Jolyon Palmer's Analysis: Why Sebastian Vettel's Italian Grand Prix unravelled
Charles Leclerc took his second win in a row in Monza, ramping up the pressure on Sebastian Vettel, after he backed up his lacklustre Belgium weekend with a torrid race on Sunday in Italy.
Vettel’s race came undone in a strange moment on Lap 6, as he spun off heading into the Ascari chicane, in a completely unforced error. To compound matters he then rejoined in an outrageous manner, driving across the full width of the track and ultimately nudging seventh-placed man Lance Stroll into a spin.
But the frustration for Vettel started a day earlier, in qualifying.
On the back of Leclerc taking the first 2019 win for Ferrari in Belgium, Vettel would have already been feeling some pressure at the start of the Monza weekend. It’s now been over a year since the German’s last win and, of course, the Italian Grand Prix is a huge one for Ferrari at their home track.
But Vettel seemed to be relatively in the mix throughout Friday and Saturday and was in contention for pole still after the first run of qualifying. Whilst he lay in provisional P4, he did the time without the crucial tow that everybody was craving, in the knowledge and expectation that his team mate would return the favour on their second runs.
At this point, being 0.15s off the pace put him right in contention, if he could do a similar lap, but with the help of the slipstream that he had just offered Leclerc.
What unfolded at the end of Q3 was largely farcical though. Everybody left the garage too late and then too slowly, as it became a ‘slow race’ up until Curva Grande. Nobody wanted to be the car at the front of the train, but Vettel felt Leclerc needed to be and owed him one after Vettel performed exactly that role for his team mate on the first runs.
He crossed the line, timed out, with just a sarcastic ‘thank you, thank you’ to his team and to Charles, who despite taking pole position, was busy defending himself, rather than being caught up in the ecstasy of taking a Monza pole in a Ferrari – usually the sign of a guilty man. And as the facts trickled through on Saturday evening and Sunday morning it became more and more clear that that might be the case.
Nonetheless, Vettel was tracking the Mercedes, in fourth place in the opening laps on Sunday, up with the leading pack when he had his spin.
It was a spin I’ve rarely seen in a Formula 1 car, although it’s quite understandable how it could happen. He simply was right on the edge of the rear of the car, probably carrying too much speed into the approach to Ascari. After that, nibbling the apex kerb was the final destabilisation the car needed to lurch into a spin and put Vettel into a myriad of troubles.
Probably the subconscious frustration he was feeling with the team, with Charles and the unfolding situation, must have been on his mind to have had such a simple spin.
At first the re-join seemed, quite frankly ludicrous, and from such a well-respected, successful, older statesman amongst the drivers, it didn’t make any sense other than pure red mist.
But on hearing Vettel’s explanation of ‘I couldn’t see anything’ after the race, I can actually sympathise slightly more.
The high cockpit sides and the angle the car went off, combined with the HANS device and possibly Halo also would have made visibility very difficult.
With the HANS on in the car, the driver has a very limited range of head movement to the side. Then on top of this, the high cockpit sides would have meant he could see no further than probably 90 degrees out of the car, aside from what he could see in the mirrors.
But the angle was more like 110 degrees for Vettel onto the track, so there would likely have been a blind spot for him. The question then is, what to do – wait or gamble?
He gambled, pulled onto track and took out another car in the process, making an already simple mistake so much worse.
The penalty he got was as severe as possible without actually disqualifying him from the race entirely.
And when he got back in, seeing Leclerc win the race would have just soured his mood even more, even if as a driver you will always say that you are happy for the team and your team mate, which Sebastian did.
In reality Leclerc winning and Vettel finishing well outside of the points after a miserable race compounds matters, and there are mounting questions about his status in the team.
Drivers' standings after Italy
|1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes||284|
|2 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes||221|
|3 Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing||185|
|4 Charles Leclerc Ferrari||182|
|5 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari||169|
His head must be in a tricky place right now. Fundamentally he hasn’t been as quick as Leclerc since Canada, and he has been making more errors as well.
That will all be weighing on his mind, as the golden boy on the other side of the garage can seem to do no wrong right now, and will be gathering support and momentum inside the Ferrari team – a team Vettel had established as his own in the years from when he joined until now.
There are still seven races to go, and there’s still time for Vettel to turn around this form, but arguably the two strongest Ferrari circuits are now gone, and he didn’t stand on a podium, whilst Leclerc took a brace of wins.
Vettel has previously shown his ability to dig deep to win championships, particularly in 2010 and 2012, and he’s going to have to use all of that experience and mental resolve to get himself out of this latest conundrum by the end of this season.