Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari, Red Bull Ring, 2018

Ferrari’s error leaves Vettel on the back foot

Paddock Diary: Austrian Grand Prix day three

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Sebastian Vettel’s three-place grid penalty was inevitably the biggest talking point in the Formula 1 paddock after qualifying for the Austrian Grand Prix. Are Ferrari at risk of throwing the title away, asks @DieterRencken.

9am Saturday

Head for circuit, have plenty of time on my hands before the day’s activities kick off. Or so I think – en route I receive a message requesting that I head for Red Bull’s Holzhaus, the team’s ersatz energy station as described here, for a chat with Christian Horner. The interview had been scheduled for Friday, but postponed at the last minute – and a replacement slot promised.

10am

During our discussion I put to Horner that Red Bull may like to make an attempt on the Nürburgring Nordschleife lap record – smashed earlier this week by Porsche’s 919 Tribute – with an adapted F1 car. It would be, I venture, in line with the ‘edgy’ activities Red Bull excels in, while being the sort of challenge Adrian Newey would surely relish. Christian’s response is rather more interesting than the flat ‘no’ we got from Mercedes – more to come soon.

1pm

Lunch time. Where normally I would head for one of the generous teams, the fare put on by the media centre tickles my fancy, so I head downstairs for meatballs, mash, spätzle in a cheese sauce – fried pasta prepared risotto style – and browned onions, completed by hazelnut/raspberry tart. It’s as good as it sounds.

During lunch we discuss the effects of Liberty’s decision to shift activities by an hour (plus ten minutes for the race itself). After all, it’s still two hours to qualifying, and we agree that the days now stretch out: we arrive at the same time, yet leave an hour earlier. This, if anything, reduces access to drivers, who attend post-qualifying debriefs followed by evening sponsor functions, and now have less time for interviews.

How the time shift increases overall audiences is beyond us – it may play to western audiences, but ratings in Asia surely suffer.

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4pm

Qualifying over, it’s time to head for interviews. I bump into a delighted Carlos Sainz, whose son has again ‘done’ Renault team-mate Nico Hulkenberg despite being impeded by Sebastian Vettel, who subsequently gets docked three grid places. We are joined by Mark Webber, doing TV and announcer duties, who refers to Carlos as ‘champ’. That says it all.

While waiting for Brendon Hartley I’m introduced to his father Bryan. It transpires the Kiwi is a dyed-in-the-wool petrol-head who raced single seaters in New Zealand and Australia – including support events at the last Adelaide F1 grand prix – and has a solid reputation as an engine preparation wizard. Indeed, he and son Nelson built the 1964 Mini 1000 that holds two Bonneville speed record for the category, driven by Nelson.

The tiny, turbocharged 300bhp machine, driven by Brendon’s brother, topped 156mph.

5pm

We're welcome
We’re welcome
News of Vettel’s penalty comes through, and almost immediately I receive messages criticising the decision. One poster suggests the stewards are trying to ‘kill the race’, and that they should have ignored the infringement in the interests of the championship.

I’m astounded: sport is predicated upon a level playing field, and penalties apply up and down the grid. Seb blocked Carlos, admittedly inadvertently, and could so easily have spoiled the Spaniard’s race by preventing his progress into Q3. As such the three grid-slot penalty is not only fair, but in line with precedents.

My view is simple: if you’re upset about penalties imposed on your favourite drivers, blame them (or their teams, as the case may be), not the stewards. In this case the team failed to warn Vettel, on his slowdown lap, that a faster car was approaching.

Am I alone in thinking that, given the various incidents Vettel and Ferrari have been involved in this year, that the Scuderia simply do not want this year’s titles?

7:30pm

Interview over, it’s time for catch-up calls with the editors of various outlets I supply. Thereafter I head downstairs for dinner: spaghetti bolognese, followed by fruit and yoghurt. I’m out of the circuit by 8:30pm – and pack, ready to check out of the apartment early on Sunday.

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2018 Austrian Grand Prix

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Author information

Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...

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16 comments on “Ferrari’s error leaves Vettel on the back foot”

  1. It just wasnt the team that made the error Petulant child came back at Sainz in quite horrid manner when Sainz protested that impeding. It was only when stewards decided to investigate event the tone changed dramatically.

    1. Dude. Broken record. A particularly uninspiring borken record at that.

  2. This is well said. Stewards can’t just look the other way, just because a driver might be a lead challenger for the championship. We all moan about penalties on our favorite driver, but they have to be given, regardless of their status in the championship.

    Otherwise, drivers might feel they have carte blanche to do what they like safe in the knowledge that because they happen to be fighting for the championship the stewards won’t do anything.

    Vettel was disqualifyed from qualifying at Abu Dhabi in 2012 due to insifficent fuel in the tank for the post session testing. Should they have just said whatever and let his time and grid position stand? Hamilton incurred a penalty in -was it 2016- for exiting the pit lane exit early before the white marker, should that have been ignored?

    Schumacher, Senna, Mansell and many others all incurred penalties despite leading and fighting for championships, so it’s certainly within precendent.

    In some cases, it’s possible that penalties aren’t severe enough and are possibly undulely lenient because a driver is fighting for the championship, but thats another discussion.

    1. @nikkit ”Hamilton incurred a penalty in -was it 2016- for exiting the pit lane exit early before the white marker”
      – That was actually 2015, and coincidently on this weekend’s venue.

      1. @jerejj

        Thanks, after I’d posted I was sat here thinking ‘or was it 2015’

        Actually, Hamilton seemed to incurr the wrath of the stewerds a lot that year. Reversing a few inches in the pit lane, missing a corner at Russia and going the wrong side of a bollard and a couple of other times.

        Flip side, he was also judged not to have gained an advantage by cutting the corner at the Mexican GP that year -probably accurate considering he barreled across the grass – which is hardly the grippiest of surfaces for an F1 car-and only appeared to be ahead because everyone else was slowed by the tangle at the first corner (That he’d missed)

        1. @nikkit Though had it been the Mosely-FIA-Ferrari era, Hamilton would probably have been penalized for missing an incident. :)

    2. @nikkit, to that end, there have been complaints in the past that the stewards were too lenient on drivers at the front – figures like Hamilton, Vettel, Verstappen and so on – because, being in the championship battles and having extremely large and vocal fan bases, they were under pressure not to issue a penalty that would upset the championship battle, or one that upset their fan base for that matter.

      Drivers lower down the field have also complained about a similar issue, where they have felt that the stewards will more harshly penalise them if they get tangled up with a championship leading driver or one who is more popular, or for that matter levy harsher penalties on them than they do to championship contending drivers (some, for example, contrasting Bottas’s clashes with Kimi in Baku in 2017 – where no action was taken – with the penalties that drivers such as Sirotkin received in 2018).

      It is one area where there should be consistency, and the penalty that Vettel has received is in line with the usual penalty for that offence – and it should be the case that the governing body is prepared to do that, since it should be above the drivers and discipline them equally (even if that does not always happen in practise).

      I’m also not happy with the fact that Whiting has hinted that the FIA might begin penalising drivers more harshly based on the consequences of their actions, since it does potentially create a more subjective and inconsistent environment that might only make such controversies worse.

      When Vettel was penalised back in the French GP, I was, perhaps of a minority opinion, in agreement with the penalty. Yes, the penalty perhaps did feel lenient given that Bottas was more adversely impacted, but the penalty that Vettel was given was in line with that usually given for such an incident and, whilst Vettel’s move was a bit clumsy, it wasn’t the worst behaviour either – you could argue that Grosjean’s move, where he intentionally moved across and ended up hitting Ocon, was worse.

  3. Love these pieces and the style Dieter

  4. 1. Use of “Champ” is pretty common here in Australia, note as much as “mate” though. I doubt that WEB was inferring anything; it’s just a greeting. But then I wasn’t there. SAI is, however, a future champion in my books.

    2. The 1:10min pushback is terrible for me in the +10 time zone. I can do a 10pm race but staying awake to the end of an 11:10pm race is really difficult, and if I do I don’t really engage because I’m so sleepy. So for me it’s a media blackout until I watch the replay. Please go back Liberty.

    1. @thecollaroybos – 10pm? Luxury. They start at 1am here in NZ. (I’m going to celebrate having a Kiwi on the grid for as long as I can).

      I may be a little grumpy come tomorrow (Monday) morning.

    2. 1am in NZ I thought we had suffered here in Perth, 8pm slot moved to 9.10pm, my wife will be asleep by turn one. Tend to record the race nowadays as work in the morning.

    3. @thecollaroyboys 1: Carlos Sainz Senior, the 2 times Rally World Champion.

  5. Who is the driver steward this weekend?

  6. Derek Warwick

    1. Unlikely to be intentional but the later start has allowed TV viewers to watch the MotoGP at Assen before the F1GP, I’m betting that for those that watch both live the F1 will seem a little dull in comparison.
      Thank you again for these diary notes, I’m off to bed.

  7. @dieterrencken your analysis is right: Vettel and Ferrari are making too many mistakes. Vettel deserved the penalty. Nothing to say on these facts. What we tifosi can’t understand – and I’m not implying this is wrong, literally I can’t understand – is how is it possible that Vettel had a few cars impeding him in Canada and nothing happened and now FIA is speaking about consistency. I’m really open to change my mind but I need some explanation.

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