After his deficit to Lewis Hamilton in the F1 drivers championship swelled to 17 points, Sebastian Vettel has played the team card again and defended Ferrari’s decision to bring him into the pits during the Spanish GP whilst the race was under a virtual safety car.
With the VSC deployed to allow marshals to recover the stricken Force India of Esteban Ocon, the championship contender was called into the pits to serve a second pit stop, whilst all other front-runners continued with a one-stop.
Vettel had managed to pass Valtteri Bottas at the start of the race and hold second place, but the decision to change tyres dropped him down to fourth.
He was held for longer than usual in the pit box whilst Force India’s Sergio Perez drove past in the pit lane. This delay was enough for Vettel to fall behind Max Verstappen.
Despite Verstappen damaging his front wing whilst following backmarker Lance Stroll, Vettel was unable to get close enough to challenge the Red Bull driver in over twenty laps of racing.
His fourth place result – coupled with Hamilton’s win – means that Vettel now trails the Mercedes driver by seventeen points in the drivers’ championship.
Speaking after the race, Vettel believed that Ferrari had made the right call in pitting when they did.
“We couldn’t make the tyres last so for us,” said Vettel. “It was clear we had to come in again. I think it was the right thing to do.
“We were going through the tyres quicker than the others, though obviously it looks different and looks wrong.
“If you look from outside it’s easier, but inside the car, we were going through the tyres too quick. Therefore we were not able to stay out for another 23 laps. Even in the end, with a fresher set, I wasn’t able to attack until the end.”
He added that whilst he felt he had the pace over Verstappen, he didn’t have enough pace advantage to effectively challenge for the podium.
“Overall we were a little quicker, our tyres were fresher as well, but as the laps went on we didn’t have enough pace,” Vettel admitted.
“We were just not quick enough. Even at the end I was not in healthy shape with the tyres despite the fact mine were the newest.
“It’s been a decent weekend, we just need to understand what to do with the tyres. We need to have a look.”
The Spanish Grand Prix is the latest example of how fortunes have varied for Vettel under the safety car and virtual safety car periods.
After being able to profit from a Mercedes error under the VSC in the first race in Australia, he was caught out by the timing of the safety car in China, where Ferrari missed the opportunity to make a potentially race-winning call to pit for fresh tyres.
In Baku, after Vettel had lead the race, Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas profited from staying out to make a ‘free’ pit stop under the safety car, effectively demoting Vettel from first to second.
The four-time champion criticised the timing of the safety car in Shanghai and, speaking after the race in Barcelona, he added that he thought the virtual safety car system was flawed.
“It’s the same for everyone but the FIA is supplying us with a system that makes us follow a delta time, and everybody has to slow down by, I think, 40%, but I think everybody’s aware you can have a faster way to go under VSC than just follow the delta – by saving distance,” Vettel said.
“So, I think we should have a system that hasn’t got this loophole, because it forces us to drive ridiculous lines around the track and everybody’s doing it so I don’t think it’s a secret.
“Our sport should be in a better shape than supplying software that’s just poor and allows us to find some extra performance that way.”
All images: Motorsport Images
Do you believe Ferrari made the right decision to pit? What do you make of the safety cars we’ve seen so far this year? Leave your comments below.