Is Vettel involved in too many first lap incidents?

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During his time with Toro Rosso and Red Bull, Sebastian Vettel surely had some moments which caused him and others a DNF. During his almost three years at Ferrari though, you can see a different pattern, especially when looking at race starts; There were situations where Vettel caused incidents or is sometimes just a part of unfortunate circumstances. While he managed to stay out of trouble in 2015, from 2016 we saw something different.

2016 Chinese GP: Avoiding the 'Torpedo'

In the 2016 season, Ferrari found themselves in battles with Red Bulls instead of a fight for the championship against Mercedes. At the Chinese GP, a lock up while braking into turn one from Kimi Raikkonen opened the door for both Vettel and Daniil Kvyat. As the Finn continued to go into the inside his German teammate found himself squeezed on the outside as Kvyat took advantage of the situation, passing Kimi on the inside, and with Vettel nowhere to go he ended up crashing into his teammate.


However the final result did not end up too bad for everyone involved: Vettel finished second, Kvyat third and Raikkonen fifth. This whole scene was later discussed by Vettel and Kvyat in the pre-podium room where the German famously labelled the Red Bull driver a 'torpedo'.

2016 Russian GP: Innocently kicked out

While Kvyat just went for a gap in China, and the cause of the accident was somewhat attributable to the Ferrari drivers, the collision in Russia was clearly the fault of the Red Bull driver. Under the pressure of his home crowd, the Russian locked up while braking for turn one and pushed Vettel into Kvyat's teammate Daniel Ricciardo. The German could still continue, but only for one more corner as Kvyat hit the Ferrari again, causing Vettel's race to finish in the wall.

Kvyat received a ten second time penalty, penalty points on his license and lost his drive with the main Red Bull team after being swapped with Toro Rosso's Max Verstappen for the next race in Spain. In the Dutch teenager, Vettel found another rival for other occasions.


2016 Belgian GP: Too narrow in La Source

Verstappen had a bad start in Spa last season but tried to recover from it with a lunge on the inside of La Source to get past Raikkonen, who was on the inside of Vettel. Unluckily Vettel didn't see Verstappen diving in there and didn't leave any more room, thinking just his teammate was next to him. The outcome was that Vettel spun and both Verstappen's and Raikkonen's car got damaged.

The debate was raging after this: Was it Vettel's fault for not leaving enough room or Verstappen's for attempting such a risky move on the inside? Generally, it was seen as a racing incident with the same drivers involved as last weekend in Singapore.

2016 Malaysian GP: Crash with Rosberg

Malaysia's long main straight and tight right/left combination at the end is always tricky at race start, especially since many lines can be the correct one. At last years Malaysian GP Vettel went side by side with Verstappen towards the first corner. As he got past the Red Bull driver, he dived down the inside of turn one, and when Nico Rosberg turned in from the outside he collided with Vettel who damaged the front left side of the car, forcing him into immediate retirement. Rosberg spun, but was able to continue and finished third while Verstappen was fighting for the victory later on against his teammate Daniel Ricciardo, ending up second.


Did Rosberg turn in too far or did Vettel misjudge the braking point in his battle with the Dutchman? The Mercedes driver later said that his compatriot was 'out of control' while Verstappen also gave Vettel the blame for that collision. The four-time world champion himself shifted the blame to Verstappen saying he was squeezed on the inside.

2016 United States GP: No room for 'the Hulk'

At the 2016 United States Grand Prix in Austin, Vettel was once again involved in a turn one collision, although this time he took no damage. On the way to the first corner, the German appeared to leave the inside line open for both Nico Hulkenberg and Valtteri Bottas. As Vettel turned in though, Hulkenberg didn't have enough space and collided with him and Bottas, causing the retirement of Hulkenberg's Force India. Bottas got a puncture and dropped back to the last place.

Hulkenberg criticised Vettel for leaving him no space and causing this accident whereas Vettel did not see a reason to be blamed for that. The stewards once again saw it as a racing incident.


2017 Canadian GP: Front wing damaged

With Vettel starting from second at this year's Canadian GP, next to his title rival Lewis Hamilton, he didn't have the best start and got passed by both Valtteri Bottas on the inside and Verstappen on the outside. As the Red Bull driver turned in his left back wheel and Vettel's front wing touched, causing damage on Vettel's car. As the damage got worse after the following safety car deployment Ferrari decided to pit Vettel to change the damaged front wing. The German dropped back but recovered well to finish fourth at the end.

Vettel later said that Verstappen was 'lucky' to avoid damage on his car, altogether it was an ambitious move from the Dutchman which paid off at the time of the race. Vettel and Verstappen seemed to come together quite often, which leads us to...

2017 Singapore GP: Three drivers out

By going through previous first-lap clashes where Vettel was involved we can see some kind of pattern in cases where he is actually to blame, or where he is the one who could have avoided the crash. Mark Webber obviously had a similar thought by saying that 'sometimes, he forgets that the back of his helmet isn't where his car ends,' meaning that Vettel often turns in without seeing the other cars and causing accidents like that. His former Red Bull teammate probably had the crash in Turkey 2010 in mind where Vettel changed direction while passing the Australian, leading to the crash between the two leading drivers.


Another factor seems to be Max Verstappen, who has already had a few moments with Vettel, and not just at turn one, just look at the final laps in Mexico last year where the German desperately complained about the Dutch teenager. The Red Bull driver is famous for his defending moves, especially after last years Belgian GP. Later in the season, the stewards were more strict, looking into 'moving under braking', ultimately causing Vettel to be penalised in Mexico, which surely wasn't his intention after complaining about the driving of the Red Bull driver. That rule is gone now, but it seems that Vettel almost fears Verstappen in a wheel-to-wheel battle.

With the Singapore Grand Prix having these two together on the front row for the first time, and with Vettel knowing Verstappen's ability in the rain (Vettel got pushed off the track last year in Brazil in a fight against him), the four-time world champion knew he had to avoid Verstappen getting past him at the start since it could be tricky getting that position back. This was probably the thinking behind the German pushing the Red Bull driver to the left and into the unfortunate Kimi Raikkonen, who Vettel surely didn't expect to be there after the Finn made a magnificent start.

This time the first lap collision came at the wrong time. Singapore was a great opportunity for Ferrari and Vettel to take valuable championship points, but the result of the crash is that Hamilton has now extended his points advantage to 28, and now surely possessed the psychological edge going forward.

Things are now a lot more difficult for Vettel, but not impossible. Back in 2010 and 2012 he was able to catch up a similar deficit by the end of the season to win the world championship. We will see if the German can turn it around again or not, but one DNF for Lewis Hamilton can change things quickly.