Disclaimer: when we set ot to compile a list of Vettel’s mistakes, it wasn’t out of an interest in discrediting him. He is a four time world champion as we all know, but we were interested to see if there truly was an incremental trend in his errors. I started writing down his mistakes after the last couple of races, and the idea generated some interest on another subreddit, so I thought I would crosspost, since some of you might be interested as well, so here we go. The list and the following notes have been compiled with a dear friend of mine. Please don’t downvote us too hard I guess.
2015 (1 Mistake):
Event: Touches Ricciardo at the start, closing the door. Vettel gets a puncture. After his tyre change, he spins in turn 7. Trying to claw back positions, outbreaks himself, then crashes – also in turn 7. After the race, Ricciardo will say Vettel deserved the puncture, as he left him no space at all.
2016 (2 Mistakes):
Event: Outbreaks himself in turn 1, crashes into Rosberg (sends him spinning). Retires on the spot with a broken front suspension.
Event: Spins in the wet, thrashing the tyres as a result, and is thus forced to pit. Finishes behind Perez’s Force India.
Result: P5, 26,3s
2017 (3 Mistakes):
Event: Intentionally hits Hamilton under safety car to intimidate him, earning a 10s stop and go penalty.
Result: P4, 6s
Event: Crash involving Raikkonen and Verstappen at the start. Vettel is the chief culprit, for trying to unnecessarily close the door in the middle of the straight, and with the position of the surrounding cars uncertain due to limited visibility. Vettel, Alonso, Verstappen, Raikkonen are all forced to retire.
Event: Something between a racing incident and Vettel’s mistake. Vettel touches Verstappen, then hits Hamilton with considerable force, damaging his front wing (which is changed in the pits). While this is mainly a racing incident, it was surely avoidable for someone involved in a championship fight.
Result: P4, 1.10m
2018 (7 Mistakes):
Event: Safety car restart, Vettel tries to outbrake Bottas, going deep and flatspotting tyres. Perez overtakes him as well the following lap.
Result: P4, 5,3s
Event: Crashes into Bottas at the start, sending him into a spin and damaging both cars.
Result: P5, 1.01m
Event: Impeding Carlos Sainz in Q2 earns him a 3 spots penalty. Given the tiny margin from victory, he could’ve probably won the race, had he started from his original qualifying position.
Result: P3, 3s
Event: Crashes while leading the race, under pressure from Hamilton, who was gaining several seconds per lap in the wet and then went on to win the race. In this race Vettel could’ve extended his championship lead, with Hamilton starting P14, but the end result was very different.
Event: Spins while trying to defend from Hamilton at Variante Della Roggia. With a cooler head, he could’ve passed Hamilton the following lap, using Ferrari’s superior top speed.
Result: P4, 16,1s
Event: Tries to overtake Verstappen at Spoon, pushing both cars off the track. Vettel spins and has to wait for the whole group to go through before rejoining.
Result: P6, 1.10m
Event: Spins during a fight Ricciardo, without any contact, while team mate Raikkonen wins the race.
Result: P4, 18,2s
2019 (4 Mistakes):
Event:Under pressure from Hamilton, spins while trying to defend, without contact. Tyres are flat spotted and vibrations cause his front wing to collapse, forcing him to pit. Meanwhile, team mate Charles Leclerc is in a commanding race lead, before his engine lets him down.
Result: P5, 36s
Event: Under pressure from Hamilton, goes wide and cuts a corner, rejoining in a dangerous way and getting a 5s penalty. While he could’ve at least tried to keep pushing to get the 5s lead he needed to still win the race, spends the rest of the race screaming in the radio, ultimately handing Hamilton the win.
Result: P2, 3,6s
GP: Great Britain
Event: After an overtake from Verstappen, misses his braking point, hitting Ves hard and sending both cars into the gravel.
Result: P16, 1L
Event: Spins on his own at the second apex of Variante Ascari, while chasing Bottas. Rejoins dangerously, hitting Stroll and making him spin. Breaks his front wing, and then gets a 10s stop and go penalty. Meanwhile, team mate Leclerc gets his second win in a row.
Result: P13, 1L
Now, a note on methodology.
Due to a lack of time and limited memory, several “smaller” but nevertheless impactful mistakes are not included. To make a few examples, Vettel botched both qualifying laps at the Belgian Grand Prix this year during Q3, and he committed two critical flat-spotting mistakes in the race which could have impacted the life of his tyres. While we can’t make a quantifiable statement regarding these errors as of yet, it’s our feeling that their frequency has increased in the last three or four years.
With these methodological limitations in mind, there is still a question of timing. Vettel has an upward trend in the frequency of mistakes as his Ferrari career progresses. As tempting as it is to point to a single factor (Marchionne’s pressure while the latter was alive, Leclerc’s performance this year, etc) it must be noted that it’s likelier that multiple factors combined to make Vettel uncomfortable in the team, in the car, and with himself. This would hardly be the first time this happens given Ferrari’s toxic, tribalistic corporate culture, especially after such a tumultuous decade for the Italian team. At the same time, the hypothesis that Vettel is struggling to adapt to a car with a light rear end has to be firmly rejected. Firstly, Vettel has already proved remarkable adaptability in the past (the switch from Bridgestones to Pirellis in 2011) and the ability to adapt is nevertheless a requirement for true champions.
For those questioning why we count Montreal as a mistake: Vettel outbraked himself under pressure, and it cost him the race. Emanuele Pirro has published a serious, data-driven explanation of why Vettel’s action was judged to be an infringement, which we recommend you peruse, but irrespective of whether you agree with the penalty or not, surely you will recognise that, had Vettel not gone into the grass while leading in the first place, the penalty would have never been an issue to begin with.
This is only part of the data-based analysis I am conducting with a friend of mine over both Vettel’s career, and other interesting topics for analysis. The others are far from ready for presentation, but the preliminary results of some analyses – like how Marcus Ericsson’s performance vis a vis Leclerc compares to Vettel’s own performance against the same driver, or how Vettel’s performance against Raikkonen compares to Alonso’s own performance against him during their team mate year – are supremely interesting. If there is interest, we will make them available on Reddit when they are ready.