Sebastian Vettel triumphed in the 2018 British Grand Prix as his and Ferrari’s title challenge became increasingly credible. Just two years later he scraped a solitary point as his farewell year in red took another dire turn. How did his weekend go so badly?
Ferrari expected to struggle at Silverstone due to the power-hungry nature of the circuit and thus it needed to maximise every area in order to sneak half a chance. That ostensibly began with trouble-free practice sessions – and straight away Vettel’s weekend was compromised. After two installation laps in FP1 Ferrari detected a suspected problem with the intercooler system in his SF1000 and had to undertake a deep-rooted check. The time involved in removing the engine from the car meant Vettel was unable to take any further part in the session. In the afternoon running Vettel felt a problem with his pedals and Ferrari opted to change the assembly at his feet. Once out on track Vettel carried out his Soft tyre run significantly later than his opponents and a scruffy lap left him down in 18th position, in front of only Haas’ Kevin Magnussen and Williams’ Nicholas Latifi, who himself had gone wrong on the set-up direction.
Vettel placed only 14th in final practice, leaving him facing an uphill challenge for qualifying, a task made doubly harder by Silverstone being a historically weak circuit for the four-time champion. Vettel had been out-qualified by Kimi Raikkonen at the venue in 2015, 2016 and 2017, and last year trailed new team-mate Charles Leclerc in Q3. Leclerc maintained strong form through qualifying but Vettel needed a second push lap to make sure of his spot in Q2. He then managed to make it through to Q3 though did so on Soft tyres – ostensibly leaving him with a weaker compound for the first stint – and once in the session was slowest. A faster time was scrubbed off for track limits but even that was quick enough only for ninth.
“I struggled to make the car work for myself it’s been not a good session, we made it to Q3, but with the wrong tyre, and then we didn’t make enough progress in Q3, so not a good day,” was his succinct conclusion.
While the excellent Leclerc kept in front of the midfield pack, Vettel remained fully rooted within a gaggle of similarly-paced cars. Vettel kept 10th for the first stint and maintained the position through the pit stop phase – leaping Renault’s Esteban Ocon but falling behind the offset Romain Grosjean. Ocon got back ahead on lap 18 while a charging Pierre Gasly got around Vettel at Stowe on lap 36, just as Grosjean came in for his stop, meaning Vettel effectively remained in 11th spot. Red Bull switched Alexander Albon to a two-stop strategy and the recovering Anglo-Thai got past Vettel on lap 48, relegating the Ferrari driver to 12th. Vettel then snuck back into the top 10 courtesy of the late left-front tyre failures that hampered Valtteri Bottas and Carlos Sainz Jr. Even then Bottas completed a lap with a flat tyre, pitted, and finished just three-tenths shy of Vettel. Without any outlier – such as an in-race mistake, collision, or weather – it was comfortably Vettel’s worst result with Ferrari. It leaves him, on merit, 13th in the Drivers’ Championship with only 10 points to his name.
What went wrong?
Well, nothing much went right.
Vettel’s Silverstone record, even with two victories, isn’t exceptionally strong, while the loss of track time also compromised his prospects. But Vettel was adamant post-race that something was fundamentally flawed with his SF1000. It was a similar complaint to Austria 1, believing the car felt different after Friday practice, a sentiment that Leclerc echoed in Hungary after his own malaise.
“The result was very poor but, you know, the car was very difficult to drive, I struggled to find my confidence, but I don’t know why,” he said. “We need to have a good look, but, certainly, if I struggle for so many laps in the race, from the beginning to the end there’s probably something that doesn’t stack up. It was not a very stressful race, but I just didn’t have a chance. People around me were faster, I was overtaken and it was very difficult to manage myself to stay on track. Physically it was not a tough race at all, because I could never attack, the car didn’t allow me to do what I like, so now we need to have a look at why and, obviously, we have the next weekend, so we can try and do better.”
It wasn’t as if his side of the garage had gone down a different route to the exceptional Leclerc, who salvaged an unlikely podium in the sister SF1000.
“On paper both cars are pretty similar, so it was not the set-up,” he said.
“I mean, we need to have a look because, also, if you look around the lap there isn’t one place where I’m driving poorly. There seems to be an issue, as it’s in the whole lap I’m losing time, so we need to have a look.”
With another round starting at Silverstone in just four days’ time he and Ferrari have little breathing space in order to stop a farewell tour becoming a road to ruin.