There has been huge interest in the three way startline accident in Singapore which eliminated Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen and Max Verstappen and handed victory and a handsome points lead to Lewis Hamilton.
So was anyone to blame? What is the case for each driver?
The FIA stewards heard from all three but decided that no single individual could be held responsible for the accident. That was a relief to Vettel, who has 7 penalty points on his licence and has had his fair share of warnings, especially after Baku. At 12 points a driver receives a one race ban?
All three are entitled to race. Vettel is entitled to make one covering move and he did. Kimi is entitled to try to capitalise on one of his best ever starts and Max is entitled to stay on his line, having got a better launch.
That’s why the stewards called it evens.
The case against Raikkonen
Of the three Raikkonen got the best start. He powered off the line and the onboard shot from Verstappen’s car clearly shows how much more momentum the Finn had as he came past on the left like a missile.
Raikkonen had about a metre and a half to the pit wall to play with on the left. The problem was that as he came through, his right rear wheel hit Verstappen’s left front. There was nothing Verstappen could have done to avoid that. He moves very slightly to the left as he sees Vettel coming across.
Had everyone stayed on their line and there was no contact, Raikkonen would certainly have got the ‘holeshot’ and although his angle into Turn 1 would have been tight, he would likely have been in the lead as the cars snaked right for Turn 2.
The case against Verstappen
Verstappen got the second best start. It was immediately clear from the head-on TV shot of the lights out that Verstappen’s launch was superior to Vettel’s ahead to his right on pole. That momentum continues through the acceleration phase and if no-one changes lines from this point, Verstappen will arrive at the braking point for Turn 1 ahead of Vettel.
Drivers can always sense immediately if someone around them has got a better launch. Their senses are hyper-alert to it and Verstappen knew that he had a real chance to beat Vettel into Turn 1, especially as he would have the inside line.
He may not have been aware of just how fast Raikkonen was travelling up to his left, as he was focussed on Vettel coming across on him from the right, knowing that he is compromised.
Verstappen changes line slightly to the left in anticipation and that is enough to put him on a trajectory where Raikkonen’s right rear runs over Verstappen’s left front, which caused the accident. It broke Verstappen’s suspension and also sent Raikkonen into the side of Vettel.
Some fans have suggested that Verstappen “should have lifted off”, but the trajectory would not have changed by doing that – he cannot simply disappear – and the critical first contact was that touch of Raikkonen’s rear wheel as he went past. That was all about the line.
The case against Vettel
Vettel had the most at risk as he was the one fighting for the world title. It seems he forgot that in the heat of the moment. His ‘sorry’ to the team on the radio as he parked his damaged car said it all and is the true verdict on the matter.
However, he is racing and as the pole position man, he is entitled to move across once to defend his line.
The head on shot and the on board from Verstappen’s car show that Vettel moved across a long way and kept on coming. Ultimately this is what caused the accident as there was nowhere for the three drivers to go on a converging trajectory. Seen from the outside it seems simple and inevitable.
One could argue that with seven races to go and at the start of a two hour race where his title rival Hamilton is starting in fifth place, Vettel should have taken the long view.
But his mindset will have been affected by the rain that was falling and the fact that in recent years Hamilton has won virtually all the wet or rain affected races. As Hamilton said afterwards, “As soon as it rained I knew where I was going to finish. I knew I had the pace when it rains. Unfortunately we just didn’t have the car in the dry.
“But today, with it raining, those are my conditions.”
In a dry race, with a start like that Vettel would have approached it differently, knowing that the threat from Hamilton was less significant. But in the wet he could not afford to give anything away at the start, hence the insistence on the move across.
Vettel’s move was reminiscent of some similar moves that Michael Schumacher made off the startline in his Ferrari days, which was a talking point at the time in Drivers’ Briefings, as the rules on what was and wasn’t acceptable at the start were defined.
Ultimately the price he has paid has been high. Not only is it a fourth win in five races for Hamilton and a 28 point lead, but it’s another moment which casts some doubt in the mind of Ferrari chairman Sergio Marchionne. He sees things in black and white and the objective here is for Ferrari to win the world championship.
They have built a wonderful car this year, whereas the Mercedes is a bit tricky and temperamental. And yet Ferrari finds itself now out of control of the championship, not least due to valuable points dropped in Baku and Singapore.
Ferrari’s long winless streak creates nervousness in the team and missing out this year will create greater nerviness next year. In that scenario one can imagine a leader like Marchionne deciding next summer that he needs another hot rod in his second car.
That is the risk for Vettel.
How JA on F1 readers call it
JA on F1 readers have taken part in a snap poll with over 2000 voting in a few hours and clearly 75% call it Vettel’s fault.
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