Who would have thought that two of the most exciting races of 2012 would be Valencia and Abu Dhabi. With Sebastian Vettel starting from the pitlane after fuel issues in qualifying (which sent him to the back of the grid, but Red Bull decided to change set-up, so pitlane start), there was bound to be some fireworks, but with crashes left and right, safety cars and Vettel slicing through the field, this was more than we could have hoped for! However, amidst all the chaos, some people lost track of what happened and questioned if Vettel’s performance (pitlane start to 3rd place) was more luck than skill. Here’s why Vettel deserves all the praise he gets.
After de la Rosa had problems on the grid, he started behind Vettel in the pitlane. With 2 cars out in turn 1, this means Vettel was 21st when he emerged from the pitlane to chase down the field. By lap 8, he was in 13th position, having overtaken 8 cars on track, before the safety car came out. Behind the first safety car, a hard braking Ricciardo caused Vettel to return to the pitlane for a new front wing.
When the safety car went in, he was 21st behind Paul di Resta. When Hamilton retired 5 laps later, Vettel was 12th, having overtaken 8 cars on track, and Grosjean twice (Vettel let him pass after uncertainty about the first overtake). He overtook 3 more cars and took p8 when Kobayashi pitted, and p7 after Massa spun. When Alonso, Maldonado, Webber, Button, Perez and pitted in the next few laps, Vettel was 2nd. Pitting in lap 36, Alonso and Button passed him again, before the safety car came out again when Perez, Webber and Grosjean came together. This closed the 10 second gap between Vettel and Button. In lap 52, Vettel overtook Button as well to take a 3rd place finish after starting from the back of the field twice.
So while it may seem to some like Vettel’s race today was aided by safety cars and other drivers tumbling over each other, most of that actually happened behind him. Having to pit, ruining your tire strategy and fall back 8 places with the first safety car can hardly be considered luck, and by the time of the second safety car, he had already made his second pit stop and was in 4th place.
This only leaves the question, could Vettel have taken 3rd from Button if not for the second safety car? Well, let’s see: in the 5 laps Vettel was in clean air (2 before the SC, and the final 3 laps), he was little over 1 second faster than Button. It took Vettel 8 laps to overtake Button. Counting back 8 laps, this means he would have had to be on Button’s tail by lap 47.
The only argument that could still be made, is whether or not he could have caught Button without the safety car, but with 9 extra laps and being +1 second faster than Button in clean air, it’s safe to assume he could have gotten him. The safety car came out in lap 38, so Vettel would have had 9 laps to close the 10 second gap to Button. A judgement call I’ll leave for you to make.
- Start: p20 (4 cars out at start)
- Lap 8: p13 (7 overtakes)
- Lap 8: SAFETY CAR
- Lap 14: p21
- Lap 19: p12 (9 overtakes, gifted Hamilton’s spot, overtook Grosjean twice)
- Lap 25: p8 (3 overtakes, Kobayashi pits)
- Lap 28: p7 (Massa spun)
- Lap 31: p2 (Alonso, Maldonado, Webber, Button, Perez pit)
- Lap 36: p4 (pitstop lets Alonso and Button pass)
- Lap 38: SAFETY CAR (Vettel gains 10 seconds to Button)
- Lap 44: SAFETY CAR in
- Lap 52: overtake on Button
Update: list of overtakes
First of, one small correction, as Vettel made 7 overtakes before the first safety car, not 8.
Upon request, the on-track overtakes (so not counting spins, faillures or pit stops)
- Senna (he was still ahead after T2)
- After SC – di Resta
- de la Rosa
- Vergne (gifted)