November 12, 2011

"Maybe I helped him understand his speed"

I thought the most interesting bit of the 2011 Abu Dhabi GP qualifying happened during the press conference. Sebastian Vettel and Jenson Button both went into a bit of detail about what it takes to put together the perfect lap at Yas Marina. I really wish there was a platform for these guys to talk more about what they do on a technical level, I'm sick of hearing generalities and canned statements, I want to hear about turn in, camber, how to set a differential, line...

(photos via:

Along those lines, I was reading Red Bulletin, who published a special Vettel edition highlighting some of the important people in his career and development. Tantalizing was the piece from Giorgio Ascanelli:

"Maybe I helped him understand his speed”
Giorgio ‘THE EDUCATOR’ Ascanelli technical director, scuderia Toro Rosso.

Nobody made Vettel. I certainly did not make him! He made himself. But at the 2008 european gp, in Valencia, something significant happened. Sebastian was driving for us that year, of course, and it was a funny weekend. There were a few new things on the car and the circuit were new for everybody.
I believed it was fundamental that Sebastian learned the circuit, more than anything else. In morning practice, he was the fastest driver, for the first time.

Then in the afternoon I noticed a lap which was extraordinary: with worn tyres and a heavy fuel load, he was still extremely fast.
When we spoke about the lap and looked at the data he wasn’t quite sure how he had done this, so I told him to go away and think about it.

Then the next day, Saturday, he came in and we chatted and he told me “I know what I did.” But I didn’t ask him exactly what that was. That’s for him to know. It’s his secret of being fast, if you like.
I just wanted him to think about the process of his driving and register it, mentally.

Something else that we gave him as a team, was that we gave him our complete trust when he came to us and that enabled him to trust us, too.
His first race for us was at the Hungarian gp, and that’s not an easy track. He made a mistake in qualifying and immediately said, “I made a mistake.” normally the racing driver’s book of excuses is longer than War and peace, so this was refreshing.
In general I don’t find it hard to be unpleasant, but it was hard to be unpleasant to Sebastian.
And he was always thinking, which allowed for a discussion about performance and not an argument"

Yeah, we'll never know their ultimate speed secrets but I sure would like to know more than we get now. I'm less and less interested about their family melodramas, I'm more into understanding exactly why Massa is almost always a half second behind Alonso in the same car. Or even how Ricciardo is kicking Liuzzi's butt.

Check out more on Red Bulletin, there are essays by Guillaume Roquelin, Mario Theissen, Riccardo Adami, Christian Horner and Gerd Noack, the man who first spotted Vettel as a eight (yeah, eight) year old karter at the Schumacher owned track in Kerpen. Fascinating stuff



  1. It's interesting that you argue for less of an emphasis on the drama of F1, but often this blog seems, unfortunately, to fill a Perez Hilton-like vacuum in F1 coverage.

    It really is a shame how often the F1 coverage on here resorts to personal attacks and the like. I'd love to see that change.

  2. Oh geezus....not the Lewis emo boys again... :)

  3. I couldn't agree more. It's a shame how little we actually get to know about how to operate these incredible machines. Sadly I find it more and more difficult to care about F1.. Yet I still watch every session.

  4. I was thinking the same thing as the first commenter. Hammy fan boy or not, its easy to see Axis gets its style from TMZ stories. Personally I love it, and don't want it to change. One sided opinions based in personality preferences are far more interesting than unbiased reports that have stuff like facts and data, which can be found in abundance. We'll see how this new found philosophy effects the report on todays race lol.

  5. For the record, it is Schum's hometown is "Kerpen", not "Karpen"... A stone's throw away from Cologne.

  6. IMHO we can blame the business of today's F1 . . . the mindless pursuit of the atrocious NASCAR model . . . for the canned comments and color commentary on who's dating who. I maybe missing your point, but this sort of tech insight is not entirely dissimilar to some of the greater detail I take from most BBC broadcasts.

    However, I suspect this sort of thing is derived from reflection and not so much on a race weekend as all the parties who have that insight are too busy addressing the next crisis. Sure makes for great reading, but I wonder if Ascanelli realized that weekend what had happened. Maybe this sort of stuff is elusive to live broadcast.

    I dunno . . . maybe missing part of your point.

  7. I Agree JH, there is no platform for anyone to share the kind of details we would like to learn. There is also a large contingent, the vast majority I would venture, that has zero interest in a discussion between Vettel and Alonso on how they approach turn 7 at Abu Dhabi.
    Sometime I wish there was the access NASCAR gets, I mean there is a show on Speed where people will get into stagger and setup in a way that's seldom heard on F1 broadcasts....

    In any case, for sure they will never tell you the real secrets...

  8. I think the BBC does a pretty good job of getting some of the technical detail across. They also regularly do track walks with drivers who discuss various aspects of the track including corners and driving lines.

  9. I have noticed that Vettel is a very early braker. This seems to work out well in qualifying and when he has an open track (which is most of the time). It seems his strategy to get out front early so he can exercise this technique. That would also explain why he struggles to overtake and he doesn't seem to like to brake late.

  10. I can't begin to fathom what completely contributes to this from the perspective of those charged with the execution of F1 as a sport, business, and traveling 3 ring circus. I know there have been many who constantly urge Ecclestone to open the paddock . . . but perhaps his thinking is based upon the idea that one should always "leave'm wanting more" ??

    I agree, to some degree that F1 could be more open, but I bristle at the thought of it turning into the carnival that is NASCAR. I probably prefer the manner F1 preserves a barrier and mystery around its contestants, even if this at times means those of us on the outside lose out. I would hate to one day take for granted some of the glimpses we've referenced here. Perhaps it is better to avoid too much transparency, and the inevitability of just another ho-hum stroll through the Ferrari garage?


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