There was something captivating about Sebastian Vettel’s reaction to the end of the Canadian Grand Prix.
The radio messages we had been hearing for a number of laps served as clear notice that he was going to do something once the checkered flag fell, even if it wasn’t totally obvious yet just what that would be.
In fact, he was surprisingly calm when parking his car at the pit entry, following the protocol of going to be weighed by the FIA and then giving himself a moment in the Ferrari hospitality before marching through the Mercedes garage and switching the boards in parc ferme.
In a strange way, it feels like the whole incident gained Vettel more fans than he lost. The majority sided with his belief that he had been wronged, and therefore allowed him his post-race tantrum after he had been demoted from first on the road to second in the classification.
It remains a touchy subject, and one that experienced racing drivers are far more qualified than me to comment on, but it’s clear that 99% of fans want to see hard racing that is decided on track, rather than in the stewards’ office. Whether the rules as they are written now – and therefore have to be applied – allow that is another matter.
That all said, there is one thing that can’t be denied: Vettel brought the whole situation upon himself.
After an excellent qualifying performance, the way the gap at the front ebbed and flowed between Vettel and Lewis Hamilton showed the Ferrari was not comfortable in the lead. Hamilton was often able to up the pace and put pressure on, and Vettel couldn’t really respond. Courtesy of the higher temperatures than were seen throughout the rest of the weekend, the German knew that Hamilton couldn’t follow closely for long periods, but he also knew the Mercedes was a marginally quicker car in the second part of the race.
That Hamilton locked up a number of times at the hairpin showed just how hard he was pushing to keep the pressure on Vettel, but those small mistakes only resulted in the gap growing momentarily before the championship leader closed it again.
“I was quicker at that point and I was really just trying to apply pressure to Seb,” Hamilton said. “One, to try and get close enough, but two to push him into an error. It’s not too often you’re able to push a four-time world champion into making an error but it came, and at the time I was like, ‘OK, great, this is my opportunity.’”
And for all the fallout from what followed, the fact of the matter is that Vettel made a mistake. And if he hadn’t, he would have won the race.
It’s a trait we’re seeing too often from Vettel, who should be a calm, experienced head in his early 30s with four drivers’ championships under his belt. It wasn’t like he was going for his first victory: Sunday would have been his 53rd. The only drivers with more are Michael Schumacher, and the man who was pushing him to make that error.
But on too many occasions, there is a mistake in his locker. It had been 17 races since Vettel last took pole position – at the German Grand Prix – and that kicked off the following run:
- Germany – crashed out of the lead
- Italy – spun when fighting Hamilton on the opening lap
- Japan – spun when fighting with Verstappen
- United States – spun when fighting with Ricciardo
- Brazil – lost a place to Raikkonen after locking up and running wide
- Bahrain – spun when fighting with Hamilton
- Canada – penalized for not safely rejoining the track after running wide, costing him victory
All drivers will make slight errors at the top level, especially when the pressure is on. But the biggest stars are employed specifically because that they don’t make mistakes when it really matters.
Vettel’s impassioned speech after the race on the state of Formula 1 struck the right tone with so many that were listening. These guys should be allowed to race hard, and we’d all love to see a race in the same manner of Gilles Villeneuve and Rene Arnoux at the French Grand Prix in Dijon back in 1979.
But when Vettel really reflects on the past weekend before turning his own attentions to France, he needs to think about just how much enjoyment he would have taken out of a victory in Canada. Yes, things are different in F1 today, and certainly much can be improved, but every driver wants that feeling of winning. Vettel could have had that feeling if he had not cracked under pressure from the driver most used to that very result at the moment.
Perhaps that’s another reason why Vettel was so angry. In himself, he knew that he was the catalyst for the whole scenario. He gave the stewards a decision to make, and ultimately that decision went against him, and cost him that winning feeling for the first time since Spa last year.
Vettel would so dearly love to win with Ferrari and emulate Schumacher. It feels like the achievement he craves more than any other before retiring, and the Scuderia is desperate for it to happen, too.
I’ve been critical of Ferrari’s own errors on numerous occasions this year, but the team has to be commended for the way it has backed its driver to the hilt in an attempt to get the best out of him. Clearly he hasn’t been producing his best when the heat is on, and that was the case towards the end of last season, too. Mattia Binotto went as far as naming him the team’s number one driver for the start of this year in an attempt to change his fortunes.
But both Ferrari and Vettel will know he isn’t doing enough at the moment. It’s not far away – the qualifying lap in Canada and the majority of faultless laps in the race attest to that – but something still isn’t clicking for the German. The longer that goes on, the more questions about his future will grow…
Between them, they need to find solutions to Vettel’s weaknesses. Without those, no amount of anger towards events such as Sunday will mask a growing feeling that the fairytale Ferrari title will never happen.