Vettel tempted by dry tyres in Turkey
F1 managing director Ross Brawn also praised the German's performance.
The F1 Turkish Grand Prix on Sunday bore witness to a modern-day rarity in the form of a podium for Vettel, who drove his Ferrari to third from 11th on the grid in a remarkable wet-weather drive, to register his first podium in almost a year.
Vettel's ascension of the running order began with an incredible display on lap one, as he at first made his way past the Alfa Romeo pairing, before also passing both Red Bulls, both Renaults, and Valtteri Bottas - all before turn two. Later in the lap, he would pass Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton to claim P3.
After pitting on lap eight for intermediate tyres, Vettel was passed by Red Bull's Max Verstappen, and he was subsequently passed by the other Red Bull driver, Alexander Albon. A lap-33 pit stop saw Vettel's position change only minimally, but in the stint that followed he would be passed by his own teammate Charles Leclerc.
Together, the two caught up to Racing Point's Sergio Perez, the latter making his attempt to pass the Mexican in the final complex of the last lap. Leclerc then made a mistake, thereby conceding his position to Vettel, who - in his own right - narrowly missed out on P2.
"It was a good start," said Vettel. "I think I just anticipated it to be very, very slippery, off the line. Made up a few places already there and then, I wasn’t one of the ones who tried everything into turn one and obviously there was a Renault that spun. I think everybody who was in that group obviously was back to the outside and I could just snatch the inside line and make up a lot of ground.
"Then I think it was good to have clear track ahead and benefit from that at the beginning of the race. When we then pitted for inters, I think it took a little bit too long for us to get into the groove. I lost a couple of positions which then later on I was catching up the field again.
"I had a good battle at that stage with Lewis for a couple of laps and we pitted again, the tyres then grained very quickly and I think in that part of the race maybe I was too conservative, otherwise I could have been even better and maybe less exciting at the end but better in terms of positioning but nevertheless, happy.
"Obviously I was able to close the gap towards the end. Sergio was right on the limit, I don’t think he had anything… not even another lap left in his tyres so it was really close. Also across the line I was hoping for a benefit on traction but he just saved it over the line. Obviously Charles made the mistake and then it was very close for the three of us. It was a fun afternoon," summed up Vettel.
Interestingly, the German reckoned his pace could have been stronger on dry tyres. In the duration of the race, no driver used slicks, but the pace of his rivals despite extreme wearing to tread on the intermediates leads him to believe more could have been achieved. "On the inters we were a little bit better, as I said, maybe I could have done a bit better by being more aggressive on that tyre, especially in the mid part of the race, but I was also very keen towards to put dry tyres," said Vettel.
"Obviously nobody dared to do it so given that we were in a good position looking for good points, I can see that we wanted to hang on to this, plus, on the other hand, we had rain forecast for the last lap so yeah, otherwise I think… I don’t know. I’m still thinking back and thinking maybe I should have dared to put dry tyres because the track, at one point, was sort of dry and still damp in other places but it was stable and the tyres that we had on, the intermediates, Sergio’s tyres, our tyres I think they were all pretty worn down to nothing, even Lewis’s tyres, pretty much like a slick and in that case a slick would be faster but would, could, should.
"We didn’t dare to do it; we got a podium so not much we could have got more from that race," Vettel added, happy to be able to demonstrate his remarkable skill once more. "I think it’s been a while that I’ve been racing in the midfield, it’s very, very close and even though you have a better pace, sometimes you can’t really show so it’s tough but I think we look forward to the last couple of races and hopefully for improvements.
"This weekend, I think the conditions made the biggest difference; first of all, the slippery track, secondly the wet conditions but yeah, I’m looking forward to trying to squeeze out anything that there is to squeeze in the last races to finish as high up as possible for myself and also for the team," summed up Vettel.
The drive from Vettel was particularly hailed by F1 chief Brawn, who reckoned the German was able to use his experience in such conditions, where younger drivers like Max Verstappen or Charles Leclerc might lack he knowledge.
"What we saw was the old guard demonstrating their experience and the young pretenders showing they have a bit more to learn," wrote Brawn. "It was fascinating to watch Sebastian’s performance this weekend, people are quick to write any type of sportsman off if they have a quiet period.
"Sunday reminded us of his deep talent. He’s been a bit in the shadow of Charles this year and coming to the end of his Ferrari marriage is not easy, so I think the Turkish Grand Prix was a great day for him. He didn’t put a foot wrong and was ready to pounce when an opportunity came up.
"In contrast, the younger drivers – such as Charles and Max – made mistakes. They wouldn’t have experienced a race like this before. It was a real challenge to judge how the tyres would behave, how they would evolve and anticipating where the tyres will be in 10 or 20 laps time – this was where experience came in.
"But this will be another reference point in these young drivers’ data bank. If we did another race in Turkey tomorrow, I’m sure a lot of them would approach it differently," summed up Brawn.
[This story was written by me and co-written by Darshan Chokhani]