How Vettel beat Räikkönen in 2017

by Mark Hughes on 12th January 2018

Why was Sebastian Vettel so much faster than Kimi Räikkönen in F1 2017? 

Sebastian Vettel’s advantage over team-mate Kimi Räikkönen last season was much enhanced compared to 2016 – and almost back to 2015 levels. There is something of a pattern to this: the more competitive the car, the higher Vettel’s personal performance appears to be. It was a phenomenon also observed during his Red Bull days. While there may be psychological factors at play in this, how his driving style meshes with the traits of the car is also crucially important.

His advantage over his team-mates stretches when he has a car with good rear stability on corner entry, but which then gets rotation quickly. So a car with a centre of aero pressure that moves forward as the speed falls, a nice stable understeer on the initial turn, moving quickly towards neutrality to get the car pointed early at the apex, allowing him to carry big entry speed and get early on the gas – thereby having his cake and eating it. This was exactly how the high-rake 2017 Ferrari behaved, with a powerful rear diffuser at high speed giving a planted rear end, becoming less so as the speed falls away. His advantage over Räikkönen invariably comes on entry to slow-medium speed corners and how quickly he can get the direction change completed.

Räikkönen is more sensitive to any lack of initial front-end bite, he likes to lean on the outer front to help pivot the car. He prefers to generate direction change with minimal steering input, using brakes and throttle to modulate the weight transfer. It makes him devastatingly good through high speed corners (he is always faster than Vettel at Silverstone) but sometimes less than sparkling into slower turns preceded by heavy braking, where a bit of steering manhandling is typically required. Only if he can get a positive front on the car does he tend to be Vettel-quick in the slower corners – as was seen to great effect during Monaco qualifying, where he scored his first pole in nine years.

 

As a generality, the grippier a track surface the more a car will tend towards understeer (the bigger rear tyres being more powerful) and this tends to move the car towards Vettel and away from Räikkönen as the weekend progresses and the track surface cleans up.

Compared to the Hamilton-Bottas pairing at Mercedes, Räikkönen’s style is more similar to Hamilton’s, with Vettel’s more like Bottas’, underlining the fact that there isn’t a right or wrong style. But the traits of the two cars were opposite – the low-rake Merc with an initially positive front end and a centre of pressure that moved rearwards as the speed fell. That isn’t to say that Räikkönen would necessarily out-perform Vettel if they were in the Merc or that Bottas would beat Hamilton in the Ferrari. There is the style, then there is the level at which it’s being expressed. Furthermore, part of the all-round skill of a driver is in adapting technique to what the car requires but it’s always an easier fit if the car’s traits dovetail with the natural style of the driver.  

Back in the blown diffuser days, Vettel could extract a lot from the very unusual traits of those cars. He’d use the car’s strong rear stability to give him super high entry speed, then with the rear grip falling away sharply as the speed came down into the corner, the car would actually begin to oversteer. This helped him get the quick direction change, but rather than have the slide then continue, losing him time through the remainder of the corner, he’d counterintuitively nail the throttle. The exhaust gas flow would energise the diffuser as he did this, increasing rear grip once more and bringing the car back to neutrality. The better the exhaust blowing worked, the greater his advantage over Mark Webber. In the early part of 2012, when the team could not get the system working properly and the car was therefore much more conventional, Webber actually out-performed Vettel.

But just like Hamilton and Alonso, Vettel’s history of advantage over team-mates paints a picture of relentless performance, though with the notable struggle against Daniel Ricciardo in 2014.

Vettel comparison to team-mates, qualifying

(Where meaningful comparison possible)

Year Driver Difference (%) Difference (secs) Head-to-head
2017 Räikkönen Vettel 0.326% faster 0.279s Vettel 15-4
2016 Räikkönen Vettel 0.0033% faster 0.029s Räikkönen 11-10
2015 Räikkönen Vettel 0.444% faster 0.394s Vettel 15-4
2014 Ricciardo Vettel 0.298% slower 0.27s Ricciardo 8-3
2013 Webber Vettel 0.355% faster 0.326s Vettel 14-2
2012 Webber Vettel 0.115% faster 0.105s Vettel 10-8
2011 Webber Vettel 0.446% faster 0.392s Vettel 15-3
2010 Webber Vettel 0.104% faster 0.09s Vettel 12-4
2009 Webber Vettel 0.244% faster 0.221s Vettel 13-1

Vettel average comparison to team-mates, qualifying

Driver Average qualifying difference (%) % of races beaten
Räikkönen (3 seasons) Vettel 0.251% faster Vettel beat Räikkönen in 85.7% of races
Ricciardo (1 season) Vettel 0.298% slower Vettel beat Ricciardo in 27.3% of races
Webber (5 seasons) Vettel 0.253% faster Vettel beat Webber in 80% of races

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