With this miscalculation Mercedes threw away the victory
Munich and Melbourne – Sebastian Vettel wins despite losing pace in Melbourne. At Mercedes, the mystery is how Vettel got past Lewis Hamilton. SPORT1 explains the Ferrari coup.
After Lewis Hamilton won the start at the Formula 1 opener in Melbourne, many fans were already preparing for a one-sided race.
Especially the speed of the later race winner Sebastian Vettel was worrying in the first third of the race. The four-time World Champion could not keep up with either the pace of the Mercedes driver or Kimi Räikkönen and was clearly behind.
That Vettel came back on the track after his stop before Hamilton was a big mystery not only for the Briton: “I couldn’t believe it. From that moment until the end of the race, I couldn’t believe what had happened.”
SPORT1 gets to the bottom of the biggest mystery of the opening race (SERVICE: The Drivers’ Championship).
Hamilton was nine seconds clear of Vettel when Ferrari brought Raikkonen into the pits to force the Silver Arrows into action. No surprise for Hamilton: “I knew Ferrari would like to play me against Sebastian with Kimi”.
Nevertheless, the alarm bells immediately sounded at Mercedes. As Vettel was far behind, Hamilton was immediately brought into the pits to protect himself against Ferrari’s undercut attempt – which went smoothly.
Vettel, who stayed out on the older tyres, took the lead but gradually lost time to Hamilton. The 30-year-old was in an almost hopeless situation at the time: his pace was far too slow to get out again after the stop.
“I was in no-man’s-land with nothing to lose. I wasn’t a threat to Lewis or Kimi – then you just stay out as long as you can and hope something happens. I prayed for a safety car,” said Vettel (SERVICE: The race calendar).
Vettel’s prayers were increased when Romain Grosjean suddenly stopped in the Haas and triggered a virtual safety car phase (VSC): “I was immediately wide awake when I knew the safety car was coming. I knew it could go to the front.”
While Vettel braked in the pit entrance on last groove, one remained calm with Mercedes.
It was known that Vettel would lose less time during the VSC pit stop than under normal conditions, but team manager Toto Wolff and his team were convinced that Vettel’s lead was far too small to get out ahead of Hamilton.
“Our software spit out 15 seconds that would have taken Vettel a step ahead. But there were only eleven. So we had a margin of four seconds. Then the TV picture comes and suddenly he drives out onto the track in front of us,” Wolff said on RTL (SERVICE: The team ranking).
However, it was only eleven seconds at the beginning of the round. Because Vettel was lucky that he had just passed the scene of the accident before the yellow flags were waved, which is why Hamilton lost 5.4 seconds to Vettel in the first sector.
And so the margin of four seconds had already disappeared before the VSC phase had even begun. But since the software was apparently still eleven seconds behind in its calculation, it saw Hamilton ahead.
What makes it particularly annoying for Mercedes: According to Wolff, Hamilton could have made enough progress in the laps before if the right distance had been known.
For Vettel, after the unfortunate 2017 season, it’s compensatory justice: “Last year we were unlucky in such situations. This time we just got lucky.”
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