Vettel puzzled by Q3 performance slump after qualifying P7 in France
Sebastian Vettel’s resurgent performance in Canada suggested the German might be on the verge of hitting peak form – and a scintillating lap in Q2 in France gave hope he might even be able to challenge the mighty Mercedes for pole. But in the final segment of qualifying at Circuit Paul Ricard things quickly unravelled for the Ferrari star, with Vettel left scratching his head after slumping to P7 on the grid, four places behind team mate Charles Leclerc.
Vettel lapped just 0.069s slower than Valtteri Bottas as he finished Q2 in second place, but things went wrong from the off in the Q3 pole position shootout. First, Vettel aborted his opening flying effort, initially radioing to say he had missed an upshift and later adding that he “lost so much momentum there was no point to finish the lap”.
Then on his final run he simply wasn’t able to muster the same pace from his SF90 as Leclerc, leaving him in P7, 1.4s off Lewis Hamilton’s pole time with Max Verstappen’s Red Bull and the resurgent McLarens of Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz between him and his team mate.
In the end I didn’t get the best out of the car, which is not satisfying
“Not great,” said Vettel afterwards. “[It was] up and down – some laps I felt really good, others I didn’t. In the end I didn’t get the best out of the car, which is not satisfying. But as I say it was difficult for me because some laps it was really good and was just coming, and other laps I don’t know why but I didn’t have the grip that I seemed to have the runs before.
“Shame that it happened in Q3 – it would have been better to be slower in the other segments, but that’s what it is today.
“The car was better than where we ended up," he added, "but I'm confident tomorrow we can recover."
Seventh represents Vettel’s worst grid slot since Japan last year when he lined up P8 – not what was expected on a weekend when Ferrari brought plenty of upgrades.
“We reverted on most of them [the upgrades],” explained Vettel, “so obviously not the step that we expected. But tomorrow I think we have good pace to have a good race. Obviously Mercedes are far away but we should be in the mix with Red Bull.”
With Ferrari having been left unhappy and disappointed after losing their bid to have Vettel’s Canada penalty reviewed, the German enters the French Grand Prix 62 points behind Hamilton in the race for the 2019 drivers’ crown. The four-time champion - who is yet to win a race this year - has finished the last two races in second place, but faces an uphill battle to make it three podiums in a row.