Will Vettel be on the F1 grid in 2020?
The Canadian Grand Prix was an F1 classic which quickly turned into an F1 farce — Sebastian Vettel’s controversial penalty cost him the victory and led him to suggest he is no longer in love with the sport.
Our F1 writers Laurence Edmondson and Nate Saunders join columnists Maurice Hamilton and Kate Walker in talking over the biggest talking points after seven races of 2019.
Do you expect Sebastian Vettel to still be in F1 next year?
LE: If the season ended tomorrow I’d have my doubts, but deep down he’ll know 2020 is his last chance to set things right at Ferrari. He’s too much of a fan of the team and the sport to pass that opportunity up. Ferrari will be looking to 2021 – when the driver market opens up – for his replacement, though.
NS: He sounded done on Sunday. There’s a lot of racing left in 2019 and that could go one of two ways — drain him to the point he doesn’t want to carry on, or fire him up for a title challenge in red. The dynamic at Ferrari is likely to play a role in it but I’d be surprised if the Italian team isn’t already considering life without Vettel at the helm.
MH: If he keeps making mistakes like Bahrain and Canada, he may feel he has no choice but to leave. Indeed, if you offered the option of quitting for good on Sunday evening, he might have taken it, given the introspective feeling-sorry-for-myself mood he was in. It’s down to Sebastian to sort himself out. But I’m beginning to wonder if his confidence has been seriously undermined. If Leclerc genuinely puts one over Vettel more than once, I’d say Seb will be out of here by 2020.
KS: Yes. While he’s understandably frustrated at the moment — not least after Canada — he’s still a racer through and through. The excitement we heard over the radio when he scored pole isn’t the kind of thing you can fake, and it’s that adrenaline that powers him and the others on the grid. I don’t think he’ll find it easy to walk away from the highs despite this current low.
Has F1’s rulebook made it too sanitised?
LE: There is no way the rulebook can cover all types of incident, so it’s down to the stewards’ interpretation. Because the stewards aren’t permanent from race to race they have been criticised for being inconsistent, and that has made them interpret the rules in the most literal way in response. We need four head-strong permanent stewards so they can set a tone through the season for what is and isn’t acceptable.
NS: You need rules — the issue here was interpretation and implementation. It’s hard to know for sure what the right solution is, but F1 cannot afford a repeat of what happened in Montreal on Sunday.
MH: People wanted clarity on certain driving issues – and now they’ve got it in detail. It’s really a matter of how they’re interpreted. Rather than being the strict rule of law, the directives should be advisory and applied with ‘let them race’ in mind when borderline. Easier said than done, though, judging by the continuing debate after Vettel’s penalty on Sunday.
KW: Yes, but in a way the teams and drivers have got what they asked for. They wanted black and white rules clearly laid out, and in requesting the removal of the grey area the unintended consequences was instances like Sunday in Canada. It’s a shame the race ended as it did, but the stewards issued the smallest penalty going.
Having seen Ferrari’s raw pace during the race, how many victories do you think the team can claim from the remaining races?
LE: Austria is the next big opportunity based on what we’ve seen so far. Silverstone, Spa and Monza should be possible too. Based on them winning at least two of those and getting lucky elsewhere, I’ll go with three.
NS: Any power dependent tracks will be Ferrari’s strong suit — making Monza’s Italian Grand Prix a particularly exciting prospect. I’ll say three or four, which is sad given how strong we all thought the red cars would be this season.
MH: On the basis of Canada, it would be nice to think there’s got to be half of the remaining 15 races – on paper. But given Ferrari’s much talked about strategy foul-ups, Vettel’s mistakes and Leclerc’s continuing small errors as he finds his feet, it’s not a given. Unfortunately.
KW: Very hard to quantify — there are a couple of tracks we think of as Red Bull’s, but Mercedes have shown they can win anywhere. But I am going to go out on a limb and predict a Ferrari win at Monza this year. That extra power from the roar of the crowd coupled with the SF90’s straight-line speed should give the tifosi something to celebrate.
Is Valtteri Bottas’ title challenge over?
LE: Canada was a massive hit for Bottas and I’m not sure he’ll recover from it without reliability issues hurting Hamilton. I hope I’m wrong!
NS: A lot can happen over the rest of the season, but Lewis Hamilton just doesn’t have weekends like the one Valtteri just had. The last two races have been significant body blows to Bottas and it’s hard to see Hamilton easing up over the European leg of the season.
MH: He’s already one race win and more behind, and we’re not quite one-third through the season. To beat Hamilton in an identical car, you’ve got to be very quick and on the case for every lap. We saw Valtteri do it in Australia and Baku. But, last weekend, we seemed to be back to Bottas Mk I. And that’s not good enough when up against Hamilton Mk VI.
KW: No, because we’re only one-third of the way through the season and there are still an awful lot of points out there for the taking. But I stand by my earlier assertion that what we saw from Valtteri earlier this year was a purple patch, not a title challenge. I think he’ll carry on winning races and keep Lewis on his toes, but I’m not betting on him for the title.
Will Pierre Gasly see out the season at Red Bull?
LE: Yes, but mainly because the only other option is Daniil Kvyat and I don’t think Red Bull believe enough in Kvyat to deal with all the risks associated with a mid-season car swap. But Gasly needs to turn things around fast to remain in F1 next year.
NS: As much as Helmut Marko likes a redemption story, he usually only limits them to the Toro Rosso team — I can’t imagine him being elevated. But then again, none of us imagined Max Verstappen’s elevation in 2016 in Kvyat’ favour, so what do we know? The only certainty here is that Gasly is on very shaky ground at the moment.
MH: When Christian Horner is asked about Gasly, you get the impression he’s like a father talking platitudes about an unremarkable child in need of encouragement and not a patch on the favourite son. If Gasly hasn’t got closer to at least narrowing the unattainable performance gap to Verstappen by the time we reach the summer break then, given the way Red Bull works, he may find himself wearing a team shirt and headset on race weekends for the rest of the season.
KW: Yes, because I don’t see who would replace him. In Red Bull’s shoes I’d be wary of promoting Albon too soon — they’ve done that before and regretted it. Gasly’s not been presenting Max with much of a challenge, but he does seem to be settling in to the team now. I think we’re going to see Pierre continue to get better as the season progresses.