Vettel must start winning now
Hero to zero. Moments that could be a turning point but end up in disaster. That is how you could sum up Sebastian’s Vettel weekend in Canada just over a week ago.
Ferrari have been a disappointment this season. They fought Mercedes hard last year but tailed off towards the end of the season after going in the wrong direction with upgrades. However, they turned up to pre-season with what appeared to be the fastest car.
Unfortunately for Ferrari and Formula 1 fans, their testing performance has not appeared at any race weekend so far and as a result, Mercedes have been running away with the championship.
So when Vettel put his Ferrari on pole for the Canadian Grand Prix everyone sat up and started to question if this would be the turning point for the Scuderia. If they could just get a win under their belt it could change the whole complexion of the championship.
Everything looked promising. Vettel had a good start and retained his lead into the first corner. He didn’t disappear into the distance but he looked faster than the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton who was just a few seconds behind.
At the pit stops Vettel had increased his lead to four seconds, however, the Mercedes seemed to work better on the harder compound tyre and Hamilton closed in on his championship rival.
Despite having Hamilton hunting him down, Vettel seemed in control. It was Hamilton who was locking up and losing time. But on lap 48 the race changed.
Vettel made a mistake going into Turn 4 and he went on to the grass. In a battle to control the car he came back on to the circuit and slid across to the right hand side of the track. Meanwhile Hamilton had sensed an opportunity and went to make a move for the lead but was forced to back out of it to avoid a collision.
Inevitably the FIA stewards immediately said the incident was under investigation. Hamilton was straight on to the radio to say that Vettel had returned to the track in a dangerous manner. Vettel said he couldn’t do anything else as he was trying to control the car.
A few laps later the FIA confirmed that Vettel was to receive a five second time penalty for returning to the circuit in an unsafe manner. The German was furious and to some extent you can understand why.
He wasn’t in control of his car and didn’t deliberately impede Hamilton and he didn’t consciously decide to slide across the whole width of the track.
Despite his protests, the decision would not change. The only way to salvage victory was to get a gap of more than five seconds to Hamilton but this didn’t happen.
The Mercedes had better grip than the Ferrari and Hamilton was able to keep Vettel within two seconds for the remainder of the Grand Prix.
Although Vettel crossed the line first, he was denied his maiden win of the season and denied the chance to kick start Ferrari’s championship challenge.
Many pundits, ex-drivers and fans criticised the FIA after the race, stating that there should never have been a penalty and that fans were robbed of a great battle.
It’s true – Fans were robbed of a great end to the best battle of the year but Vettel only has himself to blame.
The penalty may have been harsh but it was only enforced because Vettel made a mistake. Yet more evidence that he cannot cope with the pressure Hamilton puts on him in race battles.
He made a similar mistake at Hockenheim in 2018. He was leading the race but Hamilton was chasing him down in wet conditions. Vettel made a mistake, went off the track and crashed into the barriers.
In Bahrain earlier this year Hamilton made a move down the inside at Turn 4. The Briton got passed and as Vettel tried to fight back he spun.
All of these incidents show up Vettel’s weakness. He is a four-time world champion – he should not be making these mistakes.
Ferrari took him on as the man that could win them their first title since 2007 and at the start of the year many expected this to be the season he would crack it.
At the moment that could not be more wrong.
Vettel looks a shadow of his former self. He isn’t getting the results like last year and he now has a younger teammate who is hounding him and often out-performing him, especially during races.
The last time that occurred the German was at Red Bull with a young Daniel Ricciardo as his teammate. It was Ricciardo’s performances and competition that led him to leave for Ferrari.
Although Charles Leclerc isn’t causing Vettel as much grief as Ricciardo did, Leclerc is still learning and it won’t be long before he is.
Vettel therefore, needs to get his act together. Ferrari won’t reinvigorate themselves at this moment in time and they need Vettel to take the lead and show them how to be winners again. He needs to take inspiration from his mentor, Michael Schumacher, and show everyone why he is a four-time world champion.
Schumacher had the talent to bring the right team around him and make the car work exactly how he liked but he was also able to out-perform in a weaker car.
Vettel looked up to the seven-time world champion for so long and now needs to put in to practice everything he learned.
If he is to ever win another championship he needs to implement it now. If he doesn’t and makes more mistakes, it is likely he will lose his Ferrari drive in the short term, especially with Leclerc showing so much promise.
However, if Vettel can get it right and he can pull Ferrari back on track, then we should be in for some of the most exciting battles we have seen for some time as Vettel takes on the mighty Lewis Hamilton.