If you are wondering where the headline comes from, its history stretches back to 1854, when Lord Alfred Tennyson composed ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ to praise the honour and pride of the British cavalry against the Russians. What made the episode peculiar was the miscommunication among the command, which culminated in high losses and a sudden retreat. In a way we are able to draw a comparison with Sebastian Vettel’s recent mistake in Germany, arguing when and whether the one who blundered was himself or the team. But first, let's have a look through his self-inflicted misfortunes so far this season.
Do not crack under pressure, they said. But sometimes it happens.
It is known for a fact that Sebastian Vettel’s unerring consistency fails to have a continuity once the pressure or competitiveness-related difficulties take over. The German’s performances have been studded by remarkable achievements owing to his competitive Ferrari, but nonetheless mistakes came onto his way.
His first costly error has to be detected in his failed move on Bottas at the Azerbaijan GP, when the four-time champion went on a massive lock-up and missed out on the overtaking opportunity he had. Vettel was adamant he had ‘no regrets’ over his attempt, as he had given it all to pull a successful manoeuvre but the outcome of the race favoured his rival, Lewis Hamilton.
The second, massive fault involves the same protagonists as the previous anecdote. We just need to embark on a four-hour flight to the Paul Ricard, where Vettel knocked Bottas out of the race at the start, locking his front right to the Finn’s rear, causing him to spin and revert back to the pits with significant damage. Both were able to restore their races, which were obviously compromised by the incident. The German crossed the line in P5, started from P3, whereas Bottas had qualified 2nd but ended 5 positions behind.
Moving on to the second leg of F1’s first ever Triple Header, Vettel committed yet another fatal mistake. The Ferrari driver was demoted to 6th after qualifying for impeding Carlos Sainz on his flying lap, which earned him a 3-place grid drop. Who blundered there? First, the driver always needs to be present and have the mandatory track awareness that all racing drivers should be gifted with. Therefore, it was the driver’s fault as he, during his cooldown lap, did not notice that his colleague was on a timed attempt. However, the team is required to send a wake-up call to the driver in case of distraction or misunderstanding. Both parties lacked in reactivity and craftiness to get out of a simple qualifying situation.
Similar dynamics to the Austrian GP occurred at Hockenheim, where Vettel let a golden chance slip through his fingers after having claimed a stunning pole position on home soil. The rain scrambled the cards during the race, as it involved only certain parts of the track: Turn 1-2 and Turn 6 were the most affected by the German showers. A number of drivers such as Fernando Alonso and Charles Leclerc gambled on the Intermedia tyres as soon as the downpour began and unfortunately such a bold call did not pay off, let alone with Gasly leaning on the Full Wets. The main issue with teams and drivers procrastinating on taking a stand was that the rain was intermittent and was expected to intensify towards the end of the race. Hence, waiting was key and the only option. Sebastian Vettel and the other top drivers callously decided to stay out, although the tarmac was starting to get more and more slippery. The German felt the urge to push, having lost almost 5 seconds behind Kimi Raikkonen before Ferrari released the awaited team order. With the pit wall dwelling on plainly speaking up and not telling Raikkonen clearly, although the dejà-vu from 2010 had already materialized, Vettel’s worry to wear his tyres out got too much in his head and coerced him to overdo. The German fatally lost the rear out at the Sachskurve, miserably ending his race on the wall when he was managing the race from the top spot.
Further hypotheses show that Sirotkin had lost some oil on the spot and Vettel might have slipped on it, but even if it was true, the unnecessary tension and drama that Ferrari caused added more fuel to Vettel’s combustible character.
Hockenheim’s mishap allowed Hamilton to inherit the win, as shades of Singapore 2017 start coming along. The German binned it when he had the win in his pocket but took the wrong turn with Verstappen, who had made a better start and was going to be ahead out of Turn 1. The Dutchman found himself squeezed between the two Ferraris and made contact, resulting in Ferrari leaving Marina Bay with a heavy cross on its shoulders. Lewis Hamilton was the one benefitting from the first-lap mayhem: started 5th and queued behind the Safety Car in first, which he maintained until the end.
Such an impactful result concurred in determining the epilogue of last year’s world championship, which prematurely ended in Mexico. Mercedes held a stronger advantage in 2017, whereas Ferrari appears to be one step ahead at the moment. Therefore, Sebastian Vettel cannot afford crushing his championship hopes once again, but the mental factor certainly played a significant role in balancing things out between a driver’s psychological state and his on-track behaviour. His incorruptible will to achieve his goals desperately needs to connect with his actions, possibly avoiding getting lost, overthinking in a pesky limbo.