Ferrari erred by not giving Sebastian Vettel chance to win race
As the Austrian race wound to a Mercedes-less close, Sebastian Vettel was behind Kimi Raikkonen, his Finnish teammate, who would naturally be expected to move over to let Vettel pocket three extra points.other sports Updated: Jul 03, 2018 22:37 IST
More than any sport, numbers tell a story in motor racing. What the naked eye cannot see — the over-use of a kerb, the under-braking at an apex — is revealed by time-sheets and lap-charts that keep drivers honest, and remind viewers that bravado may not ensure a better lap. So sensational are the numbers this year, in fact, that on-track racing can barely keep up.
Look at the World Championship battle. For the first three races, the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel led the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton. The next three belonged to Hamilton, with a commanding 14-point lead by the time we left Monaco. Traditionally, that is a massive lead, given how drivers chip away at each other, making up 3 points in one race and losing 2 in the next. In Canada, Vettel came first and Hamilton fifth, obliterating the lead to inch ahead by a solitary point. France was the exact opposite, with Hamilton winning and Vettel fifth, giving back the British driver his 14-point lead.
The Austrian Grand Prix this weekend — held at the Red Bull Ring circuit in the town of Spielberg — shuffled the deck one more time, with Vettel finishing third and Hamilton retiring from the race, meaning that, improbably enough, Vettel leads the title race. By one point. Again.
It’s bonkers. The action on track isn’t as dramatic as these numbers suggest, though Sunday’s race gave us a sharp overtake from Vettel as he bravely took to the grass in order to scythe past Hamilton. In the end, both Mercedes cars retired while the Ferraris finished in second and third, giving them lead in the Constructors Championship. While the upgraded Mercedes engines are faster, the Ferrari chassis does appear to be kinder on the tyres.
It is odd to write about a race-winner like an afterthought, but Max Verstappen — who delighted his orange army of Dutch supporters present at Red Bull’s home race — essentially inherited the race after the Mercedes mishaps. That said, the 20-year-old is usually so buccaneering that this display of colour-within-the-lines neatness is just what the doctor ordered. Now Verstappen has three podiums on the trot, and, with a zippier Red Bull, will be gunning for more. As the Austrian race wound to a Mercedes-less close, Vettel was behind Kimi Raikkonen, his Finnish teammate without a Ferrari contract next year, who would naturally be expected to move over to let Vettel pocket three extra points. Ferrari have always favoured a number one driver, Vettel is clearly ahead on points and form, and team orders are legal.
However, perhaps because this was the same track where, in 2002, Rubens Barrichello infamously braked before the finish to allow Michael Schumacher past, Ferrari chose not to carry out team orders. The Finn finished ahead. This sportsmanship was charming but oddly-timed. In other words, Vettel had better not lose the title by three points.
(The writer is a film critic who has been writing on Formula One since 2004. He shares his birthday with Michael Schumacher. Views expressed are personal.)
First Published: Jul 03, 2018 22:33 IST