Ferrari left Canada distraught; that potential, much-needed race win gone with a single error by 4-time F1 World Champion Sebastian Vettel.
… the German’s undoing an off-track excursion at Turn 4 on Lap 48, his rejoining of the racing line judged unsafe by the stewards in forcing rival Mercedes Lewis Hamilton to avoid a collision.
The result, a 5-second time penalty Vettel couldn’t hope to overcome. His lights-to-flag lead meaningless in a matter of seconds. Vettel rearranging the place numbers in parc-ferme to make a point.
And while the decision was consistent with incidents like Japan last year, when Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen went off at the final chicane, but returned to the racing line to keep Ferrari’s Kimi Räikkönen behind…
… the outpouring of emotion came thick and fast, with booing during the podium… and a divided paddock post-race.
“It's a shame,” said 2009 F1 World Champion Jenson Button. “For me, it's a racing incident. Yes, Seb made a mistake, but you've got to realise he's doing over 100 miles an hour here. You can't just stop the car and stay off the circuit.”
Others knew it was a fair decision in the now-micromanaged world of F1 and consistent with past judgements.
“It is very, very clear that unfortunately it was an unsafe return to the track. That is the rule. You have to return safely and that is the way it is. A penalty is deserved in that case,” said 2016 F1 World Champion Nico Rosberg.
Regardless, the result was a heavy blow to the Scuderia’s title hopes… Ferrari now requesting a review, not appeal, of the decision.
In the drivers’ standings, Vettel is 62 points behind Hamilton…enough for the Brit to DNF twice and still be 12 points ahead. In the constructors’, it’s 123 points between Mercedes and Ferrari, more than seven times the 17-point difference after seven rounds last season.
… making a comeback an Everest-sized challenge.
But mistakes under pressure will continue to erode its attempts, Vettel’s errors in the heat of battle a constant feature of the last few years…
SOUNDBITE (English) JARNO TRULLI,
F1 DRIVER, 1997-2011:
“[Sebastian] Vettel got it wrong too many times. You can get it wrong as a driver, that's part of the business but unfortunately for him he did it too many times.”
The Scuderia continues to have faith, though, in their champion with the launch in February a very public backing.
SOUNDBITE (English) LOUIS C CAMILLERI,
“Sebastian Vettel remains as hungry as ever for victory and I know that he is totally devoted to achieve his and our ambitions and he knows full well that the entire team will give him all their full-hearted support.”
And throughout it all, Vettel’s teammate, young gun Charles Leclerc continues to look the real deal…as a future superstar and team leader, despite his own errors in Azerbaijan and Monaco.
There’s no doubt that in the modern era of F1, the driver who makes the fewest mistakes prospers…with Hamilton coming to the fore on that in 2018, the Brit joining up his peaks for consistent performance.
And while the dust settles, Vettel needs to focus on that with Ferrari.
For if the German leaves Ferrari without winning the title, it will become one of the sport’s most tragic tales.
And Canada 2019 could just turn out to be the watershed moment…
As Ferrari picks itself up again from the brink.