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F1 2016 Driver Review: Sebastian Vettel

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Sebastian Vettel

Team: Scuderia Ferrari
Car No.: 5
Races: 21
Podiums: 7
Best Finish: 2nd (China, Canada, Europe)
Fastest Laps: 3
Points: 212
Laps Led: 90
Championship Position: 4th

Luke Smith (@LukeSmithF1)

2016 was an odd year for Sebastian Vettel. Despite falling well short of the pre-season hype that suggested he could be the man to end Mercedes’ dominance, there were times when Vettel did look capable of victory.

Take Australia for example, when the red flag played against Ferrari. Or Canada, when Ferrari’s strategy call cost him a real shot at victory. Baku was a weekend where Vettel was hugely impressive, just unable to compete with Nico Rosberg due to Mercedes’ pace advantage.

That said, Vettel did have a number of disappointing weekends where his most notable contribution to the grand prix was his radio complaints. “Blue flag!” was a regular one, as was “honestly!” – but the best radio nugget had to be ‘existential crisis Seb’: “What are we doing here?!”

Ahem, back to racing. Yes, it was a tough year that saw Vettel struggle and the cracks in the ‘meant-to-be’ relationship with Ferrari began to show. He still led Maranello’s charge, even if the gulf to teammate Kimi Raikkonen was not as great as in 2015 – let’s give credit where it’s due.

Tony DiZinno (@tonydizinno)

It was fitting, really, that Sebastian Vettel finished fourth in this year’s championship. The four-time World Champion was often fourth or worse this year; he only had two podiums in the final 13 races after banking five in the first eight. Much could be attributed to James Allison’s midseason departure but in truth it felt this was another year of Vettel cracking from his near-peerless Red Bull days.

Within the team, he didn’t have as big an edge on Kimi Raikkonen as he should have. With the Finn’s driving style better suited to the 2016 chassis, Raikkonen outqualified him 11-10 on the season. Plus there were four races – Bahrain, Russia, Austria and Malaysia – where Vettel didn’t even survive the first lap.

Vettel became the arbiter of speaking out against drivers moving in the braking zone, or ignoring blue flags. Then, ironically, he did so in Mexico in the year’s goofiest podium roundup. It was Vettel’s second winless season in three years and arguably one of his most disappointing in his career, especially after how well he got on in his first year with Ferrari in 2015.

Hartley happy with ‘big progression’ on first day with Toro Rosso

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With 69 laps completed (28 in free practice one and 41 in free practice two) and respectable lap times in both sessions, Brendon Hartley quickly acclimated to a modern day Formula 1 chassis in his first run with Scuderia Toro Rosso in Friday practice for the United States Grand Prix.

The Porsche factory driver has been drafted into the team following a convoluted series of musical chairs that sees Daniil Kvyat back after a two-race absence, Carlos Sainz Jr. now at Renault and Pierre Gasly racing at the Super Formula season finale in Suzuka.

Over the time in the car today, Hartley experienced changeable conditions in FP1 before a more normal FP2, and discovered the new F1 cockpit after a day learning in the garage yesterday.

“A steep learning curve today! It all went pretty smoothly and I kept the car on track without making too many mistakes, so I’m quite happy,” the New Zealander reflected at day’s end.

“I didn’t really know what to expect from today because I just had so much to learn! I think I made quite a big progression throughout the day.

“The biggest difference from what I’m used to is the high-speed grip, it’s incredible here in Formula 1…it was quite an eye-opener! Another challenge are the tires, which are also quite different to what I’m used to. On the other hand, the long-run looks quite positive and I did a good job managing the tires there – the biggest thing I need to work on now is the new tire pace, and I’ll get another crack at it tomorrow morning before qualifying.

“All in all, I’d say it’s all coming together. We’ll now work hard and go through plenty of data tonight and hopefully I’ll make another step forward tomorrow.”

His best lap was 1.1 seconds up on Friday driver Sean Gelael, the Indonesian Formula 2 driver, in FP1 (1:39.267 to 1:40.406, good enough for 14th) and 1.1 seconds off the returning Kvyat in FP2 (1:37.987 to 1:36.761, good enough for 17th). Interestingly, the Gelael/Hartley combination in FP1 marked the second time in three races that Toro Rosso had a pair of drivers in its cars without a single Grand Prix start between them – Gasly’s debut at Malaysia was the other, when he and Gelael were in in FP1.

Coming into Friday’s running, Hartley said he was more ready for this opportunity now than he had been as a teenager. He admitted he’d called Red Bull’s Helmut Marko in the wake of Porsche’s LMP1 withdrawal news earlier this year to say he was game for any chance that might come.

“I’m a lot stronger than I was back then, basically. I wasn’t ready at 18 years old. I like to think I’m ready now,” he said.

“I haven’t driven a single-seater since 2012, but I like to think that Porsche LMP1 has hopefully prepared me well.”

As for the rest of his weekend, it’s been made more complicated by Hartley being assessed a 25-spot grid penalty, even though Hartley had done nothing to accrue the penalties.

The roundabout sequence of driver changes at Toro Rosso saw Gasly replace Kvyat, Kvyat replace Sainz, and now Hartley replace Gasly, as is outlined by NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton below.