Sebastian Vettel has had a couple of busy weeks in China and Russia, finding himself mired in dubious incidents on both occasions. First came the first corner incident where Seb obviously strained a nerve in the stretch of a couple hundred meters — Marchionne must really be keeping his scarlet underlings sweating and sharp on their toes this year. Seb getting defensive is a rare sight — remember that Seb is the architect and main protagonist of Turkey 2010 and “Multi-21”, and in both cases he barely blinked. Yet a Seb blustered into an aggressive, concerted drive to deflect responsibility and blame the closest (non-teammate) driver is something to behold:
“I made contact. I had no chance to avoid. I had the Red Bull coming on the inside like a madman. And I hit Kimi.”
“Kvyat’s attack was suicidal. There was always going to be a crash. No way with the speed he had he could have done the corner.”
And at the end of the race, somewhat unconvincingly:
“Massive apologies to the team, but surely I didn’t do it on purpose. Very sorry for Kimi. There was nothing I could do. Kvyat came like a torpedo and I had to react. And there was no way out.”
And then making a fool of himself before the podium:
“You ask what happened at the start? If I didn’t go the left you’d crash into us and we’d all three go out!”
“You came like a torpedo!”
And after the podium:
“Shit happened. That’s what happened. If you crash with your teammate, you can’t be happy.”
Not all were convinced, though. Apparently Seb had forgotten that (1) the left foot can and should be used for braking, and (2) when your front wing is caught up right next to the rear wheel of the car in front, on the inside and during corner turn-in, as a general matter it is prudent to withdraw your nose. For those who missed it, here’s Matt’s elegant reconstruction of the train of thoughts going through Seb’s mind during the whole affair.
After several days worth of pixels in polemics on the internet, however, Seb seems unable to catch a break and this week all of a sudden Kvyat’s “madman suicidal” move has morphed into a “racing incident”:
“We are racing. In the end it was a racing incident.”
And clearly looking forward to see the back of this all:
“Honestly, I’m surprised that two weeks after it’s still a topic.”
“Everything that needed to be said has been said.”
“I think all in all I did what any competitive racing driver would do but now I think there has been enough talk about it.”
“Now it’s time to turn the page and move forward and now we are fully focused on the upcoming races.”
Not a fortnight past, and Seb cracks in Russia into his wildest, most public of hissy fits yet. (Still recall his throwing all of his toys out of the pram when testing Renault’s shiny new leaf-blower… well… power unit for Red Bull?) Strained nerves wouldn’t come even close to explaining this:
“Oh for f*ck’s sake! Mother f*cker! Who the f*ck? Oh, I’m out. [I] crash[ed]. Somebody hit me in the f*cking rear [in] Turn 2. And then somebody hit me in the f*cking rear again in Turn 3. For f*ck’s sake! Honestly, what the f*ck are we doing?”
(Upon hearing this, Christian Horner and Dieter Mateschitz must have found a big smile, immensely proud of their most prodigious graduate of the Red Bull School of Good Manners. Do not despair, though, as young Maximilian is quickly and steadily making progress in the same “shitty” English classes that Seb once took, and his English isn’t getting any better with time…)
While some will undoubtedly mutter under their nose “be careful what you wish for” before pointing Seb to karma—maybe pointing fingers so much last time round wasn’t such a very bright idea after all—, Seb seems to be nonplussed:
“It was not my fault, nothing I could change.”
“I don’t dislike him but I think he made a mistake two weeks ago and a mistake today but it doesn’t change anything.”
Of course Seb was very, very keen to point this out all throughout the Chinese GP, and is still very, very keen to point it out now in Russia… Trusty Marlboro Man also comes quickly to the defence of his scarlet driver, even to the point of suggesting that it would be inappropriate to analyze the telemetry in this incident:
“To turn to telemetry is not the right way to look at this situation. If we look at the images it is quite clear. Sebastian told me that he touched him one time – just at the beginning, and just a bit – but the second impact was quit hard.”
Really?! If Maurizio is suggesting leaving the telemetry alone, then something juicy it must contain. And, while the first “small” contact in T2 between Vettel and Kvyat was entirely the Russian’s fault (though on the slippery Russian asphalt, Gutiérrez pulled the exact same move on Hülkenberg), the second “hard” contact in T3 was much less clear. After all, immediately after the race Kvyat’s explanation for the accident was straightforward:
“Turn 3 is a high-speed corner, you obviously expect to go fast there.
“When people brake in front of you unfortunately sometimes there is no time to react. That’s what happened, I had no time to react to Seb’s braking.
“I will speak with him about what happened. Maybe he already had a problem from what already happened in Turn 2 and he had to brake or something.
“When you are one metre behind a car at 150km/h and suddenly someone brakes, it’s unavoidable.”
From the videos emerging of the crash, it becomes obvious that immediately prior to the accident Vettel had lifted considerably in the high-speed corner, possibly in reaction to the limping Force India which was nurturing a puncture from T2. It is not clear though why Vettel hadn’t instead chosen to go round the Force India on the outside. And Kvyat was indeed following him at a metre or so behind, leaving him close to no time to react, which would indeed explain his hard shunt into the back of the Ferrari:
From the video it is also obvious that other cars like the Toro Rosso had plenty of speed as well, compared to the Ferrari, but being just that little bit further behind had time to avoid the messy zone by going very wide on the outside of T3. And once again, why would the 4x WDC slow down that much in that part of the track is unclear, as the Toro Rosso clearly showed that with timely reflexes going round the outside was easy-peasy. If he had a car problem, Ferrari doesn’t seem intent to let it be known. Nor are they intent on discussing telemetry…
So is this Seb and Ferrari trying hard to write history, exonerating their chosen driver of any fault in two incidents after which he went berserk like a “suicidal madman”, and in both of which he seems to have had at least some share of the blame? Is it possible that Sergio is going medieval and tightening the screws on Seb, and the poor guy is starting to show signs of cracking under the pressure? Marchionne’s going all melancholic about the Schumacher era (who said anything about Ferrari not being ALL about the #1 driver?) are hardly providing Vettel with any reassurance on the matter:
“I was used to seeing a Ferrari with Michael Schumacher, so it breaks my soul to see a Ferrari that is suffering so much.”
In fact, Vettel’s public posturing on the two incidents involving Kvyat may have been so effective that Herr Marko found his perfect excuse to ditch Kvyat mid-season and promote Max instead.
Indeed, a curious game seems to be at play now. TJ13 has reported recently that Marchionne showed interest in Max’ contractual situation (again, nothing to reassure Sebastian here), and Red Bull’s harried and messy promotion of the youngster could be seen as a pre-emptive strike by Red Bull to ward off any advances another top team, like Ferrari, may be making to the teenager.
Another distinct possibility is that Sergio wants either to replace Vettel or give him proper competition in the form of Ricciardo, forcing Red Bull to quickly evaluate their teenagers in a more realistic setting. Either way, it might seem as if Marchionne has decided that Vettel cannot deliver this year the world titles he wants, no excuses tolerated—still recall his warning to Arrivabene not to bitch this year?—, and that further reshuffles at Maranello are on the cards…