Vandoorne column: Vettel/Hamilton emotions are what fans want
In his latest Motorsport.com column, Stoffel Vandoorne reflects on another tough weekend in Baku, and gives his take on the controversy involving Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton that has dominated headlines.
It is no secret that everyone at McLaren-Honda had fairly low expectations heading in to the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
So to have come away disappointed that we had not got both cars in the points say a lot for the good job the team did.
Our low predictions for the weekend were based on the track layout not being very suitable for us, and also we knew we were going there facing lots of engine penalties. Nothing was really going to play in our favour.
From the start of practice we therefore concentrated a bit more on race set-up because we knew we were going to start last.
I think it was clear though that even if we had faced a normal weekend, it would have been difficult to do a lot better in qualifying because we were losing a lot of time on the straight. That obviously compromised our car setup and especially the level of downforce that we would take into the race.
From the start on Sunday our aim was really to stay out of trouble. We had seen in practice that a lot of people were making mistakes and, with the tyres being so difficult to warm up, there was a chance it could be the same situation in the race.
I made a good start on the prime tyre and pitted quite early to move on to the supersoft. From then we had very, very good pace when we were running in clean air – and that meant we fell into the pit window of some of the cars ahead that had started on a different tyre. That meant they faced a difficult situation in terms of trying to sort their strategy and cover us.
Unfortunately I got a bit unlucky with the safety car, because it meant a lot of people got a free pit stop and were able to come out ahead of me still. Then, with the red flag, they were able to swap back to a new set of supersofts – so in the end I didn’t gain anything with the incidents that happened.
Anyway, we continued pushing after the final restart and our pace was quite decent. Unfortunately we had a flat spot on the front tyre, so we had to do an extra pit stop, and that meant we had to push very hard to try to catch the Saubers in front of us.
The points were in reach because our pace was promising. We were actually 1.5 seconds per lap quicker than the Saubers and catching them fast, but unfortunately our straight line speed was not good enough to be able to overtake them, even with such a big pace delta.
Fernando managed to get in the points, and I think a top 10 finish for both cars was possible. It would have been nice to have done that for the team – and I must say Fernando bringing it home was a bit of relief after all the hard work that everyone has been doing on the back of a very difficult start to the season.
We had other opportunities at the beginning of the year where we were not able to capitalise on things, so to score points in these difficult circumstances was the result of good teamwork.
Of course the major talking point after the Baku race was the incident between Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton – and it is clear that there are a lot of different opinions about what happened.
My view is that is always difficult to judge things completely from on-board footage, but it was a little bit of a strange reaction from Seb. When you are in the heat of the moment, and when you are fighting for victory, then the emotion maybe takes you over a bit.
In terms of the bigger picture and for the F1 in general, I think the controversy was a positive thing – as this big rivalry and big fight for the championship is exactly what the fans and public want to see.
I’m not saying that what Seb did was right or wrong, but for the sport to be able to see such emotion is definitely a good thing.
On a totally separate note, I’ve been delighted to hear that the race promoters at my home Belgian Grand Prix have set aside a special grandstand for my fans this year. It will allow them to all get together and support me – which will be great to see!
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