The worst possible start
After qualifying third on the grid, Vettel had declared polesitter Nico Rosberg - his rival for P2 in the drivers’ championship - his 'primary target' in Sunday afternoon’s race. But sadly for the Ferrari star, any realistic hope of challenging his countryman was extinguished barely 900m into the race when, having already lost a place to Daniil Kvyat, he tangled with former team mate Daniel Ricciardo going into the first corner. “Seb deserved that, he gave me no room at all,” declared the Red Bull driver shortly afterwards, though the stewards, having had the benefit of several replays, were less keen to apportion blame. “The race was pretty much lost at that time,” said Vettel, who picked up a right-rear puncture in the incident. “After the contact with Daniel I was very angry, but in the end I think no one is to blame. He clearly could not avoid hitting me, being too fast for the line he had chosen, but these things happen. That’s racing, even if of course it’s painful if it happens in the first corner and you have to drive all the way back [to the pits].”
An uncharacteristic error
Having limped back to the pits for a fresh set of medium tyres, Vettel was more than 30s back from his nearest rival when he returned to the track at the beginning of lap 2, at which point he well and truly put the hammer down, clocking consecutive fastest laps on the third and fourth tours. By the end of lap 16, when several runners had pitted, the four-time world champion’s electric pace had lifted him back up to 12th, but just as a classic comeback drive seemed on the cards he made a highly uncharacteristic driver error at Turn 7, spinning his SF15-T through 180 degrees and badly flat-spotting his tyres. Vettel quickly got himself pointing in the right direction again, but by that time Carlos Sainz, Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado had shot by, relegating the German to 15th and leaving him with another mountain to climb.
Problems passing Pastor
Vettel plugged determinedly on after his spin, and though his tyres were now well past their best, he quickly closed onto the back of Pastor Maldonado’s 12th-placed Lotus. Then, as the duo began lap 29, he had a stab up the inside of the black and gold car into Turn 1. Once again, however, the result was determinedly un-Vettel-like - instead of coolly completing the pass as we’ve seen him do so many times before, the Ferrari driver, coming from a long way back, ran too deep, and as he slid wide the Venezuelan ducked back underneath him. Vettel would spend the next six laps bottled up behind the Lotus before eventually pitting for fresh tyres at the end of lap 35, but by that point his hopes of a points finish were hanging by a thread.
The knock-out blow
Not since the 2010 Turkish Grand Prix, 106 races earlier, had Vettel crashed out of a race, but that proud record came to an abrupt halt on lap 50 when, running 12th and again pushing hard to catch Maldonado’s Lotus, the German lost control at the troublesome Turn 7 and speared headfirst into the barriers. “I did a **** job today,” was Vettel’s rather frank immediate assessment, but later he was more reflective about what had gone wrong. “It all started with my bad start,” he said. “With the puncture, the consequence was that my race was already over. Of course you always try to bounce back but in trying to do so I made two mistakes - and the second one knocked me out. Trying too hard is probably the right explanation for my mistake.” Things can surely only get better in Brazil.