My dog woke me up this morning at 3 AM, and I couldn’t get back to sleep. As luck would have it, it was the perfect time for me to log into F1TV to catch pre-season testing. I’ve always been an F1 fan, but last year really drew me in, and this year I’m more invested than I ever have been. So why not flip it on and see how everyone stacks up. Obviously pre-season testing isn’t going to determine how anyone does when the lights go out at the season opener in a couple weeks, but there are some interesting takeaways here.
I’ve been a downer on the four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel for a few years now. He hasn’t really performed at the level I would have expected from him since he arrived at Ferrari, and particularly faltered in the last two seasons. I was somewhat optimistic that he would find a new lease on life with a switch out of red overalls and into the green Aston Martin gear for 2021. If we’re going by his performance thus far, it seems he may have gotten worse.
The video above was Vettel’s fastest lap of day one testing. After 51 laps of testing, the best Seb could manage was a 1:33.747. Both Mercedes were suffering from issues pretty much all day, so it’s difficult to mark them where they landed on the time sheets. If we exclude the Mercs, Vettel was 3 seconds off the lap pace in his Aston, ahead of only the Haas pair and a development driver testing the Williams. Not only was he two seconds slower than new teammate Lance Stroll, but to add insult to injury, he was 1.8 seconds slower than the man who replaced him at Ferrari, Carlos Sainz.
“The car is different,” Vettel told Autosport Magazine, “it’s a different power unit, a lot of different switches and buttons and procedures. I need to get used to stuff like brakes, steering, the car behavior. So I still think there’s quite a bit of margin for myself and improvement that I have to do on driving, just getting familiar with the car.
“It was good fun to be back in the car to be honest, it’s fun to work with the team. I enjoyed it, and more to come on the next days...
“It’s mostly for me to get up to speed but in terms of performance. Everybody knows the strength of the Mercedes engine, so on that front I don’t think we have an excuse. I’m looking forward to that.”
For now, I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. It was obvious that many drivers were struggling out there, with even defending champ Lewis Hamilton suffering from front-end washout on the extremely sandy track. It’s obvious from Vettel’s onboard video that he wasn’t really holding anything back, though. Does he actually have the time in him to make up, or is he going to end up at the back of the grid again in 2021?
The German driver came home with just 33 championship points in 2020. If this is his real pace, his points haul could be even more devastating this year. Especially if Ferrari has managed to find pace without him around. Should he have just retired at the end of last season? I’m not convinced that wasn’t his best course of action. Time will tell, but I think his championship days are long behind him. Maybe he did forget how to go fast.