Binotto: The best is still in front of Vettel

Sebastian Vettel had been under considerable flak prior to winning the Singapore Grand Prix on Sunday, and credit to his Ferrari team boss Mattia Binotto for believing that not only would his driver bounce back but also confident we have yet to see the best of the four-time Formula 1 World Champion.

After qualifying at Marina Bay, Vettel was third with his teammate Charles Leclerc on pole. Interviewing Binotto after the night session, Sky F1’s Martin Brundle asked of the German driver: “Maybe his best time is behind him…”

Without a blink, and not primed, Binotto replied, “The best is still in front of him. He has it in his own hands, how much he wants it.”

And added, “I think Seb is in a good shape. I’m pretty sure he can fight back here in Singapore, he’s focused, hopes for a good result important to me: that the spirit fits, with which he tackles the races. ”

Prophetic words indeed as 24-hours later Vettel did the business for his boss whose immense faith in the 32-year-old was rewarded despite the young rising force in the Red garage.

The sooner Vettel realises he will have to outsmart his very fast teammate Charles Leclerc the better for him. If he has not already, he might be wise to take a leaf out of Alain Prost’s tactics against Ayrton Senna.

The Professor realised that he was not able to match his McLaren teammate lap-for-lap and shifted to the long-slow game, allowing his teammate to strut his stuff when it did not really matter and then soak up the points when it did. It worked.

On Sunday, Singapore victory fell into Vettel’s lap as his side of the pitwall fluked into a strategy that even surprised them, the #5 Ferrari was not supposed to emerge ahead of Leclerc, but it did.

Full credit to Vettel who delivered a blistering set of in-and-out pitstop laps to find 1.5 seconds on top of the two seconds the computers figured was the maximum he could make up. That second and a half were the difference between tucking in behind his teammate and taking the lead which he did and went on to win the race.

Leclerc had been faster all weekend, Vettel needed to be better for a three or four-lap spell when it really, really mattered (which happened to be lap 18-19-20 of the race) in Singapore to bag maximum points. And therein lies the solution to beat Leclerc, brain rather than brown.

It will be a big ask for Vettel to accept he is no longer the guy with the killer pace that obliterated his teammates, as he did in his early Red Bull days.

Although he got a wake-up call when Daniel Ricciardo stepped up to replace Mark Webber at Red Bull. After the humbling experienced he moved to Ferrari where he found the comfort zone of Kimi Raikkonen in the sunset stage of his career.

Now the pressure is back on, Vettel has Leclerc to contend with. Hungrier, faster and in a rush – the kid is not going to go away any time soon, in fact the 21-year-old will only get better and Seb might or might not.

Binotto’s unyielding faith is good news for the driver because it is hard to fathom why Vettel would want to quit any time soon, he is still relatively young and has at least five to eight years in him for the top flight. There is clearly no animosity or reason to leave the best team in the sport.

All athletes with long careers at the summit of their chosen sport have peaks and troughs in performance, some longer than others and this is the most likely case with Vettel as he chases a fifth title in the future.

In closing, if he really wants to know-how to beat a faster teammate to the title – and it has happened more often than we imagine – he need only delve into the Ferrari archives and look up 1979, the year Jody Scheckter contained Gilles Villeneuve.

Big Question: Are Seb’s best years in F1 still ahead?


Midweek Wrap: Vettel Wins, KMag and RoGro, Hulk in for Kubica?

With Sebastian Vettel returning to the winners’ circle and a flurry of silly-season action, the past seven days saw plenty of action in the F1 world.

Singapore GP Aftermath: What a strange weekend. On Friday, it looked for all the world like Ferrari’s brief run at the top was over, with Mercedes and Red Bull back to the fore at a high-downforce track, yet come Saturday, the Reds had completely flipped the script and were just as strong as they’d been at Spa and Monza.

With that in mind, I’m having a hard time placing this race in its proper context. Did the Scuderia really just unlock the magic formula to their aero upgrades on Saturday? Or were Mercedes and Red Bull thrown completely off-course by their defective simulations? Or maybe it’s a combination of both? Right now, it’s very hard to tell, and that makes this weekend’s race in Sochi even more intriguing.

On a similar note, is this the turnaround Sebastian Vettel was looking for? He didn’t exactly outshine Charles Leclerc in taking the win at Marina Bay, but at the same time, confidence is a valuable commodity in this sport, and Vettel has been seemingly lacking it this season. Maybe that changes now – again, I guess we’ll find out in Sochi.

Haas Retain Grosjean and Magnussen: You may be able to make a decent case for Kevin Magnussen, but to see Haas re-sign Romain Grosjean for another season, particularly after incidents like this one is nothing short of an absolute shocker.

Either Guenther Steiner is the most forgiving man on the planet, or he needs to get checked for memory loss, because there is simply no way the Frenchman was the best option available. No, he’s not considered a slow driver, and he reportedly gives his engineers useful feedback, but how much does that count for when he keeps finding new ways to put his car in the wall? As Paul said last week, “if they were really serious they would have used this as an opportunity to really show their intent or at least maximise the obvious opportunities” and brought on someone like Alex Rossi or Nico Hulkenberg, to say nothing of the myriad other capable drivers.

Assuming Haas wants to actually challenge the likes of Renault and McLaren in 2020, it’s going to be awfully hard to do so with this lineup. In comparison, those teams each have two drivers with the quality to make it at the best teams on the grid, and you definitely can’t say that about Magnussen, let alone Grosjean.

Kubica Steps Out, Hulkenberg to Step In? Seemingly an inevitability given his sub-par performances this season, Robert Kubica made it known last Thursday that he was indeed leaving Williams at the end of the season.

One of those situations where you wonder if it was Kubica saying “you can’t fire me, I quit!”, there’s no getting around the disappointment of a former race-winning F1 driver coming back to the sport and looking like a shell of his former self, but it’s still a remarkable human story. No one would’ve blamed him if he’d been unable to return to any level of motorsport after his 2011 accident, so to make it back to the biggest stage of all is quite the testament to his resiliency. Here’s hoping he finds another series where he can thrive once more.

On the flip side, is this the lifeline Nico Hulkenberg needs? With the Haas door now shut, and Red Bull apparently not interested, it seems Williams is the only seat left on the grid for the German, although he’ll have to fend-off Nicholas Latifi and the gobs of cash he can provide. Unfortunately for Hulkenberg, with the current state of the nine-time former world champions, they might have to prioritise money over ability, and that means for the first time in a long time, he’ll be forced to look elsewhere.



It’s time for Red Bull to deliver at the Singapore GP

It’s over to Red Bull now to deliver on their confidence heading into the Singapore GP, but the momentum is with Ferrari and Mercedes.

Neither the Belgian or Italian GP’s were going to be a strong ally to Red Bull – Honda believe they are getting close to a par with the Mercedes power unit, but Ferrari’s output remains beyond reach.

So, they decided to take their penalties strategically – Alex Albon was forced to start from the back on his Red Bull debut at Spa after taking the new Honda Spec 4 power unit, while Max Verstappen received the same punishment a week later.

Ferrari maximised their straight-line speed advantage as Charles Leclerc claimed back-to-back victories, while Mercedes continued to show their solid race pace but just couldn’t find the extra horsepower to make the overtakes on such power sensitive circuits.

But, the Marina Bay Street Circuit offers a different challenge – twisty, technical, a demand for downforce and a solid chassis – this is a challenge Red Bull graciously accept.

Armed with the more powerful, low-mileage Honda Spec 4 PU, Red Bull hope to shine under the bright lights.

But, it hasn’t always been the happiest of hunting grounds for the Austrian outfit. Romain Grosjean and Sergey Sirotkin did their best last season to hold up Lewis Hamilton to the point where Verstappen could make a pass, but the Brit held on to P1 and went on to win with a comfortable margin.

In fact, Red Bull haven’t won here since Sebastian Vettel dominated in 2013, so Verstappen, or even Albon, in a clean race will be desperate to put an end to that baron run.

Hamilton actually recorded his 4th win in Singapore last season, putting him level with Vettel for most wins at this circuit, but the situations for both drivers couldn’t be any different heading into the 2019 event.

Hamilton heads into the race with confidence high – he is on course for a sixth Drivers’ Championship and minus a late error in Monza on struggling tyres, he made Leclerc work very hard for his first Formula 1 victories.

Vettel meanwhile is at rock bottom. His clash with Lance Stroll in Italy was just unacceptable for a four-time World Champion and over the past two races, which Ferrari identified as their strongest battlegrounds of 2019, Leclerc flourished while Vettel crumbled.

The Scuderia’s low-downforce approach is unlikely to serve them well in Singapore, but that doesn’t mean Vettel can hide behind it as an excuse, because as much as he claims he isn’t concerned by the persistent mistakes, even he will know within himself that he needs a stronger showing.

The top three had an unfamiliar challenge at Monza in the form of Renault. Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg were mixing it up with the big boys throughout qualifying as Ricciardo went on to secure P4 on the grid.

As expected they couldn’t quite hang on Sunday, but thanks to a clean race and a gift from Vettel Renault secured their best points haul since 2008 with Ricciardo finishing P4 and Hulkenberg P5.

It would be a big surprise if the French manufacturer could keep up that level of performance at the Marina Bay Circuit, but their 22-point haul at Monza did wonders for them in the Constructors’ Championship, lifting them to P5 and putting them right back in contention with McLaren.

Speaking of McLaren, they need a good weekend in Singapore to get back on track. Back-to-back P5’s for Carlos Sainz have made way for double-DNF’s, while the team were fined €5000 for their unsafe release of Sainz from his pit box with a loose wheel.

Lando Norris remains cheerful, but P10 and a single point at Monza following his Spa heartbreak was still a little underwhelming.

McLaren simply have to get momentum back on their side in Singapore.

If not, then SportPesa Racing Point and Toro Rosso are starting to gather momentum as well and could yet make their life in the Constructors’ standings difficult.

Sergio Perez made it back-to-back points finishes with P7 at Monza to add 14 points to Racing Point’s total, while Dannil Kvyat was robbed of the chance to pull off a similar achievement after retiring from the Italian GP with an engine issue.

But the main thing is both teams are showing a marked improvement in performance, and that can be highly effective in a crowded midfield.

As for those going the other way, Haas are untouchable at the art of going backwards this season, at least Rich Energy have now, at long last, officially ended their relationship with the team.

Kimi Raikkonen is also going through quite the rough patch. Twice he brought out the red flags at Monza with a pair of Parabolica crashes, while in the race he started at the back with a new engine and gearbox, only to receive a ten-second stop/go penalty because Alfa Romeo went and fitted the wrong tyres.

“Well that was a sh** weekend…Looking forward to Singapore, as it can’t get worse.” Those were Kimi’s words, but all eyes on Singapore because you know how the saying goes, ‘things can always get worse’.

Finally we make it to Williams – George Russell’s performance at Monza offered further evidence that they are slowly making progress, but heading into the Singapore GP their concerning financial situation was laid bare after announcing a loss of £18.8m across the whole company for the first half of 2019.

Their decline to the bottom of the Constructors’ Championship last season took a big hit on their prize money and sponsorship, and it now becomes clear just how badly they need to turn this situation around.

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Montoya: Vettel’s problem is not mental it’s technical

Juan Pablo Montoya believes Sebastian Vette’s problems are not head-related and suggests that the error-prone Ferrari driver is struggling to come to terms with the SF90 while his shooting star teammate Charles Leclerc appears to have adapted his style to the potent but finicky package.

Montoya told Motorsport Network, “I think he doesn’t like something in the car or this year’s tyres and Leclerc is able to better adapt. Vettel has to suffer to go as quick as the other guy. Because he has to suffer and he is not comfortable, he makes mistakes. When you’re not happy with the car and you push, mistakes happen.”

At 31 Vettel is a wily campaigner with four F1 world titles under his belt as well as 52 wins in 234 Grand Prix starts but is now on a winless streak lasting over a year.

At Monza last Sunday, he messed up in front of the tifosi with a blatant error while his teammate powered to a famous victory, the 21-year-old’s second in a week in which he comprehensively outshone his illustrious teammate.

Montoya said of Vettel’s freefall, “I don’t think it’s a mental thing. It is more a technical one. It’s about understanding, having someone on your side who’s able to find what’s going on.”

The popular Columbian driver revealed how he had to alter his driving style to suit the McLaren’s of 2005 and 2006,  “I had to change the way I braked the car and it started doing very different things to what I was used to.

“Changing they way you drive is very complicated. If you change the way you drive the car you can still be quick, but probably not as quick as you used to be.”

“He will have to adapt to a certain extent, but learning to be quick in a different way is very difficult. It’s better to adapt the car to your driving than your style to someone else’s.”

Vettel has never been fully comfortable with the hybrid turbo era as he was with the V8s. Daniel Ricciardo outdrove him in 2014, and at Ferrari the German was hardly tested by Kimi Raikkonen in the last stages of his journey in Red.

Young gun Leclerc has by intent or not been extremely smart in how he has slowly shifted the power from the submissive young gun to the team’s top gun by simply delivering a blistering pace, setting the marker in race-mode and almost taunting Vettel with his ‘catch-me-if-you-can’ approach.

As the seven-time Grand Prix winner and Indycar Champion pointed out, this has the #5 car chasing too often, the driver trying too hard and triggering mistakes.

Perhaps it would be wise for him to take a page out of the Prost-Senna battle archives to figure out what The Professor did to contain and beat a teammate who was faster and younger than him. Tortoise and hare spring to mind.

Montoya, who is back in the F1 paddock coaching Lance Stroll, closed with advice for Vettel, “The only way is working harder, doing something different to what he’s doing now. He must be used to working in a certain way, but right now it’s not working out for him.”

Big Question: What’s bugging Seb?