Sebastian Vettel’s last victory for Scuderia Ferrari was a year ago at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps when he was victorious at the Belgian Grand Prix. Since then, the German 4-time F1 World Champion has faced much criticism – largely unfairly. On Sunday, Ferrari once again found success in the Belgian countryside when they claimed their first long overdue victory of 2019. Although Vettel was not the one on the top step of the podium, or any step of the podium for that matter, the role he played in Charles Leclerc’s maiden Formula 1 victory cannot be overlooked.
Charles Leclerc was the favourite for Sunday’s victory due to the form shown throughout the weekend and of course the fact the Monégasque racer had claimed pole position. However, Scuderia Ferrari was never a team looking confident on their race pace and as such Mercedes always knew there would be a chance. Lewis Hamilton was less than a second away from Charles Leclerc once he had crossed the finish line and had Sebastian Vettel not intervened earlier in the race, surely the W10 of the 5-time world champion would have come across the line the victor.
After the race, Sebastian Vettel explained how he knew the victory was not there for him and as such he knew the role he could provide for his teammate and his team.
“I didn’t have the pace…I was struggling to stay on top of the tyres which normally is not a problem at all. So it was a tough race. Obviously from some point onwards, from the first lap onwards, it was clear we won’t be in the fight. So all I could do by then was serve the team.”
Sebastian Vettel certainly served the team admirably because once he had let Charles Leclerc through he then successfully blocked Lewis Hamilton for several laps. This a tactic that has been deployed by Mercedes many times over the years, most recently with Valtteri Bottas being used to slow the pace and allow Hamilton time to get out in front. Therefore, it was pleasing to see another team capable of employing such a strategy – although outright racing is always the preferred strategy for the fans.
Vettel told the media: “I was struggling in the corners so that allowed him to get close and then I couldn’t hold him off for a very long time…I tried to obviously make him lose time in order to give Charles a cushion.”
This period of the race and this cushion of time was the decisive moment of the Belgian Grand Prix showing that the plaudits should certainly go to Vettel as well as Leclerc. Even more pleasing was the fact that this act was acknowledged by the victor:
“Seb has been very nice and without him I think it would have been a lot more difficult to win this race so thanks to him.”
Whether Ferrari chooses to publicise the fact or not, Monza is another track well suited to them and Lewis Hamilton is well aware that a strong challenge is ahead of him, having spoken of the task at Sunday’s post-race press conference in Belgium:
“It’s all straights, so Ferrari… it’s going to be a happy weekend for Ferrari, most likely in that respect. I mean, this weekend, I think just in qualifying we’re losing over a second a lap. So, there’s not much me and Valtteri can do in that instance and there’s not a lot of corners there to catch that up. So, it’ll be interesting. In the next few days we’ve got to make some drastic improvements to our straight speed, somehow. I don’t know if that’s possible – but if anyone can do it, it’s our team.”
Mercedes certainly is a team capable of finding speed in a short amount of time but for the Formula 1 Constructors’ Championship at least, it would be pleasing to see Scuderia Ferrari continue their impressive recent form.
With regard to Sebastian Vettel, he was already competing against a confident teammate but now he is competing against a confident ‘Formula 1 race winning’ teammate. This weekend could prove to be a real test for Vettel and that is in no ways said in a disrespectful way just a factual way. It could well be that at Ferrari we may have seen the changing of the guard so it is up to Sebastian Vettel to show the world that yes the Monégasque is good…but the German 4-time F1 World Champion is even better.
Over to you Sebastian – good luck!