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Why Ferrari must share blame for Sebastian Vettel’s mistakes

Written by on 05/09/2018

Sebastian Vettel’s first-lap incident with Lewis Hamilton at Monza is just the latest in a litany of errors and misjudgements from the multiple world champion in the last couple of seasons.

This year alone he has lost crucial points in Baku (locking up trying to take the lead and finishing fourth instead), France (locking up and sliding into Valtteri Bottas on lap one), Austria (blocking Carlos Sainz in qualifying and receiving a grid penalty that cost him any chance of victory) and Germany (sliding off into the barriers while leading).

That’s a loss of 63 points – in addition to the extra points Hamilton has scored as a result of Vettel’s mishaps. So he’s currently 30 points behind when he could be more than that in front.

It follows a similar pattern to last year (Baku, Singapore, Mexico).

So it’s all Vettel’s fault?

Actually, no. No, it’s not. It is also Ferrari’s fault.

In fact, the root of the pressure that is behind these accidents almost certainly originates from the operational shortfalls of the team. Prior to his joining the Scuderia, Vettel’s career was almost blemish-free. Pressure errors were not part of his game.

Which implies that there is something about driving for Ferrari which is triggering them.

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Listening to his radio messages during his Ferrari years reveals a lot.

Whether it was his outburst amid the chaos of a sudden downpour in Spa qualifying – “Lift the car up for ***’s sake, you’ll crush the floor,” – or his frequent questioning of strategy, it is clear he feels the need to oversee the operation of his car.

At the more smoothly-drilled Red Bull team, usually all he had to do was drive. Much as Hamilton does now at Mercedes. At Ferrari, Vettel finds himself trying to manage the team from the cockpit – clearly because he feels he needs to.

Much as Ferrari have been perhaps the most technically-creative team of all in the last couple of seasons (for the first time in a decade), it is still operationally a shaky one on a race weekend. So Vettel is driving the best car being run by less than the best team.

With his mind thus split between roles, amid the constant concern about whether everything has been thought through in a fast, ever-moving environment, he’s feeling the pressure in a way he wasn’t at his previous teams.

That’s quite aside from the pressure of representing Ferrari as the lead driver when it has given him a potentially title-winning car. That was the case last year and it’s even more so this season.

Excessive pressure – especially over issues outside of your direct control – is especially stressful and it seems entirely logical that this should be linked with a pattern of errors and wrong split-second decisions.

Perhaps he has tried to model his move to Ferrari upon his mentor’s, Michael Schumacher, who was the nucleus of a very tightly-knit team that was focussed around him.

But what Schumacher had in his favour was Ross Brawn running the team with a calm authority, Jean Todt keeping the senior managerial pressures away from the race team and Nigel Stepney as chief mechanic drilling the team like an army sergeant. Under those circumstances, Vettel could cease to worry about strategy calls, pit-lane operations or whether the right tyres were being fitted and could just relax into extracting the maximum from his driving skills. Much as Hamilton can.

Monza was yet another case study of the tension between Vettel and the team – and how it impacted upon the entire weekend.

It was Raikkonen’s turn this weekend to be second car out in the qualifying runs – and therefore to get the tow from the sister car (at a track where that’s worth significant lap time).

Firstly, with their lead driver chasing the title, perhaps the team should have overridden that agreement. Secondly, even respecting that agreement, the team fell down in trying to mitigate against it.

The plan was to get Vettel’s car turned around for the final Q3 run fast enough that they could just respond to when the Mercedes went out, and position Vettel directly to their tail as they left the garages – so as to get the slipstream from them instead.

But it wasn’t turned around quite quickly enough. Sainz’s Renault got between them – and by the time Vettel had found a way around that on the out-lap, Hamilton was out of towing reach.

Perhaps irritated by all this, he drove what was by his own admission a very messy lap that fell short of the pole time he’d help tow Raikkonen to by just over a tenth of a second. Had he started on pole, he’d probably have not found himself in the position he was in on the opening lap that triggered his collision with Hamilton.

In fact, it’s entirely conceivable he could’ve won the race as Raikkonen engaged Hamilton in battle.

Upon being told his qualifying position, his words spoke volumes: “We’ll speak later.”


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(c) Sky News 2018: Why Ferrari must share blame for Sebastian Vettel’s mistakes