Sebastian Vettel may have been relieved to escape the calamity that was Ferrari’s 2020 Formula One season, but it appears his move to Aston Martin isn’t going to return him to the front of the grid anytime soon.
That’s because the team, which claimed a win with Sergio Perez last year, has been one of the hardest hit by rule changes made over the off-season.
After the controversy last year, when their car (then called Racing Point) was labelled the ‘Pink Mercedes’ it seems Aston Martin has dropped down the pecking order for 2021.
Having challenged for a podium at last year’s Bahrain Grand Prix before Perez suffered an engine failure, the team was barely able to scrape into the top 10 this time around.
Lance Stroll qualified 10th and that’s where he finished, while Vettel qualified 18th after being hampered by yellow flags on his final lap. The four-time world champion eventually trailed home in 15th spot (otherwise known as second last) over a lap behind race-winner Lewis Hamilton.
“I don’t feel at home in the car. Many things are fighting against me so that I cannot concentrate on the driving,” Vettel told German TV after the race.
“There are a lot of things that we have to take care of. Some of the others were two seconds faster.”
Vettel picked up five penalty points on his licence in a horror weekend. He was penalised three points, and sent to the back of the grid, for not slowing sufficiently for the yellow flags in qualifying, then hit with a further two points, and a ten second penalty during the race, after he ran into the back of Esteban Ocon’s Alpine.
“I was trying to cut back to the left, but Esteban was moving left as well,” Vettel said.
“When I was right behind him I locked the fronts and hit him straight on. Obviously, that was not great for both of our races.”
If a driver accumulates 12 penalty points over a 12-month period he is banned for a race. Vettel had no points coming into this race.
Of greater long-term concern is the pace of the Aston Martin, which along with Mercedes, appears to have suffered the most from the rule changes.
Team boss Otmar Szafnauer was quite vocal over the weekend in claiming that the changes in dimensions of the floor of the car have hurt those that run low rake. The rake of a car refers to the practice of running the rear at a higher ride-height than the front. Most notably, the Red Bull, when viewed from side-on, is significantly higher at the rear than the front.
While all cars were slower in qualifying this weekend than they were at the same track just four months ago, it was the low-rake cars of Mercedes and Aston Martin that suffered the most, up to a second a lap more than their rivals.
That’s created what looks to be a titanic battle at the front between Mercedes and Red Bull, but for Aston Martin, the consequences are huge given the already small margins in the midfield.
“I’m not happy,” Szafnauer said. “And when I say I’m not happy, I mean I’m not happy for our two great drivers, I’m not happy for the 500 great men and women who designed, built and are now running our new car, and I’m not happy for our sponsors and fans.
“After carefully analysing data from testing and this weekend, it is clear that the new-for-2021 aero regulations have impacted cars with a low-rake aero philosophy significantly more damagingly than cars with a high-rake aero philosophy.
“So, Mercedes and ourselves have suffered, whereas the high-rake aero philosophy cars such as those of Red Bull and Alpha Tauri, and McLaren and Ferrari, have not.
“We cannot make a change to a high-rake aero philosophy car even if we wanted to, and neither can Mercedes, because the suspension on this year’s cars has been homologated.”
Rival team boss Franz Tost said Aston Martin had plenty of catching up to do.
“In reality, the car is not that good,” he told German publicataion Motor und Sport.
“It is very unstable at the rear end.”
Timing is everything in motor racing. Lewis Hamilton would have one world title to his name, rather than seven, had he stayed at McLaren instead of switching to Mercedes in 2013.
Now it appears Vettel, having jumped out of the frying pan at Ferrari, has landed in the fire at Aston Martin.
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