Only a few days following last Sunday’s French Grand Prix, there are still a lot of opinions on what happened when Sebastian Vettel struck Mercedes Valtteri Bottas on the first corner in the opening lap of the race, puncturing the Finns rear left tire, and ruining the Ferrari’s front wing. Although both recovered to finish in the top ten for points, there was a lot of feelings about whether Vettel could have avoided a confrontation. Vettel himself is very aware of what occurred last year in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in Baku when he deliberately struck Lewis Hamilton’s car during a safety car period. Now, there is the possibility that the German could make additional mistakes that could cost him the championship to a driver who has as many titles as he does.
However, considering that Vettel has admitted his errors, it certainly has not been noticed, as many opinions have gone around the paddock, even two days following the completion of the race. Mercedes gave quite a negative view of their rival, with Niki Lauda, who in his outspoken manner, could not understand why the punishment by the FIA marshals was not tough enough.
“I don’t understand. It’s too little.” Admitted Lauda. “Five seconds is nothing. He destroyed the whole race for himself and for Bottas.”
Even Hamilton, who won the race by seven seconds, did not realize what Vettel did until he viewed it on screen in the podium room, was also in shock.
“He took him right out. Ah, man, that’s crazy!” exclaimed Hamilton.
But on Tuesday, June 26th, the Italian press, who normally discuss Ferrari drivers in the most positive ways, found Vettel quilty of everything and did not hide their views.
“Vettel committed amateur errors and this time the consequences were serious. Despite an excellent car, this is a wasted opportunity for Ferrari.” Said the pink daily, La Gazzetta dello Sport. “Vettel makes mistakes which he cannot afford if he wants to win another world championship title.” Said La Republica. “It was a great catch-up drive, but his impulsiveness cost him ten points.” Stated La Stampa. Finally, Autosprint had the most critical statement.
“It was a mistake by Vettel no question. The mistake was in the incorrect handling of the pressure on the brake at the time of steering.” They said.
Outside of making a public apology, Vettel sounded less than contrite about the situation.
“In the end, there wasn’t that much I could have done differently,” he said to ESPN F1. “Just the wrong place.
“Obviously, what you don’t see is that I lost a lot of grip and as I said I saw it and I was aware, so the two cars running around the outside trying to get their position on me, because I was stuck but I couldn’t slow down more than I did and obviously lost the car and hit Valtteri (Bottas). So, I guess the rule is causing a collision and that’s what I did because I lost the car. But was it intentional? Certainly not, because it could as well have been the end of the race for me.
“Obviously for Bottas, it was very bad because it affected his race and he had nothing to do with it, so I went to him after the race [to talk to him]. Given the situation, how tight it was, I think we were both lucky in a way to be able to continue like I said. From there, obviously we had a good recovery, but it wasn’t the race we wanted.
Well in the end, the way I look at it with hindsight, I would have liked to have a worse start, because then it would have been more straightforward, and I wouldn’t be in that position! I haven’t seen it yet, so I will look at it again, but from the inside it didn’t feel or didn’t appear that there was a lot I could have done differently.
I tried to get out of it. Obviously, you don’t hit the brakes 200 meters before the corner just because you think it could be a bad spot to be in, you still try to be competitive. But to be honest, I wasn’t attacking first, I was aware that Valtteri, and even I saw Max (Verstappen), would have a run around the outside because I’m stuck. But obviously it wasn’t enough but it’s just one of those things that sometimes goes wrong.”
It might take a while for everybody to admit that what Vettel did last Sunday was simply a mistake. Drivers are normal human beings, and this was a big error, but it can be corrected. Luckily for Vettel, he has a good chance to redeem himself, as five grand prix races in the next six weeks should give Vettel the confidence to challenge Hamilton for the championship, which could go right down to the wire if Vettel himself can avoid making critical errors like in France.