Sebastian Vettel led the world championship for more than half the year not because he had conclusively the best car, but because he wielded a very competitive car to excellent effect over most of the first half of the season.
He missed out on the title partly due to Ferrari’s reliability problems and partly due to his own errors. Two particular mistakes helped make Lewis Hamilton’s 46-point margin of victory as comfortable as it was.
|Beat team mate in qualifying||15/19|
|Beat team mate in race||14/16|
|Laps spent ahead of team mate||702/962|
Baku is the most glaring one. In losing his temper while Hamilton was baking up the pack Vettel threw away what would have been a win following his rival’s later, unrelated head rest failure. He was doubly fortunate not to be excluded from the race and that his stop-go penalty wasn’t enough to drop him back behind Hamilton.
In contrast Singapore ultimately a racing incident, albeit one in which Vettel as the championship leader arguably risked too much. Max Verstappen gave an utterly persuasive analysis of why Vettel’s aggressive move from the start line showed a failure to correctly identify his most important threat in the race. This was a far less egregious error on Vettel’s part than Baku but it cost him much more.
He risked a few near-misses too. In Mexico his tangle with Hamilton cost the Mercedes driver more than him. And his post-race collision with Lance Stroll in Malaysia was totally unnecessary and nearly led to a gearbox change penalty.
Instead it was the car failure earlier that weekend and another in Japan which finished off his title hopes. But for much of the rest of the year he drove superbly.
He became the first driver to beat a Mercedes V6 hybrid turbo in the championship. And he out-scored a fellow champion with the same hardware by over 100 points, though the team clearly protected his position in Hungary by preventing Raikkonen from jumping ahead as Vettel struggled with a steering fault.
A crucial aspect of Vettel’s success was his qualifying performances. He regularly split the Mercedes drivers in qualifying. he claimed 14 front row starts in his SF70H, nine more than Valtteri Bottas did in his W08.
Early in the season, when Ferrari were strongest, he didn’t even need to start that high to win races. In Bahrain he came from behind both Mercedes to win despite nursing a problem with his car.
His race craft was much better than those headline-grabbing errors made out. Prior to the clash with Hamilton in Baku he’d clung to his second place at the restarts superbly. He put a great pass on Daniel Ricciardo at Shanghai and muscled his way past the Force Indias in Canada.
Vettel is undoubtedly right when he describes his season as being more positive than negative. The times this year when his temperament let him down may not have cost him the championship, but are clearly the part of his game which require the most attention.
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Over to you
While the start of the season was on par with Hamilton. His let down before the title fight was over makes us forgot how much he has taken out of the available package and been pushing Hamilton.
What’s your verdict on Sebastian Vettel’s 2017 season? Which drivers do you feel he performed better or worse than him? Have your say in the comments.
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