Vettel's troubled Aston debut has echoes of past struggles - The Race
Formula 1

Vettel’s troubled Aston debut has echoes of past struggles

Mar 29 2021
By Matt Beer and Edd Straw

Sebastian Vettel’s first weekend as an Aston Martin Formula 1 driver featured a Q1 exit, two penalties, a back-of-the-grid start, licence points for causing a collision and a 15th-place finish.

It was not what you sign a four-time F1 world champion for.

And most worryingly, behind those negatives were the symptoms of so many of Vettel’s Ferrari woes – discomfort with the car’s handling characteristics, and clumsiness in combat.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Bahrain Grand Prix Qualifying Day Sakhir, Bahrain

It didn’t help perceptions of Vettel’s race that his initial description of the Esteban Ocon clash that earned him two points on his licence and a 10s time penalty were so at odds with the footage of the incident.

“I was sure he was leaving me space but then he crossed back and as soon as I was behind him I locked up and I couldn’t avoid hitting him,” was how Vettel – who also suggested over the radio that Ocon moved under braking – described it.

In reality, it was Vettel who did the moving while Ocon kept his Alpine straight as he passed the Aston Martin for 12th place using DRS on the main straight. Vettel went right to defend, then moved back left once passed only to plough straight into Ocon.

Asked by The Race how he saw it, Ocon replied: “He came and apologised and he got the penalty for it so it’s all OK. If we were fighting for good points at that time I would have been more upset, clearly.

“I stayed on my line and it looks like basically he comes in my dirty air. So he’s moving to the left to the normal line but he’s losing the grip and that’s when he locks up and pushes me in the back.”

That clash and consequent spin was – rather like the slightly curiously reasoned penalty Vettel got for his yellow flag offence in qualifying when he’d already only qualified 18th – just a postscript on a day that had long since gone awry.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Bahrain Grand Prix Race Day Sakhir, Bahrain

Punting on a one-stop strategy meant Vettel did run as high as sixth, but as his tyres waned in the latter part of that stint he tumbled back down to 12th by the time he came in, and rejoined 17th.

He described it as a strategy that “at one stage in the race didn’t feel that bad”, but wasn’t ever likely to “realistically” bring any points given his starting position.

Vettel is not all over the place or struggling badly with the rear end, but he simply doesn’t look able to fully commit and extract the pace using the trademark style of his

Yellow flag frustrations in knockout qualifying, fumbles in battle and errant strategies are all isolated incidents, though.

The bigger concern in Bahrain was the hint of a driving style incompatibility between Vettel and the Aston Martin AMR21 – as team-mate Lance Stroll looked more at home in the car and scored a point.

Mar 29 : Bahrain Grand Prix review

Vettel’s greatest feats come in cars with strong front ends, allowing him to make up time in slow corners with an abrupt turn-in that’s not undermined by any rear instability.

The handling characteristics of the 2020 Racing Point on paper should’ve played into that, even more so with the 2020-spec Mercedes suspension added to it over the winter.

But instead the impact of the 2021 floor rule changes on lower-rake cars has currently left Aston Martin with the same rear instability worries suffered by Mercedes, and a weak front end.


Edd Straw’s trackside view

Having watching Vettel from trackside both during pre-season testing and the race weekend, at no point has he looked like what might be called ‘classic Vettel’.

He’s not all over the place or struggling badly with the rear end, but he simply doesn’t look able to fully commit and extract the pace using the trademark style of his.

There is undoubtedly more to come if and when he’s confident and at one with the car.

But it’s clear that the limitations of the car aren’t allowing either Aston Martin driver to get the best from themselves.


Vettel alluded to this when he was asked how close he was to feeling at “100%” with the Aston Martin and replied: “Probably less than half as there are so many things going on still that break the rhythm and make it quite difficult in terms of feeling the car and feeling what I need to do to drive fast”.

Team principal Otmar Szafnauer was quick to defend Vettel and point out that with testing truncated and in his case heavily interrupted too, it was still “early days” in his transition from the very different Ferrari.

“I’m not at home in the car, there are a lot of things fighting me so that I can’t really focus on driving” :: Sebastian Vettel

That support, and Vettel emphasising that his relationship with Aston Martin is already “really good” and apologising to the team for his weekend “because I know how much prep goes in”, suggests the environment will be more conducive to mutual improvement efforts than Vettel’s Ferrari life was.

And he at least felt through qualifying and the race he’d gathered the data needed to start making some headway.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Bahrain Grand Prix Race Day Sakhir, Bahrain

“There are a lot of things that we learned in the race that we need to address,” Vettel said.

“We’ll see how quickly we can fix them. I’m not at home in the car, there are a lot of things fighting me so that I can’t really focus on driving. We need to address them and try to fix them.

Vettel’s been signed as a talisman by Aston Martin, a statement of its F1 intent

“I obviously adapt to how the car wants to be driven, but there are a lot of things that add a certain inconsistency that don’t help so these things we need to get on top of.

“We tried a lot with the car and with the set-up and there are a lot of things that still don’t work the way they should.

“Once we fix them and we get on top of the set-up, we’ll know where the car wants to be to be fast, then it can only get better.”

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Bahrain Grand Prix Race Day Sakhir, Bahrain

Vettel’s been signed as a talisman by Aston Martin, a statement of its F1 intent, and someone whose experience and vast success can bring something extra to the team on a personal level too.

Asked what he’d be doing between now and Imola to help keep the team motivated giving its underwhelming start, Vettel replied: “Well it’s part of my job but it’s also part of my job to drive the car and race well, which today I did not.

“It’s probably not the start of the season I wanted but I think the next couple of races will be very good for us to calm things down.”

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