Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas, Sebastian Vettel, Baku City Circuit, 2019

How Mercedes duped Vettel into running alone in qualifying

2019 Azerbaijan Grand Prix

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After qualifying Sebastian Vettel said he regretted choosing to run on his own during his final lap of qualifying, without the benefit of a slipstream from another car.

However smart tactics by Mercedes had duped Vettel into running alone, compromising his chances of taking pole position.

According to Vettel, running in the slipstream of another car potentially offers a lap time benefit of three-tenths of a second in Baku. But with Charles Leclerc having crashed out during Q2, Ferrari were unable to co-ordinate the efforts of their drivers and share their slipstream, as they had practiced during second practice yesterday.

In between his runs in Q3, Vettel told his team he wanted to be sent out in the queue of traffic at the end of the session. That meant trying to get a tow from a rival car, which would have to be one of the comparably quick front-runners such as Mercedes or Red Bull:

To Vettel:Do you want to go alone right now or prefer to wait?
To Vettel:OK.
Vettel:Prefer to wait. Need the tow.

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Ferrari’s garage is closer to the pit lane exit than Mercedes at Baku, so when Mercedes sent Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton out together, Ferrari reacted by sending Vettel out as well.

Screenshot: Vettel passes the Mercedes
Mercedes led Vettel out – then pulled over
But Mercedes had seen it coming. Bottas and Hamilton pulled over at the pit lane exit in the area reserve for practice starts and Vettel motored by, now with only a couple of slower cars in front of him. They also let him past, not wanting to have to wave a quicker car through on their flying laps.

That left Vettel on his own, and the Mercedes drivers enjoying the benefit of the slipstream. While he was quicker initially in the first sector, Mercedes’s slipstream aided them on the long run to the start/finish line.

After the session, Vettel asked the Mercedes drivers whether they’d done a dummy start…

Speaking after qualifying, Vettel admitted he could have been closer to the silver cars if he’d had the benefit of another car running ahead of him.

“It’s always a compromise. If you are too close in the middle sector you lose out. But I would say going with the other people [is] probably around three-tenths [faster]. It could have been a bit closer with somebody in front.”

That three-tenths of a second was the same margin by which Vettel lost pole position, and Mercedes achieved a sweep of the front row of the grid for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

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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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65 comments on “How Mercedes duped Vettel into running alone in qualifying”

  1. Not good at thinking on their feet and falling prey to trolling as usual.

    1. Well, the obvious suckka here is HAM! BOT acted again as a no.2 in order to help HAM… yet HAMMIE failed! This is the main story! It’s not like Mercedes boys would have played it as a tow to VET anyway…..

      1. Yes…terrible failure that Lewis Hamilton. I mean…what HAS this guy done to deserve any plaudits? Get Rid Merc.

      2. @mg1982 Bottas in no way acted as a number 2 here. It was simply his race to be the lead Mercedes. He got a tow from the McLaren and Hamilton got a tow from Bottas. The benefit actually went to the leading Mercedes as the McLaren is slower than the Mercedes which allowed Bottas to catch up and gain a stronger tow than Hamilton could gain from Bottas. If anything Mercedes actually sacrificed Hamiltons first sector to do this as his tyre prep wasn’t as good as Bottas due to the time limit and other drivers backing off.

        1. Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
          28th April 2019, 8:54

          I at first thought Bottas had a tow both at the start of the lap and the end, but he had none what so ever during the lap.


          The time he possibly did have a tiny bit was from a car quite far ahead of him as he came round the last corner you have to slow down for before the long strait. But that will barely have made any difference as by the time you start your lap, you have to break very soon. The slipstream is significantly more beneficial at the end of your lap than the start. Hamilton was compromised at first, but had a significant advantage with a tow in the last sector which effectively should have made up for the first sector being effected. Perhaps explaining why he maybe was fastest of anyone in the middle and especially the final sector. Overall, I don’t think Bottas really got much of an advantage. He just got a faster lap in just at the last moment.

  2. Did they even pause longer than usual at the pit exit intentionally at the start of their second runs?
    To prevent other teams from making the clock in time to set laps

    Looked suspicious but I’m not sure

    1. @Ipsom Didn’t look to me like that.

    2. No, they were running last in the pack.

    3. No. They pulled to the side to perform “practice starts” allowing all other cars ahead of them. Perfectly legal.

  3. Problem with this is mercedes ended up screwing Lewis Hamilton’s lap as well. Hamilton lost time in the first sector cos he had to run so close to bottas and his tyres weren’t ready

    1. Probably true I should say

    2. Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
      27th April 2019, 17:46

      I don’t know why so many people are saying this. He did not HAVE to run so close to Bottas. In that case, Bottas HAD to run close to the car infront of him that he somehow managed to back off from in time before the lap started. Hamilton didn’t manage to do this. Both had slipstream near the end, but I think Bottas judged the start of his lap a bit better than Hamilton as Hamilton could have backed off slightly earlier than he did. Although admittedly, there was only just enough time.

      1. Hamilton’s run WAS compromised. He may have been able to counter that but he was tight on time to cross the line and needed to stay fairly close to BOT to benefit from the tow. BOT had a similar predicament although didn’t have to worry too much about crossing the line in time to start his lap. Good job by BOT. Beating Lewis Hamilton to pole in the same car deserves respect no matter the circumstances. Can he keep it up all season though?

      2. Your last sentence contradicted your whole comment.

    3. In another article, Wolff confirmed that Ham chose to run behind Bot to make benefit of the tow.
      If he failed to make this work, its his own fault alone, but hey he’s still P2 and starts on the inside. If he gets a better start than Bot, the race is his again.

  4. But interestingly, Bottas did not had a slipstream for his pole time and Hamilton did, following the (still) faster Bottas.
    So, i do believe in slipstreams and a very good example was the one Gasly used.
    But without slipstream Bottas was quicker compared to Hamilton with slipstream.

    1. Both of them did have. A front row lockout so I can’t complain in spite of this reducing Hamilton’s chance of pole.

      1. No Bottas did NOT had a tow, but just judge for yourself:

        1. Bottom line: the slipstream is nice, but of little use when your exit of the final corner gets compromised.

        2. A valid post…if you’d also shown Lewis’s lap to compare the distances. BOT DID get a tow, Lewis also got a tow…BOT was faster…what’s the issue here?

        3. YES, Bottas did have a powerful slipstream from Lando Norris

          ”Vital tow landed Bottas Azerbaijan pole”

          I am a fan of both Bottas and Hamilton anyway.

          1. @ Inger:
            With all due respect (and we know nothing nice ever comes after that), there is a frickin’ video in erikje’s comment you replied to. In this video, Lando Norris is never more than a very distant speck of orange on the horizon. At least 200, if not 300 metres ahead. And while it’s true that it doesn’t hurt to have another car a few seconds ahead that makes the air move in the same general direction you’re going, no one in their right mind would doubt that this is way too far ahead to consider it a “powerful tow”. Someone smarter than me may do the math, but judging by experience and the looks of it, the beneficial effect of such a distant tow may well be a matter of homeopathy rather than something that can be measured in kph or milliseconds.

            The fact that you’re trying to argue against solid first-hand evidence (i.e. onboard footage of Bottas’ lap) with weak second-hand evidence (an article that has an interpretation of a driver’s words in its title) is frankly absurd. Your argument has reached invalidity levels that shouldn’t even be possible.

          2. and we know nothing nice ever comes after that

            the beneficial effect of such a distant tow may well be a matter of homeopathy

            LOL, you’re killing me :)

        4. Bottas admitted himself that he got a slipstream from Lando …. if he said this then end of discussion.

          1. Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
            28th April 2019, 9:04

            Yes, but that won’t have made a significant difference will it? He only can have got slipstream from Lando before his lap began given the distance he was behind when his lap started. So when he started by crossing the finish line, he may have had a tiny tiny fraction more speed because of Lando, but then he will have very soon had to break for the first corner. But yes, this could have made the difference needed to beat Hamilton by the margin he did perhaps. But if anything, Hamilton had far more of an advantage before the lap began with this because he was far closer to Bottas and easily will have picked up a tow, but at the expense of a messed up first sector. But then he certainly will have had a big advantage in the final sector given he was behind bottas the majority of the straight which likely would have made up for his first sector loss. He did also get fastest middle and final sector, perhaps showing that it wasn’t such a disadvantage running behind Bottas. I think Bottas just did a better lap, despite not having a tow on the lap itself.

    2. Actually, Bottas had a slipstream from the car in front of him (Norris, maybe?).

      1. Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
        27th April 2019, 19:37

        And that was to start the lap, the slipstream he head will have only bennifitted him for a tiny fraction of time after he started his lap then he will have had to brake. When he did the majority of his lap, he was in clean air. Hamilton had a disadvantage starting his lap, but the 2nd and 3rd sector he had an advantage of following Bottas and getting a tow which easily should have made up for the difficult start. But Bottas still just about beat him even without a tow down the longest strait on the lap that counts.

  5. Lewis barely beat the flag by 5 seconds. That was not smart of Mercedes to let their drivers practice starts at the beginning of Q3. Lewis then lost 3 tenth in first sector alone for being too close to Bottas.

    1. F1oSaurus (@)
      27th April 2019, 17:46

      @amg44 That’s the risk of getting a tow though. Get too close and you suffer in the twisty section.

    2. I think that rather than being too close (as that would’ve then compromised him in s2 as well, where he was purple), it was more that he had to back off so much before the last corner so he wouldn’t be too close, that his tyres cooled down and therefore weren’t ready for the first few turns, hence s1 being slower.

      1. That doesn’t seem too bad a theory @hugh11,though I do think that having in the end only beaten the flag by 5 seconds means he had to also be quite close before that, hence the backing of you mention.

    3. Where do you know he lost 3 tenthts and how do you know it wasn’t an error from lewis? If he had 5 seconds to spare he could have easily dropped back couple more seconds. F1 teams are pretty good at timing that stuff.

  6. I don’t think they really ‘duped’ Mercedes .. Ferrari’s strategy to try slipstreaming was thrown out of the window once Leclerc put in the wall. There was no way they would risk getting in the slipstream of a midfield car given the pace advantage that Ferrari has over them. It’s just too risky… and not a risk worth taking considering that Hamilton was already on provisional pole.

    1. F1oSaurus (@)
      27th April 2019, 17:44

      @todfod The article explains how Mercedes potentially duped Ferrari

      1. @f1osaurus

        As I said, I don’t think Ferrari would have taken the decision to slipstream either ways. Personally, I don’t think they weren’t imitating Mercedes… at least there isn’t enough proof in this article to claim they were.

        1. F1oSaurus (@)
          27th April 2019, 18:08

          @todfod Well Vettel literally says on the radio that he wanted to wait for a tow in the queue. Then he goes out exactly behind the Mercedes cars, but due to Mercedes’ trick Vettel ends up ahead of the whole queue (exactly the opposite of what Vettel himself said wanted).

          And then Vettel basically asks the Mercedes guys if they duped him. So at least Vettel understood that he got duped.

          1. @f1osaurus

            At the end of Sebs interview he say he regrets not taking the gamble of tow for his final lap attempt. Which i thought confirms that he wasn’t counting on the tow from the Mercs for his last run anyways.

          2. F1oSaurus (@)
            28th April 2019, 8:40

            @todfod He was talking about the situation after he’d been dummied. Indeed he still could have gambled on a tow from the slower cars ahead of him, but decided to go past them and run on his own. That would have indeed been a huge gamble.

            Did you also see the post quali press conference? The bit where Vettel asked about the fake practice starts in Q3? It was hilarious. Vettel clearly did go out expecting to be behind the Mercedes drivers.

            Don’t think they should play their cards so open though. Hamilton just laughed in Vettel’s face that they dummied him and Bottas quietly added “and you fell for it”

        2. I agree Todfod, I don’t see evidence that Ferrari was duped. Counting on, and getting the timing right, for the benefits of the slipstream at the end of the lap is tricky. Even one of the announcers said you “miss it more likely than getting it right”, or something like that. I think the lone Ferrari just found a space and ran his qualifier.

          1. I thought Horner said that when they asked if Red Bull would use Gasley as a tow vehicle/

          2. F1oSaurus (@)
            28th April 2019, 8:41

            @warren2185 There is plenty evidence. Apart from Vettel literally stating that he wants a tow, just see the post race press conference and how annoyed Vettel was about Mercedes doing that fake start to get Vettel out of their tow.

    2. What potential pace advantage? The team that is going for the 4th consecutive 1-2 is slower?

  7. And I thought their car was faster.

    1. F1oSaurus (@)
      27th April 2019, 18:08

      The faster one got wrapped into a corner.

      1. Stop drinking the Monster.

        1. F1oSaurus (@)
          28th April 2019, 8:42

          @faulty Or maybe Vettel should drink some? He could clearly use some energy.

        2. Leclerc has been consistently faster than Seb this season … suggest you try the Monster.

  8. Mercedes really are trolling Ferrari at every level..

  9. Champs are over. Mercedes will easily walk away with both of them. They have the best car, best driver, best no.2.

    1. @mg1982 let’s hope so. If they win will
      You leave and never return ?

    2. Is Mercs fault they do a better job than the opposition, I agree that at the moment Ferrari are their biggest challengers but the Ferrari pit wall keeps throwing it away, but then I guess you blame Mercedes for that.

    3. Tom amd Foggy you guys are so caught up inside you fanatism that you are putting words in @mg182 mouth. He is complimenting Mercedes and their drivers and you managed to turn it around somehow.

      Comedic to say the least

  10. Marcedes the kings of trolling. They know exactly how to push Ferris fan’s buttons. lol

  11. “Hamilton: Gap to Ferrari in Baku will be tough to close” LOL

  12. petebaldwin (@)
    27th April 2019, 19:03

    Let’s try and an inject some fun in to this dire season – who will be the first to say Ferrari will be quicker than Mercedes at Spain? Toto or Lewis?

    1. @petebaldwin – I heard they’re practicing a duet…

    2. I bet on a sky commemtator

  13. So if Mercedes duped Ferrari, who paid the Alfa Romeo and McLaren to get out from ahead of Vettel on the out lap?

    1. Vettel overtook them as following them could be more detrimental than beneficial, considering the advantage the top teams have over the midfield.

    2. F1oSaurus (@)
      28th April 2019, 8:44

      @dragon86 Vettel said he didn’t want to take he gamble of being behind a slower car. So he passed them and went solo.

      He also said afterwards that perhaps he should have taken that gamble. Plus a whole list of other things that he did wrong. He was actually quite frank about messing up badly.

  14. Well, race day will be fun with the Mercs able to pincer Vettel on strategy, similar to Monza last year. 2 vs. 1 never works out in favour of the 1.

    1. @phylyp Well.. To be fair it was a Ferrari front row lockout for Monza.. So it seemed like 2 Ferraris vs 1 Merc before the race… And we know how that result turned out.

      I think it’s still race on for Ferrari tomorrow.. For both Vettel and Leclerc

      1. Apologies Todfod … must stop speed reading, missed the last bit of your post.

    2. You are already writing Leclerc out of the picture, he may yet have a major impact on the race.

    3. F1oSaurus (@)
      28th April 2019, 8:57

      @phylyp What do you mean? Mercedes wasn’t 2 vs 1 on Raikkonen. Bottas was miles behind. Only time Bottas got into play was after a stop where he held up Raikkonen a bit for a few laps. But then Raikkonen already lost that race when he stopped way too early.

      Ferrari could have played Hamilton if Vettel had kept his head cool though.

      The race in Russia was a carbon copy of the Monza start, but then with the two mercs at the front. Bottas pushing Hamilton off after the start, Vettel almost taking Hamilton’s position because of that. However Hamilton didn’t over commit on that attack and he didn’t lose out so much. Plus he kept the car on the road. So Mercedes did have the chance to play Ferrari that race and they did.

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