Sebastian Vettel’s Russian Grand Prix ended with a power failure mid-way through the race, but up until that point it had featured a series of defiant messages to Ferrari and an apparent refusal to follow team orders.
Vettel had made a brilliant getaway in Sochi, jumping Lewis Hamilton and then using the slipstream of teammate Charles Leclerc to lead into the first corner. It soon became clear Ferrari had anticipated this and made plans to swap its drivers back once running one-two, something the drivers spoke about before the race.
Vettel had other ideas. Here is how Ferrari’s difficult situation played out over race radio.
Lap 2 – Ferrari to Leclerc: “We are looking to do the swap”, suggesting a team order is imminent for Vettel.
Lap 5 – Ferrari to Leclerc: “He will let you by on the next lap”.
Lap 6 – Vettel to Ferrari: “I would have got him anyways. Let’s break away for another two laps and let me know.”
Lap 7- Ferrari to Vettel: “Let Charles by.” Vettel replies: “Tell him to close up”
Lap 8 – A frustrated Leclerc to Ferrari: “You put me behind. I respected everything. We will speak later, but now is difficult to close the gap obviously.”
Lap 10 – Ferrari to Leclerc: “Charles, we will do the stop a bit later on. Lewis is a bit close and we will do the stop a bit later. Focus on your race, thank you.”
Leclerc replies: “I completely understand, the only thing is that I respected and I gave him the slipstream no problems. Then I tried to push at the beginning of the race. No problem, manage the situation.”
Lap 22 – Leclerc pits from second position for soft tyres.
Lap 24 – Vettel tells Ferrari: “My rears are falling off now”, suggesting he wants to pit. Doing so at that point would cover off what’s known as the ‘undercut’ – when one driver pits earlier and uses the fresh tyres to ensure he is ahead when a rival makes a later stop.
Ferrari tells Vettel: “We are worried about Hamilton going long. Hamilton lap time 38.8”
Lap 26 – Vettel pits. Emerges 1.3s behind Leclerc.
Lap 28 – Vettel slows to a halt, complaining of a loss of power from an MGU-K failure. Vettel, who has been an outspoken critic of the V6 engines since their introduction in 2014, reacted to his retirement by saying: “Bring back the f—ing V12s”
Vettel’s retirement turned out being a double blow to Ferrari.
As his car stopped on the side of the track a required the deployment of a Virtual Safety Car — ensuring every driver on track drives to a delta time while marshals are on the circuit. Mercedes used this moment to pit both its drivers, helping Hamilton and Bottas to emerge ahead. They would stay until the end of the race, with Leclerc unable to get past Bottas despite applying consistent pressure in the closing stages.
Leclerc was asked about Vettel’s defiance after the race.
“I will always trust the team,” he said. “But I need to speak with them to know the situation better.”
Speaking to Sky Sports shortly after his retirement, Vettel said: “I don’t know what happened. I think we had an agreement, I spoke with Charles before the race and I think it was quite clear. Maybe I missed something. I’m sure we’ll talk about it.”
When asked what was agreed between them, Vettel said: “I don’t know if I want to share. Not a great deal.
“I don’t want to put the team in a bad position afterwards because someone said something here and thee. It’s not a big deal. I was in third and Charles was in first, we had to get past Lewis. I had a very good start and there were a couple of options on the table. Sorry but I really prefer not to.”