Sebastian Vettel has had an uncharacteristically tough start to 2020. After five races, Vettel has only 10 World Championship points, 35 less than his own team-mate, Charles Leclerc, and 97 less than championship leader Lewis Hamilton. Vettel has looked out of sorts on the track and seemed at a loss for what has caused his lack of pace.
But the answer may have been found. Ferrari have given Vettel a new chassis for this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix and he seemed to be more comfortable right from the start of the first practice session. In FP1 on Friday, Vettel was 5th fastest, just 0.011 seconds slower than Leclerc. Although he was a bit further back in FP2, Vettel seems cautiously optimistic that this weekend will be better for him.
Vettel said of Friday’s running: “It was a mixed day: I was reasonably happy in terms of our one lap pace, even if in the afternoon I struggled a bit more to put the laps together. However generally I have a better feeling with the car. Today we tried a few things and we have learned some things we can use tomorrow. Let’s see where we are after quali.
“In terms of race pace we should be quite okay, but obviously there is still some work to do. In particular, managing the tyres will be key and with the high temperatures expected to continue, this will be far from easy.”
Vettel is leaving Ferrari at the end of 2020 and has yet to find a drive for 2021. Unless he decides to retire from Formula 1 (he doesn’t seem to be thinking about retirement), he needs to convince another team to offer him a race seat. For that, he needs to perform on track. The first step in that regard is matching his team-mate. This afternoon’s qualifying session will be the first solid indication of how much his new chassis is helping Vettel.
If Vettel still struggles to match Leclerc this afternoon and again in the race tomorrow, he is going to be left scratching his head to work out where his performance has gone.