Hungarian GP: Clumsy Ferrari pit stop puts brakes on Sebastian Vettel
Lewis Hamilton leads second-placed Sebastian Vettel by 24 points after winning the Hungarian GP, and the German driver needs little reminding his British rival turned around a 14-point deficit at the same stage last year to take the title by 46.Updated: Jul 31, 2018 09:43 IST
A week ago, when Sebastian Vettel spun out while leading the German Grand Prix, this was labelled the error of the year, a pivotal mistake that would cost him the world championship. This is nonsense, since a lockup of the wheels in tricky wet conditions can affect even the most legendary of drivers, plus the German race demonstrated that Ferrari was clearly the fastest car on track (in dry conditions). With nearly half the season to go, they had to keep a cool head and chip away at the lead.
The true catastrophe took place at the sweltering Hungarian Grand Prix this Sunday. Lewis Hamilton won the race 17 seconds ahead of Vettel, who was lapping 1.5 seconds faster than Hamilton’s Mercedes. This is damning evidence. It is shameful that the Ferrari drivers could not muscle past and dominate this race. Ferrari failed, and so did their Number One driver.
To recap, Hamilton was ahead by less than 7 seconds when he stopped for tyres. A pitstop in Hungary takes about 20 seconds, so he emerged 13.5 seconds behind Vettel and, on new rubber, was expected to reel him in. Incredibly enough, Vettel extended his lead at the front, despite worn tyres. If he’d stopped two laps later when 15 seconds ahead, he could rejoin five seconds behind Hamilton and, on new ultrasoft tyres, soon fill his mirrors with scarlet. The Ferrari pace, even on old tyres and a slower tyre compound, was too good to be true. We faced the mouth-watering prospect of 30 laps of Hamilton having to defend against a galloping Ferrari.
Ferrari, perhaps unused to being the faster team, made the incorrect — and gluttonous — call to let Vettel go much longer before stopping, hoping their faster-tyre advantage would be even more acute in the second half of the race. Instead of stopping Vettel as soon as he hit traffic and start losing time to Hamilton, they allowed not only Hamilton to close in but also his teammate Valtteri Bottas. Following a slow stop, Vettel came out behind the Finn and spent too many laps finding a way past, wrecking his chances at chasing down Hamilton despite a stunningly fast car.
Vettel looked ordinary out there. Ferrari flubbed strategy and made a clumsy stop, but the German should have passed Bottas, on severely old tyres, in less than five laps time. Hungary may be a tough track to overtake on, but this is where we needed to see canny racecraft and something special from Vettel. Instead, we witnessed mere desperation.
Picture Hamilton in the same situation. Would he have found a way past a slower number-two driver much earlier? Would he have caught the race-leader and challenged for the win? The answers are absolute, which is why he’s leading the world championship. Ordinary doesn’t cut it.
NOTE: Raja Sen has been writing about Formula One since 2004.
First Published: Jul 31, 2018 09:42 IST