Analysis – How Vettel lost the pole position

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F1 Grand Prix, GP Brazil, Autódromo José Carlos Pace, Interlagosbr

Sebastian Vettel secured the second starting position for the 2017 Brazilian Grand Prix. The German driver was, however, disappointed as he was controlling the qualifying action until the dying seconds of the session.

Ferrari was firing guns in the qualifying session yesterday which came by surprise as arch rival Mercedes was controlling the action on Friday. In the final practice session, the Maranello-based team showed great form which indicated that the team managed to find better setup for the SF70-H which lacked of pace the day before due to balance issues.

In the early part of the qualifying session, Lewis Hamilton crashed out due to his own mistake which meant the number of fighters for the pole position shrank to three. Kimi Räikkönen set the early pace. The Finn clocked the fastest Q1 time with a 1:09.405 on the soft compound. Sebastian Vettel took over the reign in Q2. The German set a lap record with a 1:08.494 on the supersoft compound. The German improved his own lap record in the all-important Q3 part of the qualifying. However, the quadruple world champion could not lower the bar in his second run while Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas clocked a 1:08.322 to take pole position and to set a new lap record on the Interlagios circuit located in Brazil’s biggest city Sao Paulo. Vettel was only by a friction (0,038 seconds) slower then the pole time.

Valtteri Bottas set the overall best sector time with a 17.299 (Vettel 17.370 ) in the first sector, Sebastian Vettel was the fastest in the middle part of the race track with a 34.680 (Bottas 34.773 ) while the Finn had the upper hand in the last part with a 16.226 (Vettel 16.257 ).

It was a great effort from Vettel to stir up the qualifying party after the Mercedes-dominated Friday session. However, the German could have set an even better time. The Heppenheim-born made a mistake on his very last run coming into the first corner.

Interestingly, he braked too early. It meant he took too much of the inside kerb at turn one which ruined the whole sequence of corners named Senna S. This meant Vettel had to ride well over the kerb in the second corner because his SF70-H did not want to turn in easily between the two bends. This mistake saw Vettel losing 0.069 seconds in the first sector. He set the absolute best time in the second sector and a good time in the last sector, but it was not enough to improve his time.

Ferrari has been fighting with the front of the car over the whole weekend. Neither Räikkönen nor Vettel could generate enough heat into Pirelli’s front tyres which compromised their speed through many corners, especially in the Senna-S, in turn 4, 9 and 12. It may be down to the characteristics of Pirelli’s 2017 tyres which are very durable and hence hard to warm up. As Ferrari had this problem already on Friday under really hot conditions, the Italians’s engineers may have deliberately opted for a race setup which would prefer a car which has understeer on fresh tyres. With the big stress on the rears, this understeery setup may turn into a very well-balanced car in the race.