Singapore Grand Prix: Has Sebastian Vettel’s aggression just cost him the title?
How much will Sebastian Vettel come to regret the aggressive defensive move that contributed to the collision that took him out of the Singapore Grand Prix?
It is something of a signature move of Vettel’s. He has used it to great effect in the past. He may well have learned it from his hero Michael Schumacher, who also specialised in that sort of uncompromising lunge. Usually it works to his advantage – but this time it could have cost him a world championship.
That is not to say the Ferrari driver was wholly or even primarily to blame for the incident that also accounted for his team-mate Kimi Raikkonen and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen. There were and will be lots of differing opinions about that.
But Verstappen had a point when he said that, as a contender in a tight fight for the title, Vettel “shouldn’t take those risks”.
It is easy to say that, especially when you are the only other person who could be blamed for the incident. How should a title contender behave in these scenarios? Can they afford to be more conservative than normal? Or is that a potential risk in itself?
This is an example of the fine margins Formula 1 drivers are dealing with as they battle wheel to wheel at speeds approaching 200mph, and the split-seconds they have to make their decisions.
Those fine margins were clear at the first corner. Lewis Hamilton chose the outside line in his Mercedes and stayed out of trouble, slotting in behind Vettel and soon moving into a lead he was not to surrender, and which gave him a commanding advantage in the championship over Vettel.
Just behind him, McLaren driver Fernando Alonso had done the same. The Spaniard was briefly in third place behind Vettel and Hamilton after a trademark flying start, and for a moment was dreaming of his and McLaren-Honda’s first podium. Then he was collected by Raikkonen’s wildly spinning Ferrari, and just like that his hopes evaporated.
Have Vettel’s for the title just gone the same way? Mercedes and Hamilton were keen to emphasise after the race that nothing had changed, they had to retain focus, there were a lot of points still to play for, a lot of things could happen and so on.
But there was no doubting that Hamilton realised what this meant.
“Time will tell,” he said. “But it is a very positive day. I had no idea it would be such a positive outcome. I need to hit hard in the next two races and – game on.”
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen blamed Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel for the first-lap crash, which took out three cars
In the paddock afterwards, opinion was split on who was to blame for the start-line incident. Some felt Vettel had been too aggressive in diving across to the left to defend against Verstappen. Others felt that Verstappen, as the man who had a clear view of both Ferraris, could have decided discretion was the better part of valour and backed out of it.
In the end, the stewards were probably right to take no action over the start-line incident, deciding that “no driver was wholly or predominantly to blame”.
Vettel was undoubtedly very aggressive in covering against Verstappen. In normal circumstances, that would have been OK. He would have edged the Red Bull to the pit wall, they would have disputed the first corner and moved on from there.
The problem was that Vettel clearly did not realise team-mate Raikkonen was on Verstappen’s inside and moving ahead, having made the best start of all three.
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