Suzuka blessed us with quite a lot of wheel to wheel battles, but few have attracted the attention of the one between Vettel and Verstappen. The German tried a daring move on Max, entering Spoon curve, but the two ended up off bounds and Vettel effectively lost the chance to fight even for the podium.
The majority of the press and fans have blasted Vettel for being reckless and impatient. Naturally, both drivers blamed each other for the clash, but the stewards did not issue a warning or a penalty for any of them. In a “shocking” twist… here is why the stewards were right and –more importantly- Vettel had every right to try the move.
Setting up the move
Vettel goes up the hill being significantly quicker than Max. Crucially, while approaching Spoon, the Ferrari seems to have an additional last minute edge over the Red Bull. Even if Spoon does not require heavy braking, it’s not the first time we’ ve seen someone try this stunt.
Vettel hopes to be just beside of Max entering the corner, forcing him to concede or at least stay on the outer line. The question is: will he be able to hold his own line and not understeer into Verstappen?
Being in Vettel’s cockpit
Well, as a matter of fact, this is exactly what happens. Vettel not only manages to get his front wing in front of Verstappen’s rear wheel, but he has placed the Ferrari well ahead the middle of the Red Bull car. Most importantly: at the moment of contact, Vettel has not understeered and he still has his left wheel on the white line (almost on the kerb).
Any word in the rules?
The rules state that you have to leave at least one car width when returning to the racing line, after defending your position. Of course here this is not the case. The only part we could associate this incident with, would be the following:
Apendix L, International Sporting code, Chapter IV, Article 2b:
“However, manoeuvres liable to hinder other drivers, such as deliberate crowding of a car beyond the edge of the track or any other abnormal change of direction, are strictly prohibited.”
The problem is, though, that the rules do not specifically tackle the issue of in-corner racing.
Being in Verstappen’s cockpit
However, Max does not seem to deliberately push Vettel to the inside. Strictly speaking, Verstappen should have stopped moving to the inside as soon as Vettel got beside him. However, the time he has available in order to realize the relative position of the Ferrari is too small and it is during the turn-in phase, which constitutes heavy mental and physical load for the driver already.
So… on paper, Vettel is by no means to blame for the crash. Vettel saw a gap. He managed to slot the car into this gap and did not lose control before contact. Verstappen should have given him more room, but it is unrealistic to expect such space awareness at that part of the turn and within such a little time. Since there has not been a serious incident, it is not justified by the rules or by common racing ethics to impose a penalty to either one of them. However, Vettel is unfairly criticized for trying the move, as he had a legitimate claim for that inside spot at Spoon.
Right or wrong, should he have tried?
Should he have been more patient, considering that Verstappen already had a 5-sec penatly for the incident with Raikkonen? Maybe, but Vettel was eager to stay in touch with the frontrunners, to increase his chances. If this had worked, we would be hailing his «champ» material. Keepin blasting the drivers for such moves on the edge will only result to less real racing.