Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari, Baku City Circuit, 2018

Did Vettel slip up by urging Ferrari to cover Hamilton’s strategy?

2018 Azerbaijan Grand Prix

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Sebastian Vettel’s priority in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix was covering off the threat from Lewis Hamilton. But did that leave him vulnerable to an attack from Valtteri Bottas?

Vettel said after the race he encouraged Ferrari to time his pit stop to cover off any threat of being passed by Hamilton. The Mercedes driver had closed on him before their pit stops but lost several seconds by locking up and running wide at turn one.

Nonetheless Vettel was alert to the threat from Hamilton. After the Mercedes driver made his pit stop in he urged Ferrari to respond soon afterwards and ensure he stayed well clear of his rival.

“I was happy to pit where we pitted because [there] was always a headwind down the main straight,” Vettel explained. “I think you saw when Lewis was behind even though he was three, three-and-a-half seconds behind he gained massively in the last sector because with the tow the car in front, even if it’s far away, still makes a difference.

“So I spoke with the team and said let’s not stay out too long, let’s not wait until Lewis on the fresh tyres eventually catches up and we come out only two or three seconds in front and then he might get in the tow window.”

However when Vettel rejoined the track after his pit stop he had considerably more than three seconds in hand over Hamilton – almost eight, in fact:

That suggests Vettel could have stayed out quite a bit longer and still easily had a safe margin over Hamilton. Was he so concerned about the threat from Hamilton he urged Ferrari to pit him too soon?

If so, did this leave him more vulnerable to the threat from Bottas? The other Mercedes driver extended his first stint in the hope of being able to use a softer set of tyres at the end of the race to attack the leaders, or to benefit from a Safety Car deployment. The latter eventually happened and put Bottas on course to win.

It gives the impression Vettel selected his strategy based on which of his rivals he considers the greater long-term threat in the championship, rather than which was the greatest threat for the race victory on the day. But that isn’t necessarily the case.

Vettel had another motivation for pitting when he did: his tyres had gone and his lap times had risen. Not only was Hamilton quicker than him on new tyres, Bottas was faster on his old rubber too, by up to seven tenths of a second per lap:

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Leaving Vettel out on his older tyres would only cost him time, particularly with Bottas catching him so rapidly. Before the race Bottas commented on how the Ferrari seemed to have poor tyre life at the end of a stint. He exploited this brilliantly, pushing his super-soft tyres hard after Vettel pitted and reducing his lap times by almost two seconds to a level Vettel (and Hamilton) couldn’t match even on newer rubber.

At the time the Safety Car out Bottas was pushing Hamilton out of his Safety Car ‘window’ (i.e., reaching the point where he would have been able to pit and come out ahead of his team mate) and had run late enough in the race to be able to use ultra-soft tyres for a final stint charge to catch Vettel.

We didn’t get to see how that race would’ve unfolded. But it’s striking that for the third grand prix in a row, before Safety Cars disrupted the picture, the real race was not Vettel versus Hamilton, but Vettel versus Bottas. Perhaps that will figure more highly in Vettel’s thinking from now on.

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Quotes: Dieter Rencken

2018 F1 season

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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45 comments on “Did Vettel slip up by urging Ferrari to cover Hamilton’s strategy?”

  1. I thought Bottas started gaining on Vettel, that is why Ferrari decided to make the pit stop. Although Bottas was still 9 to 10 seconds behind Vettel, he was taking around 0.5s to 0.6s a lap out of Vettel’s laptimes for the last 7 to 8 laps, so it just felt like an optimal time for Ferrari to make the stop. They come out in front of Hamilton with a decent enough gap and fresher tyres, at the same time they should have the pace to stay around 10 seconds ahead of Bottas after he makes his pit stop.

    It would have been riskier to mirror Bottas’ strategy as Hamilton would have started closing the gap on Vettel if he had stayed out longer. Nothing wrong with Ferrari’s strategy as such, it was just unlucky that the safety car came out.

    1. No actually Ferrari made a big mistake, they lost another race by themselves. We have to credit Mercedes double pronged approach though.
      By trying the undercut with Hamilton (baku was a overcut track this weekend) Ferrari got nervous and tried to cover Hamilton, ferrari, as mentioned above had almost 8s on ham after vets 1 stop strategy, too cautious from Ferrari and the softs werent coming in. Mercedes then tried to rely on an sc for Bottas but eventually it became clear that the softs werent giving the undercut factor and that the ss were lasting well. Mercedes told Ham to push to try the undercut and then told Bottas to push in order to prepare for his stop, that led Ferrari to error, as time went by and the softs on vet and ham didnt start working, bottas managed to never lose net 2nd place after a pitstop and was within US window by the time of the SC. I believe that regardless of an SC, Bottas would’ve won, wholly on strategy.

      1. Problem is that Ferrari couldn’t counter the double pronged approach because Kimi fluffed it in qualifying. If Kimi was racing Bottas then Mercedes’ strategy would be to protect Bottas’ position from Kimi instead of having 2 Mercedes drivers attack one Ferrari driver. For the situation they were in, I thought they had the right strategy, but there was always a sliver of a chance that a safety car would spoil their party, which is exactly what happened.

  2. This is quite weird for Ferrari, isn’t it? In most of the Pirelli era they’ve been known to make cars that are less hungry on tyres, but are comparatively harder to warm up, resulting to less than perfect qualies. This year’s Ferrari seems the complete opposite.

    1. @wsrgo That’s because James Allison designed this year’s Mercedes. He always designs cars that are easy on the tyres.

      1. @f1infigures Yeah, I think the Lotus-Renault cars of 2012 and 2013 were easy on tyres too. Kind of makes me want to see what Perez could do in an Allison-designed car.
        Also, in hindsight of the problems of slippery track and tyre warming, Pirelli would have done well to debut the hypersofts in Baku and have the ultrasofts and supersofts as options. There would have been more stops, and probably less issues with tyre warming.

        1. @wsrgo Tyre temperature was more important than tyre degradation this race, so pitting later was actually advantageous, which is a bit weird nowadays. This track really needs softer tyres indeed. The tyre allocation chosen wasn’t really suitable for this track.

          A driver’s tyre wear, just as his outright speed, can vary significantly from race to race. Even Bottas, who I thought was hard on the tyres, managed to protect his tyres very well in the past few races. Even Pérez had races in which he took too much life out of his tyres early on (Bahrain 2016 comes to mind). I may be wrong, but it seems tyre wear nowadays depends more on how hard the driver is pushing, and not so much on car set-up. Performances like Pérez’ stunning drive in Italy 2012 are getting increasingly less likely I fear.

  3. I find this article quite off if I’m honest. Don’t really get the goal of it, is to pin some of the blame on Vettel for loosing out the position for Bottas? Unless he travels with a crystal ball I don’t know how he could predict the SC

    It gives the impression Vettel selected his strategy based on which of his rivals he considers the greater long-term threat in the championship, rather than which was the greatest threat for the race victory on the day. But that isn’t necessarily the case.

    Let’s start with this quote, Hamilton was the biggest threat for the race victory at the time they pit, not Bottas, they covered the undercut, if there was no SC, Vettel would have been leading the race easily. Yes Bottas was aiming for an aggressive strategy in trying to go for a softer rubber, but would they do? Wait to Hamilton come into their window and lose track position and be under threat from both Hamilton and Bottas?

    Also, it is up to the team to make strategy calls. Vettel feeds-back info to the pitwall, but they are the ones with the necessary data to make decisions, if they were pressured by their driver into the call (which felt normal for me at the time), they seriously need to step up their game, it implies that Vettel while driving has a better understanding of what is going on compared to them.

    1. It is Keith – & British press in general – who are always against Vettel and want to undermine him. It is becoming boring. For this alone I hope that Vettel wins the WDC this year.

      1. @johnmilk

        is to pin some of the blame on Vettel for loosing out the position for Bottas?

        No that’s not the point, and the paragraph you’ve quoted is the bit which begins to explain why. However:

        it is up to the team to make strategy calls. Vettel feeds-back info to the pitwall

        It’s not a one-way street, and Vettel’s quote makes that clear.

        @niedle Not half as bored as I am of telling people I don’t care about petty nationalism, I assure you.

        1. @keith Collantine
          Don’t be in denial, you are nationalist we have been reading your articles for years and we are entitled to our opinion. For us non Brits it’s easier to spot, still we appreciate the fact that you are much less than other journalists. For instance, don’t have a preference in drivers/teams? Of course you have, you wouldn’t be in the business otherwise. You choose not to disclose which is a double-edged sword because that way everybody attributes bias, meanwhile you plead bored and innocent.

          1. @philby Unless you can show some proof of that, I don’t think your comment holds up. ‘Wouldn’t be in the business otherwise’? What is that supposed to mean?
            I used to think @keithcollantine might have been a bit biased against Kimi several years ago (c. 2009), though I think much of that had to do with the fact that Kimi fans had taken over the DoTY voting process, which forced the voting rules to become more stringent, if I’m not mistaken.

          2. @philby He most definately is not a fan of Hamilton. Button and Mansell maybe, but they are not active in F1 anymore. If anything he seems quite supportive of Vettel.

            I think the issue is more that people (especially Vettel fans in this case) read the first line of a paragraph and have made up their mind that it’s biased from then on. Even though the rest of the paragraph negates that notion completely.

            Although I agree that the whole article is a bit of a non-analysis since it was clear that Vettel had ample reason to come in when he did. This time the luck of the SC fell someone else’s way. You win some, you lose some I guess.

          3. @philby You seem to claim that 1) It is not possible to be passionate about a sport or “be in the business” unless you like some drivers / teams more than others. 2) It is not possible to put these feelings aside when doing the job ie. reporting on the sport or analysing it. 3) It is not possible to not like your own country’s athletes or teams.

            I believe that all of these claims are very obviously false. 1) If I speak about myself, I can admit that I have always liked some drivers more than others. It does not mean that someone else could not simply enjoy the show without choosing sides though. 2) I think I do not need to explain why every grown-up should be able to do analysis of something, which is based only on the available facts, not their emotions. 3) ‘He is British’ – the Internet is full of British fans, who love Alonso and / or do not like Hamilton, do all of them have Spanish ancestors?

            @keithcollantine is the most neutral F1 writer that I could imagine – articles such as this one and the fact that he is regularly accused of being pro- / against the same drivers pretty much prove it. Of course, you are entitled to a different opinion but as long as it is not backed by some analysis, it is not worth more than belief that the moon is made of cheese.

          4. @philby Having a “handle” named after a notorious British traitor speaks volumes. One can only conclude that you are no friend of the British.

          5. Let me answer one by one,
            @wsrgo I don’t need proof this is not a trial.
            ‘Wouldn’t be in the business otherwise’? What is that supposed to mean? About this I strongly believe that you can’t follow a sport so passionately and don’t have a preference, it is only natural.
            I am not a Vettel fan btw far from it, I am a Ferrari fan as such there have been drivers I admired and others that I have to put up with because they are driving for my favourite team. Also I admire drivers who don’t drive for Ferrari.

            @patrickl I wholeheartedly agree with your last paragraph. I think this article is off the mark trying to discredit Ferrari’s strategy which mishap came into fore due to the SC.

            @girts You suggest my claim is absurd. Do you happen to know any sports journalist who doesn’t have a preference? Maybe keith isn’t a nationalist after all but much of his audience who are brits is, so taging along is just the way of business. I happen to come from a country with zero tradition in motorsport on any level but have lived in Britain for 5 years. I also said that Keith is not a nationalist on an irritating level and better than others.
            @ijw1 It comes from the Rory Gallagher song, but this doesn’t fit your agenda.

          6. @philby I agree with you that a lot of motorsports journalists mainly focus on their audience so they tend to give the local stars (Vettel in Germany, Hamilton in the UK etc.) more coverage and also treat them better.

            But that is not always the case. Some part of the fans will always want to get unbiased analysis. For instance, I know a German motorsport blog that does not care about Vettel or other German drivers at all, they are just passionate about F1, NASCAR, Le Mans etc.

            Also, the majority of the readers of this website is actually not British, Keith once used to do this analysis to see where we all come from.

            Anyway, we both at least seem to agree that this website is better than other F1 blogs :-)

          7. You are spot on, but its still probably the best site/community to read about all matters concerning F1.

        2. @keithcollantine I actually read the whole article, and saw how you were trying to deconstruct the situation, covering angles we haven’t thought of. Great analysis as always. Don’t mind the knee-jerk reaction of book cover readers.

          1. Exactly
            These fanatics need to take a minute to get in their lane.

            I for one was wondering why Vettel pitted when he could put US on at the end. It made him vulnerable to the SC. Di Resta said the same in commentary after the SC had come out.

            The article explains the tow effect Vettel was so wary of.

            Job done

        3. @keithcollantine fair play. But it did sound like it (at least to me), especially when you star with that headline, and finish with that last paragraph.

          I would change Vettel for Ferrari, after all they should be the ones doing that sort of thinking.

          Btw, to all the others commenting on this thread I don’t think there is the need to defend Keith, especially from these sort of comments, as they are thrown in a non-constructice way. I think Keith is only biased against one driver, but Pedro Lamy is no longer racing

          1. I don’t think there is the need to defend Keith, especially from these sort of comments

            You are right but I never post comments because I believe that I will convince anyone to change their mind – that almost never happens. I write something whenever I have some thoughts on the topic and it is hard to keep them to myself. Also, in this case I want to show some support for Keith – running this blog is one hell of a job and if I was doing it, I would definitely appreciate some encouragement, income from ads / donations would not be enough.

            I think Keith is only biased against one driver, but Pedro Lamy is no longer racing

            I think I like you.

          2. @girts don’t make me blush

      2. @niedle

        who are always against Vettel and want to undermine him.

        @keithcollantine has also been blamed for the exact opposite.

      3. Agree the British press is very biased. Last race Sky even suggested Mercedes should sacrifice Bottas in qualifying to give Hamilton a tow, even though Bottas is only 5 points behind and fastest in the last races.

        Here Vettel is being blamed for the result for urging his team to consider some (obvious) tactical option which I very much doubt would be the case if Hamilton had done similar.

    2. The team has generally much more information than the driver but the driver is the only one, who feels the car and the tyres. So in case of doubt they can take the driver’s feedback into account when making strategic calls.

      As for the ‘crystal ball’, given the short history of Baku’s race and the nature of the circuit, a safety car period was always very likely.

    3. @johnmilk you are spot on. I think there’s this tendency to rub vatel on vettel’s wounds, if you know what I mean.
      Ferrari just followed the usual undercut response, but apparently in baku the tyres were not working the same as usual therefore the undercut didn’t work and the overcut seemed to be a better idea, Mercedes would’ve never sacrificed Hamilton had they been sure the undercut wouldn’t work, the soft tyre wasn’t going to be able to switch on and outperform old super softs. Bottas was left with track position and as a result p1 on sc window. The supers proved to last so well that the RBs and Bottas were about to enter US window for their pitstop. The key factor in Baku was actually that for once overcut was the right strategy, or rather a much later undercut.

      1. I think there’s this tendency to rub vatel on vettel’s wounds

        @peartree because he is salty?

        I will see myself out

        1. @johnmilk Exactly. Lets just make Vettel be the reason his races go wrong regardless of anything else.

          I will see myself out

          You are probably the only one here able to get that reference.

  4. vettel had 8 seconds over lewis because of the lockup
    before lewis locked up he was 3-4 seconds behind vettel and 8 seconds ahead of bottas
    so without the lockup vettel was right to be concerned about lewis.

  5. Vettel had another motivation for pitting when he did: his tyres had gone and his lap times had risen. Not only was Hamilton quicker than him on new tyres, Bottas was faster on his old rubber too, by up to seven tenths of a second per lap:

    This one paragraph is enough reason for this article to not exist in the first place, I’d have thought.

    1. @sravan-pe I don’t agree: I’ve seen articles elsewhere asserting Vettel pitted because he feels Hamilton is a bigger threat to him in the championship than Bottas. And even though he cited Hamilton as the reason for pitting, I think his strategy was still justifiable within the context of the race, which is partly why I wrote this.

      1. I for one appreciate this article. I too had felt that it had been a mistake by Vettel/Ferrari to pit when they did and felt that it was reminiscent of Abu Dhabi 2010 when they focussed on the wrong driver. Also, the way the Red Bull drivers were racing, a SC looked inevitabke. However, it is clear from the lap time chart that Vettel had begun to lose big chunks of lap time to both Bottas and Hamilton and so the strategy to mirror Bottas was no longer an option. Perhaps it was 1 or 2 laps early as Hamilton was still 8 seconds behind when Vettel emerged from his 1st pit stop but, ultimately, it was Bottas who was in the stronger position and would have been able to make a charge on ultra softs had the SC not come out.

        If the current trend continues, it won’t be long before Ferrari shift their focus on which driver is the greater threat. However that will very much depend on Mercedes and how soon they fix the W09. Hamilton is no doubt the stronger driver but is still out of his comfort zone.

      2. Fair enough :)

    2. That paragraph isnt actually representative of the actual pace of all 3 cars. They were trading fastest times between the 3, and the times were somewhat inconsistent, in one lap ham only did lap faster because of a tow. The thing is on pit in and out the drivers push the car to the limits, ham trying to undercut was on high PU demand and so was Bottas looking to pit in, pu modes explains the inconsistencies between hams and bottas relative pace.

  6. Ferrari pitted Vettel too soon. Pitting earlier than your rival is always a bit of a risk and there was no need to pit that early.

  7. I suspect from the comparative pace of Raikkonen and Bottas that Vettel and Hamilton were hammering it on their starting tyres. Vettel knew he needed to be way out of slipstream and DRS range because of the straight on this track, and Hamilton knew that if he let him get too far ahead then without a safety car the race was lost.

    Hamilton killed his tyres first with the lockup but Vettel didn’t seem to have a great deal more life in his. Meanwhile, Bottas plodded along at a conservative pace, a pace that was going to give him the life to get onto the ultra soft tyres. I don’t think anyone expected the soft tyres to be so slow so Mercedes and Ferrari likely thought Vettel and Hamilton were on the best strategy with the gamble being available for Bottas.

    I also think that Vettel’s late lunge after the safety car was more motivated by keeping away from Hamilton than stealing a place from Bottas. His biggest threat in the season will be Hamilton, he knew that trapped behind Bottas he would have Hamilton badgering him and likely passing him, he knew he needed to be out in front racing in clean air.

  8. FlatSix (@)
    3rd May 2018, 18:31

    Vettel had serious wear on his right front tyre. Bottas was never a threat without the SC. There was nothing wrong with coming in at that moment in time or couple of laps after that.

  9. Both Hamilton and Vettel should be covering each other at this point and hold that mentality until things become clearer. Vettel should have happily sat behind Bottas and held Hamilton behind him, and in the last race made it easier for Verstappen to pass (even though he claimed he was conceding).
    I understand that their reflexes and hunger make them attack or defend any gap, but World Championships have been won in the past focusing on solid point scoring, this looks like it could be one of those years.

  10. Bottas has indeed proven the smarter driver when it comes to tyre management; and this year tyres count even more.
    What Vettel did, as a lone fighter, is correct, as he did not envisage (and most of us didn’t) Bottas’ SuperSofts lasting that long.
    Also, strategy calls are influenced by the driver, but the pit wall has the global view and should take the final decision.

    Had the Reb Bulls not crashed, had Grosjean not crashed, Bottas was still in the best position to attack at the end – but Vettel took the right decision to cover his main rival. Had Raikkonen played a role, it would have been easier.
    A Bottas/Vettel/Hamilton finish would’ve been a good thing for Seb, and it was heading this way under normal conditions.
    The safety car change it all; bunched up and on the same rubber; the option to attack was alas too attractive.

    1. “Bottas has indeed proven the smarter driver when it comes to tyre management; and this year tyres count even more”

      Bottas wasn’t managing his tyres in the first stint–that’s a common misconception. He was having real problems keeping his tyres in the right window–that’s why he fell back so far in the 1st stint. We all thought Bottas was pacing himself, saving his tyres. But no, Shovlin has confirmed that Bottas was just slow, struggling on his tyres.

  11. Goes to show how weird the start of this season has been. Safety Car has change the race win thrice in the 4 races. The first race was between Lewis vs Kimi (considering ultimate pace). The next 3 have been Vettel vs Bottas (considering ultimate pace) and we have had no Lewis vs Seb so far.

    1. Ultimate pace – In Baku, Hamilton was slightly faster than Bottas. Bottas only got in the lead becuase he had not yet pitted. He was slower than Hamilton in qual and slower in the first stint (before Hamilton pitted). In Bahrain, Hamilton’s chances were effected by a grid penalty. So, when all is equal, Bottas has only fully outpaced Hamilton in China

  12. This tactical stuff is what makes FTyre so fascinating.

  13. I´d say it´s a sound strategy to defend predominantly against hamilton. apart from the obvious excelence of physical ability i always admired the psychological, subconscious abilities of great champions. i think the best example of what i mean is roger federer. EVERY time the pressure is high, he plays at another (much higher) level.

    Most people crumble under immense pressure and become worse than they are normally. Kvyat is an example, but also nico rosberg, which is the reason why i admire his resolve to win a wdc, while being handycapped in this regard. It was clearly visible and he also said it repeatedly in the interview @ abu dhabi when nico won the wdc, that he didn´t enjoy the pressure. That´s what made him slow when the prize was in sight.

    Hamilton, Vettel, Alonso, Schumacher, Senna and most of the multiple WDCs have this ability, to become faster under pressure, and Bottas looks to me like somebody, who doesn´t. Or at least not on this level. Over the course of a season, when the pressure gets bigger and bigger Bottas will become slower, more defensive and hamilton will become faster.

    That´s what it boils down to in my humble opinion.

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