F1: Vettel to put pedal to the metal

Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel (right) is not a happy man after finishing third in the Hungarian Grand Prix behind Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton (centre) and Red Bull's Max Verstappen. Vettel has underperformed this season after excelling in testing - falling
Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel (right) is not a happy man after finishing third in the Hungarian Grand Prix behind Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton (centre) and Red Bull's Max Verstappen. Vettel has underperformed this season after excelling in testing - falling behind Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas and Verstappen in the battle to be the main challenger to five-time F1 champion Hamilton. PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS

Four-time champion and Ferrari need to figure out solutions before Belgium GP

LONDON • By the time the season restarts on Sept 1, Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel will be at the Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium, where he last won a Formula One race on Aug 26 last year.

The mid-season break and the race suited to Ferrari's strengths could not have come earlier for the struggling four-time champion, who won all his titles with Red Bull (2010-13).

Vettel, 32, has had longer droughts with the Italian team, who went winless in 2016. But this year has been particularly disappointing because of how quick they appeared in pre-season testing.

Instead of challenging for a first drivers' or constructors' title in 11 years, they have yet to win this season and go into the second half of the year at risk of being overtaken by a resurgent Red Bull.

Vettel (156 points), who is fourth and one place ahead of new teammate Charles Leclerc (132), is 94 points behind Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton (250) in the drivers' championship. Ferrari, on 288 points, are way behind Mercedes (438) in the constructors' title race.

The next two high-speed races at Spa and Monza, Ferrari's home circuit with its passionate fans, could see a change of fortunes, with the car better suited aerodynamically to the long, fast straights.

But Vettel knows that more is needed, perhaps of the same scale as the runner-up finish achieved the previous week from the back of the grid in Germany following the blow of a mechanical failure in qualifying.

Asked to rate himself out of 10 after finishing third in Hungary, he said: "Five, not happy with the first half. I think I struggled here and there to really get on top of the car.

"We've been trying a lot of things, so fair enough. But I feel I can do a better job in the second half.

"Spa and Monza might be better for us but, in the end, our ambition is to really be in control of the race. Where we are now, we're quite far away from that."

Former Ferrari technical director Ross Brawn, now F1's managing director for motor sport, believes a win for Ferrari is important as a morale booster than to press any title aspirations at this stage.

He said: "The summer break has probably come at just the right time because I'm well aware of how the pressure can build on Ferrari when things aren't going well.

"It won't do any harm to take a breather and recharge the batteries," added the Briton, who worked with seven-time champion Michael Schumacher at Ferrari.

Amid his slump, Vettel has lost his billing as Hamilton's main challenger, falling behind Valtteri Bottas, who has played his part in Mercedes' dominance, and even the in-form Max Verstappen of Red Bull.

The duo are the only drivers other than Hamilton to have won this year. Bottas is second on 188 points, seven ahead of Verstappen.

On Sunday, the battle was between Mercedes and Red Bull, with Vettel finishing more than a minute behind Hamilton, who celebrated his eighth win in 12. Ferrari never looked to be in the same race.

They know they need to improve through the corners to make the most of their straight-line speed. And Vettel is prepared for the current break to be a busy one for him.

"It will be a busy break for us. I don't think anyone's mind can rest in the two weeks, so maybe we come up with some good ideas for the second half," he said.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 08, 2019, with the headline 'Vettel to put pedal to the metal'. Print Edition | Subscribe