A look at Vettel’s magnificent comeback drive at the US GP
Sebastian Vettel's drive in COTA was one of his most exciting in recent years, with the four time champion experiencing nothing short of a rollercoaster race at the United States GP.
Vettel, at one stage, found himself leading the race after taking advantage of the first Safety Car and extending his second stint on the medium tyres by making an overcut. The four time champion even led his 3,500th lap in Formula 1 before pitting, but a disastrous 16.8 second stop which was due to a left front jack alignment problem, dropped Vettel down to P13 albeit on much fresher tyres than those ahead, and his strong pace and late overtakes allowed him to salvage some important points.
The 2013 Austin winner was forced to try "unusual" tactics in his comeback drive scything through the field back into the points.
Vettel's comeback drive:
With fresh tyres and a car that had been working well all weekend, Vettel’s recovery prospects looked decent. Team principal Mike Krack said the pace advantage “seemed to be enough to come back through” but admitted at first he “didn’t think that it was so easy” as Vettel went on to make it look.
- He gained one place through a pitstop for Esteban Ocon but the others had to be earned the hard way.
- Vettel quickly caught a trio of cars led by Alex Albon’s Williams, with Zhou Guanyu and Yuki Tsunoda behind, and had to be patient at first when he found himself at the back of the DRS train.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t have the pace down the straights to just pass comfortably. So, I had to try something unusual, either on brakes or in unusual spots. And I did and it worked most of the time.”
- Vettel tentatively looked to the outside of Tsunoda through the triple right, near the end of the lap but next time around pulled a lovely pass diving to the inside of the tight left hand Turn 15 that precedes it.
- This quickly became a favoured haunt of Vettel’s. When Zhou went slightly deep defending into Turn 15 on the next lap Vettel cut back and then gradually pulled alongside through the triple right that followed before sending it down the inside into the fast penultimate corner, which is rarely an overtaking spot.
- Albon’s DRS train, which Krack thought “was going to be the most difficult because they have very good straightline speed”. He needn’t have worried as Vettel got creative again. Because Vettel knew he was much stronger than Albon through the final sector in particular as he had taken a huge amount of time out of him the previous lap. So Vettel lined him up before the entry to the triple right knowing that even though he did not have so much as a front wing alongside Albon’s rear wheel on entry to the corner, he would be so much faster mid corner that he could sweep past.
That’s exactly what happened. Vettel’s excellent positioning meant he was able to tough it out and move ahead at the end of the sequence.
- At this point Vettel was ninth, with five laps to go and 6.7s behind Magnussen. It looked like the end of his charge. But his tyre advantage and Magnussen struggling badly after a great effort on a one stop strategy meant Vettel still had a victim left to claim. He moved within a second of Magnussen at the start of the last lap and the HAAS was a sitting duck on the back straight but it was Magnussen, “and he’s one of the most difficult ones to overtake in the entire field” Vettel said.
- Magnussen put up a tremendous defence, outbraking Vettel on the inside into Turn 12 then covering off Turn 13 and Turn 15. Vettel tried to repeat his Albon move through 16-17-18 and got a huge snap mid corner on the dirty outside line, which he corrected and stayed committed through in order to get the inside for the Turn 19 left hander. A lock up over the bump unsettled the Aston Martin car.
Vettel said while talking through the move from start to finish:
“It was on the limit and the problem is the other car doesn’t really see you at that point. So, it’s a bit of a surprise. And with Kevin, I thought I’m not sure whether he sees me or pushes me right to the edge but he just left enough. It was getting bumpy and dirty as well out there. I had a big moment, a snap and locked up all four wheels, especially the rear over the bump heading into Turn 19 which I wasn’t sure that I’m going to make. But I made it so yeah, very much on the limit but good fun.”
On the penultimate turn of the final lap, he dived up the inside of Kevin Magnussen's HAAS to secure eighth place which became 7th hours later following Fernando Alonso's post race penalty.
Covering off Magnussen into the final corner clinched eighth place on the road, which became seventh later in the evening when Fernando Alonso was penalised, and brought Vettel back to the kind of result his entire grand prix deserved but particularly this exquisite final stint.
His ebullient radio messages after the race showed just how much this meant to him and the drive underpinned something that has been obvious for a few grands prix now. Vettel is now three races from retirement but more fool anyone who thinks he is phoning this in.
Reactions to Vettel’s comeback drive:
"Vettel driving like a man possessed, and he's retiring!"
"He’s still a great racer. That last move against Kevin was one of the best moves I’ve ever seen. And by that I don’t just mean in this grand prix. It’s such a brave place, to go around the outside of an F1 car anywhere on a high speed corner is scary. If the guy on the inside makes a tiny little error, pushes you off the circuit and you are heading towards the barriers at a very high speed. So really, really impressive move and that’s why the excitement it was like he won a race. There’s so much adrenaline in making a move like that stick.”
"I think we need to persuade Sebastian Vettel not to retire. His performance yesterday was a straight 10/10 "
"I do wonder sometimes is Seb Vettel really going to retire soon? Man’s still got loads of energy to do three more years after another classy drive."
“It was a good battle, Vettel wasn’t racing like a man who’ll be retiring in a month’s time. Of course I’m pissed off to lose out, but I have to say that was some of the best racing I’ve ever been involved in. The way he drove was just, yeah, incredible. It’s almost like I feel privileged to be able to race against someone like that. It’s great, and I’m going to take that lesson and treasure it.”
“Racing against him it doesn’t feel like it’s at the end of his career,” he added. “It feels like… yeah just great driving from him, but of course pissed off with myself that I just lost it on that last lap.”
Sebastian Vettel's retirement:
Despite the setbacks in the race, Vettel enjoyed the race as he scored a top eight result for the third straight Grand Prix following eighth and sixth in Singapore and Japan respectively.
With retirement looming, Vettel was inevitably asked whether his brilliant drive to P7 his best finish since Round 6 when he finished sixth in Azerbaijan tempted him to reconsider bowing out from F1.
“No, not like that, but obviously I will miss these moments, miss the adrenaline in places like Suzuka, the adrenaline rush around there like today, the racing, battling with the others right on the limit, and beyond the limit to be fair. Yeah, that will be missed, but on the other hand obviously I thought about that in advance and I look forward to what’s coming next” Vettel replied.
Having claimed six points in the USA and 20 from the Singapore Japan double header, Aston Martin are just one point off Alfa Romeo in the fight for sixth in the standings, with three races remaining in 2022.