Vettel under pressure in Shanghai

013The agenda for Sebastian Vettel’s pre-race briefing with his engineers will be as long as the list of drivers waiting to hang him out to dry at the first corner in today’s Chinese Grand Prix.

Chief amongst his concerns will be the possibility of a drive shaft failure rearing its head again in the race. The team made several changes to both Red Bull cars on Saturday night which triggered a drive shaft problem before qualifying.

It made the German’s pole position even more impressive given that he only had one run in each qualifying session to preserve the car.

“It was always a difficult situation sitting in the car and now knowing if it (the drive shaft) would last or not,” he said. “You try to forget when you are on your hot lap but we will see for tomorrow. I hope the boys can fix it and I hope it will last tomorrow.”

“In the end we both had the problem this morning. In qualifying only I had the problem, so Mark s car was fine as far as I heard and I hope that both of our cars are without any trouble tomorrow.”

“It is a long race and we have to see how the car is after checking it in parc fermé, but I am confident that the boys will do a very good job.”

With the reliability of his RB5 in the lap of the gods, the best thing Vettel can do is turn his attention to the host of other obstacles standing in his way of victory.

Strategy first. All the teams have been struggling on the super soft tyre compounds in Shanghai with the exception of Brawn GP who seem to be fairing slightly better. Fernando Alonso, who split the Red Bulls to line up second on the grid, has been particularly critical of Bridgestone’s tyre choice.

“I think the super soft tyre doesn t help the strategy because it s a tyre that we all know won t do too many laps,” the double world champion affirmed, “so you need to compromise a little bit but the good thing is that it s the same for everybody, so you just need to push, to take care of the tyres in a way, especially during the first couple of laps.”

This probably motivated the decision from all three Renault-powered drivers to run a light fuel load in qualifying, paving the way for a short first stint to minimise the time spent on the mandatory super-softs.

Just how light were they? Very. Vettel weighed in at 644kg for Red Bull with teammate Mark Webber on 646.5. Alonso was the lightest of the three on 637kg. The Brawn GP drivers of Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello by comparison were measured at 659kg and 661kg respectively.

Forumula1.com calculates that the Red Bull drivers will stop at around laps 12-13 with Fernando Alonso, the lightest of the three, stopping on lap 9-10. The Brawn GP drivers could stay out for a further six or seven laps.

If Vettel wants to win today and see off the Brawn GP drivers he will have to get the hammer down early and avoid getting into a scrap with Fernando Alonso who will be right on his gearbox if not ahead.

Indeed, just about the only thing playing to his advantage is Renault’s decision to drop their KERS device, which would almost have certainly guaranteed Alonso track position going into the first corner.

“I am happy that Fernando does not have the KERS,” said relieved Vettel. “We saw in the last race that he was defending quite well and obviously here you have a very long straight line, so you can make a difference.”

Even without the assistance of KERS though, Alonso could well be past the German before Turn 1. Renault have historically been good off the line even in the post traction control era. And with only nine laps of fuel on board Vettel can expect a mirror-full of blue and yellow off the line.

Finally, just to add to the mix, there is a real threat of rain again in today’s race.