Russian Grand Prix – Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel says he thought his approach to the first stint of the race was fair, after making a good start.
Sebastian Vettel retired on Lap 28 of the Russian Grand Prix at the Sochi Autodrom, having led the opening half of the race convincingly. Starting from P3, he hooked up his start perfectly to immediately jump Hamilton before slipstreaming his way past teammate Charles Leclerc.
However, it appeared that this was a deliberate tactic as Leclerc didn’t fight back – a tactic Leclerc confirmed had been agreed before the race. Ferrari told both of their drivers to swap position in the opening laps but, with Vettel appearing to be comfortably the faster Ferrari driver, he continued to pull away from Leclerc lap after lap.
Leclerc pitted on Lap 22, having fallen more than four seconds behind Vettel, coming out on fresh Mediums and immediately starting to re-close the gap to Vettel. Sebastian pitted five laps later and, with the undercut having worked out for Leclerc, came out behind Leclerc as it appeared Ferrari had asserted themselves by forcing the swap. Moments later, it all became moot as Vettel retired with an MGU-K failure on his car. His performance was sufficient to win him the Driver of the Day accolade.
Speaking after the race, Vettel said he wasn’t really quite sure what to make of the first stint of the race and that he felt he’d approached it fairly as a consequence of being quicker on merit: “I don’t know exactly what happened there to be honest. I think we had an agreement.”
“I spoke with Charles [Leclerc] in particular before the race and I think it was quite clear, but I don’t know maybe I missed something. I’m sure we’ll talk about it.”
“[I’m] bitter today because we wanted to have the cars finishing one and two and this is not the result we wanted. I don’t want to put the team in a bad position afterwards because somebody said something here. I know its not fair because I think people deserve to know. Its not a big deal. I was in third, Charles was in first ,we were talking about a strategy to find a way past Lewis. Obviously I had a very good start and there were a couple of options on the table.”
“I lost the lead during the stop and then the car broke down so its a bit irrelevant but I think, up to that point, thats what we did. [I was] really on top of it, fastest up to the stop. I can be happy with that but it was only half the job so it was fair from how I see it.”
Regardless of the final result, Vettel’s imperious performance up until his retirement, combined with his Singapore victory last weekend, suggests the four time Champion is rediscovering his mojo and he says that things are slowly coming back to him: “Obviously this year has been tough and I’m yet to unlock the car. Yesterday was alright but Charles was quicker so I can’t be happy with that. Obviously its been a bit up and down. It was a matter of time when things start to click whether that is a win or a good position in a race.”
“The positive thing overall is the car is good. I think today was the first race where we have more pace than Mercedes. I think thats valid in the first stint and probably throughout the race. It wasn’t really the case in Singapore. Yes we won, but also the race before the raw race pace – Mercedes still have an edge. That should give them a bit of headache.”