel’s attack on race leader Fernando Alonso. Sporting it wasn’t, but Hamilton was fully entitled to make the move and did nothing which was against the rules.
Normally the leading cars are significantly faster than lapped backmarkers and in that situation, the onus is on the slower cars to keep out of the way.
In this case, after switching to new tyres, Hamilton was lapping faster than the race leaders. Had Hamilton got past and back onto the lead lap, if a safety car were to have been deployed, he would probably have been back in the top-10.
However, the biggest controversy surrounding Red Bull surfaced just ahead of last Sunday’s race. The stewards were sent a report from FIA Formula One technical delegate Jo Bauer, who had analysed engine torque map data from Vettel and Mark Webber’s cars.
He found that engine torque levels at certain revs were much lower than they had been at previous races.
This indicated Red Bull was using the exhaust gases to illegally recreate the ‘blown diffuser’ effect, banned at the end of last season.
Steve Slater is an F-1 commentator on STAR Sports