How Vettel and Ferrari ruined their championship hopes

Sebastian Vettel’s long-list of costly spins and mistakes in grands prix are the result of sheer “clumsiness.” That is the view of Sky Sports F1 pundit and commentator, Martin Brundle. However, the consistently embarrassing and points-losing mistakes can not all be attributed to the four-time Formula One World Champion.

Mercedes and more specifically, Lewis Hamilton arrived in Australia as favourites at the start of the season. But, a worrying software glitch in the race cost the Brit the lead from a seemingly dominant pole position lap. Sebastian Vettel inherited the lead and won by a sizable gap. F1 fans could finally believe that the Ferrari seen in the early 2000s, was back.

The Bahrain Grand Prix further cemented this idea, leaving Vettel with a 17 point advantage, sending shockwaves through the management of Mercedes, the dominant force for the previous four seasons. However, the following two grands prix, in China and Azerbaijan, were thwarted by two errors from the championship leader. Colliding with Verstappen at the hairpin in China, and locking up after a Safety Car restart and losing several positions in Baku left the championship extremely close once more.

The first shocker of the season for Ferrari followed in Spain as Raikkonen retired and an unnecessary second pit stop under Virtual Safety Car for Vettel left Lewis Hamilton with a 17 point advantage. Red Bull dominated on the power unit-irrelevant circuit of Monaco but an issue for Daniel Ricciardo meant Vettel had a chance of taking victory, which never occurred.

The Canadian Grand Prix was a different story, where Sebastian Vettel took a commanding victory from pole position and Hamilton could only manage 4th, losing his championship lead to the German driver. A golden weekend for Ferrari and Vettel could only be followed by a poor weekend at Circuit Paul Ricard. The French Grand Prix not only being a poor weekend for Ferrari’s pace against Mercedes saw Vettel collide with Valtteri Bottas at Turn One, receiving a 5 second penalty but still finishing 5th.

A mistake in qualifying upon pointlessly blocking Renault driver, Carlos Sainz, so being demoted to 6th on the grid in Austria filled Mercedes with confidence of getting a comfortable 1-2 in the race. Shocking retirements for both Mercedes allowed an unexpected victor, in the form of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen. Evidently, Ferrari did not take full advantage of their rivals’ retirements.

The British Grand Prix witnessed a comfortable win for Vettel after fighting past Valtteri Bottas, mistake-free. Possibly not fighting Hamilton, meant mistakes were spartan. Feeling the pressure in Germany, Vettel started on pole and a quick series of overtakes saw Lewis Hamilton bear down on him. Just as the rain started, Vettel locked up going into Turn 12 and slid into the barrier and out of the race. Leaving Lewis to take an astonishing victory.

Vettel finishing 2nd in Hungary and winning at Spa upon overtaking Lewis Hamilton seemed to prove that Ferrari were once again in contention. Power unit upgrades gave Ferrari the edge in qualifying for their home grand prix in Italy. However, a row over slipstream sharing between the Ferrari teammates and Raikkonen being given the news of his sacking from the team, prompted him to fight Vettel into the first corner, allowing Hamilton to make a move around the German’s outside. Sebastian understeered into the Mercedes and spun, dropping to the back of the field and highlighting another missed opportunity.

Ferrari’s strategy team came under fire in Singapore when Vettel’s possible chance of a 1st or 2nd place was ruined. A Mercedes 1 and 2 followed in Russia but another strategy issue caused the incorrect tyres to be placed on both Ferraris in Q3 and Vettel starting 9th. Yet another astronomical error from Vettel upon colliding with Verstappen in a spin similar to the Italian Grand Prix left Lewis Hamilton 67 points ahead. Arguably, 50 points had been lost through possible driver error on the Ferrari driver’s shoulders.

Whilst Lewis Hamilton never made a notable error, Vettel’s mistakes kept on coming. A grid penalty, labelled as “harsh” by some of his rivals for not slowing enough under a red flag in practice meant Hamilton looked likely to become champion. Once again, the Ferrari driver hit a Red Bull and spun down to the back of the field. This time understeering into Daniel Ricciardo but somehow fighting back to halt Hamilton’s title celebration for only another week, as it turned out. In a race labelled as “horrible” by the newly crowned champion, Lewis Hamilton became the five time champion in Mexico and Vettel resorted to congratulating the Mercedes staff personally on their achievement.

Ferrari’s fluctuations in pace every grand prix were largely down to going down the wrong road in development. Vettel revealing that in the United States weekend, the team had effectively deleted all upgrades installed on the cars since the Singapore Grand Prix. A lethal combination of an obvious hole in the downforce on the Ferrari SF71-H, highlighted by Raikkonen spinning in practice in Mexico in the same way as Vettel at other circuits, and Sebastian Vettel misjudging overtakes cost Ferrari and their number one driver, their long-awaited first championship in the hybrid era. Notably, the death of chairman, Sergio Marchionne caused rising tensions and emotions that also led to mistakes on the teams side.

Fans of the Italian team hope and pray that Charles Leclerc can push himself and Vettel to the title.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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