Vettel regrets getting too close on Belgian GP restart as F1 points lead shrinks

Leave a comment

Sebastian Vettel says his pace at the restart of Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix following a safety car period was “too good”, inadvertently costing him the chance to deny Formula 1 title rival Lewis Hamilton victory at Spa.

Vettel qualified second in Belgium and tailed Hamilton for much of the early part of the race, with a small gap emerging entering its final quarter.

A safety car period bunched the leaders again, with Vettel fitting the ultra-soft compound that looked set to give him a pace advantage.

A perfect restart allowed Vettel to draw right up toward Hamilton’s diffuser on the run down to Eau Rouge, only for the German to get too close and have to ease off, costing him straight line speed that may have allowed him to pass at the end of the Kemmel Straight.

Without this edge, Vettel could not find a way through, with Hamilton pulling clear to take his fifth win of the season and cut the gap at the top of the drivers’ championship down to just seven points.

“Obviously I knew that we had a tire advantage with the ultra-softs versus the softs for the first couple of laps and particularly the restart,” Vettel said.

“You could see exiting Turn 1 I was all over Lewis. It was not so hard to follow so close, maybe that was the problem, my restart in the initial part was too good, it was too close.

“For sure if I had to do it again, maybe I would try something different. We know that they have a very good straight line speed, and in qualy mode at the start of the race, I obviously felt how strong they were up the hill on the start. So I didn’t want to be too far either.

“Finding that optimum is difficult. Lewis also lifted a bit going down to Eau Rouge, which I think he could afford because he knows he’s got a very good top-end speed.”

While Hamilton and Vettel were not engaged in much direct battling on-track, the Ferrari driver enjoyed going toe-to-toe with his championship rival.

“Overall it was a very good race, very fun. Obviously not that exciting probably to watch because we were very close but nothing happened,” Vettel said.

“But good fun in the car because I was waiting for him to maybe have an error, he was waiting for me to maybe have an error, an off. It didn’t happen. The quality was very high I thought. Very consistent lap times despite the tires.

“[I] never really had a chance, so maybe half a chance, quarter of a chance. I think the positive thing is that we had very good race pace. It was very difficult to follow in the middle sector, but we stayed close, then we benefitted a little bit in the first and the last sector, but overall the car was very good.”

Ferrari had been expected to struggle at Spa given the similarities with Silverstone, another high-speed circuit, giving Vettel a boost after proving the critics wrong.

“I think we didn’t change too much compared to Silverstone, which shows on the one hand that Silverstone was just a bad weekend,” Vettel said.

“But it shows we improved the car also, especially race pace, very strong when we were on average a second off at Silverstone. So it’s a big step.

“So I’m very, very happy. I think we’re on the right track, and I don’t think we have a circuit we should fear going from now.”

Spencer Pigot ready for full-season IndyCar effort with ECR

Photo: IndyCar
Leave a comment

After spending the last two years in a part-time role with Ed Carpenter Racing, contesting the road and street course races in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet, Spencer Pigot now gets a long-awaited chance at a full-season effort in 2018.

Moving over to the No. 21 entry, which has featured ECR’s full-season driver since 2016, Pigot has seen slight differences in his off-season prep ahead of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

“We were one of the teams that got to a handful of days testing the aero kit, so I obviously did all the running on the road courses, but I was able to do a few laps on the ovals when Ed was testing. So, that wouldn’t have happened (if I was part-time still),” he told NBC Sports.

However, outside of that increase in testing and a little learning some new tracks – he has not raced at ISM Raceway, Gateway Motorsports Park, Pocono Raceway, or Iowa Speedway in an IndyCar – the changes to Pigot’s off-season program have not been dramatic.

“There’s definitely some things I’ll need to learn, but as far as off-season prep: nothing too dramatic, nothing too different.”

Pigot’s first full-season campaign saw its first official outing of the 2018 season last weekend during the open test at ISM Raceway. While he and the ECR team struggled to find speed much of the weekend – they languished outside of the top ten in the results of the first three sessions – things took a turn for the better during the final session of the weekend on Saturday night, when Pigot ended up ninth on the speed charts.

He ended up 14th in the combined results for the weekend, noting that he and the team still want to find more outright speed.

“I thought throughout the test that our average long run pace was okay, but we were still missing the outright pace to be where we need to be come qualifying time,” he revealed. “I think that we definitely made a step forward Saturday night and definitely have a much better idea of a direction we can head and go with when we go back.”

In terms of long-run practice, Pigot noted that tire degradation became much more prevalent, which made running with others cars around you somewhat of a challenge. Though, he emphasized that tire degradation could be beneficial for racing.

“Talking to some of the other guys, it seems a little bit harder to run behind people as the tires go off because the tires are degrading pretty quick with the lack of downforce as well,” he explained. “So, it’s going to be tricky, it’s going to be sliding around a little bit more than what guys have experienced in the past. But, I think everyone’s under the same kind of idea that it’s going to be better racing, and especially at (ISM Raceway) it should be exciting.”

Pigot did get some practice at overtaking at ISM and got a feel for what he may be able to expect when IndyCar returns in April for the Phoenix Grand Prix, and while he acknowledged it was difficult to judge during testing, he did feel like he could run around other cars without much of an issue.

“It’s not like a race when everyone comes in the pits at the same time and you’re all on similar tires, so it’s kind of hard to know exactly. But, I thought we were pretty good,” he detailed. “I thought I was able to run pretty close to guys in front of me and was able to make a few passes when other guys made mistakes or might have gone a little high.”

The test also served as Pigot’s first IndyCar venture on a short oval – he last ran on a short oval in 2015 during his Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship season.

“The corners definitely come up quick. There’s not much time to really relax or think about too much,” Pigot quipped when describing his first time on a short oval.

He continued, “You’ve got to concentrate pretty hard on being precise because the line there is very narrow so you have to make sure that you’re where the grip is at all points throughout the corner. And then, when everyone’s out there and you run in traffic, it’s just like you’re constantly in a corner, so it’s a little more difficult to get big runs and drafts off people. But I think it’ll definitely play into the hands of guys that have their cars set up well and can be easier on the tires.”

And in becoming the team’s full-time driver, Pigot is seeing a slight increase in his leadership role within the team, especially as it relates to testing and development, with Pigot doing the lion’s share of testing during the winter on road courses.

But, he also emphasized the oval prowess of teammate, and team owner, Ed Carpenter as something he will lean on when he ventures out on other ovals for the first time this year.

“Especially as we’re trying to learn this new aero kit, I was the one that pretty much did all the testing on the road and street courses. It was kind of me and the engineers trying to develop the car and work towards the setup that’s going to work for us. So, there’s definitely a little more responsibility in that. But, then on the ovals, obviously Ed’s there and he’s a great teammate to have and to learn from and bounce ideas off of. But, yeah, it’s definitely a more involved role within the team,” Pigot explained.

Pigot and ECR will test two more times, at Barber Motorsports Park and Sebring International Raceway, in the month of February prior to the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 11.

Follow@KyleMLavigne