Sebastian Vettel has defended his botched overtake attempt on Valtteri Bottas during the lap 47 safety car restart in yesterday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
The sketchy move didn’t pay off for Vettel as a huge front lock up sent him deep into Turn 1, eventually dropping him from 2nd to 4th. Valtteri Bottas was the Grand Prix leader at the time.
“I saw a gap and I went for it, but obviously it didn’t work,” Vettel commented after the race.
“So, now it’s easy for everyone to say that it was too big a risk, but I was driving at 330 kph on the straight, there was no reference on the left and I didn’t really have many options,” Vettel said in defence of his driving.
He described the move as a “quick decision”, and later went on to say that the spur-of-the-moment nature meant “there was a chance it wouldn’t be right.”
The safety car was originally deployed on lap 40 when Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen collided whilst battling into Turn 1.
Sebastian Vettel had commanded the entire race up until this point, but the unfortunate timing of the safety car benefitted Valtteri Bottas as he had not made a pit stop yet, whereas both Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton had.
“We were controlling the race with Sebastian, but the double intervention of the Safety Car cancelled the gap we had built up,” Ferrari Team Principal Maurizio Arrivabene told media.
After losing the race lead to Bottas under the safety car, a rather confused Vettel radioed his team asking, “how can he [Bottas] be ahead of us?”
As the race leader, Valtteri Bottas was responsible for controlling the field’s pace during the restart. Unlike Vettel had done earlier in the race, Bottas chose to accelerate very early, allowing a greater slipstream for those behind.
“Lewis was on the right, while Valtteri was ahead, but I couldn’t really go to the right,” Vettel said, “I also wanted to go for the inside, but once I locked up, it was tough luck.”
Vettel didn’t seem too bothered by his botched overtake, as he commented post-race that “this is how it goes sometimes.”
The move was rightfully labelled as a “mistake” by Mercedes Team Principal, Toto Wolff.
“I had a chance to win and I tried,” Vettel said, “It just didn’t work.”
The mistake proved costly for Vettel as Valtteri Bottas would suffer a puncture with three laps to go in the race. If Vettel was still in his original P2 position, as he was before the botched overtake, the Ferrari driver would’ve inherited the race lead again.
Instead, Lewis Hamilton was the one to claim the race lead and he would go on to take an unlikely victory.
“For Lewis, this was perhaps not the kind of swashbuckling victory he relishes,” Mercedes Technical Director James Allison said.
Hamilton clearly wasn’t convinced by the victory with his conservative celebration during the podium ceremony. He admitted post-race that Mercedes “definitely have some work to do” because “Ferrari still has the better car.”
Vettel agreed with this consensus, saying, “I think we need to look ahead because we had a strong car today.”
However, the P4 result does mean Vettel has relinquished the lead of the Drivers World Championship to Hamilton, whose victory in Azerbaijan was his first of the season.
In describing the “bittersweet” feeling of the race, Toto Wolff said the positives were “to get the win on the board and to be leading the drivers’ championship.”
Vettel simply said, “we need to stay hungry and keep working.”